The Philadelphia Flyers’ first-round playoff loss to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers proved that the Orange and Black need significant upgrades at certain positions – most notably speed and puck movement along the blue line and a true finisher to play alongside Claude Giroux – in order to truly reach the upper echelon of the NHL.
But new general manager Ron Hextall came out a few weeks ago and said re-signing restricted free agent Brayden Schenn, the team’s second-line center for most of last season, is the Flyers’ top offseason priority.
Should it be THE top offseason priority?
A top offseason priority? Sure. But not THE top offseason priority.
That distinction belongs to trying to improve and start a youth movement on the blue line, as it has been for years now. It will be interesting to see how that plays out this summer with a new general manager who has played a hand in rebuilding a defensive corps for a team that’s still playing right now. But that’s another story for another day.
Back to the topic at hand, the younger Schenn.
Schenn, as you may recall, was originally considered the crown jewel of the package the Los Angeles Kings sent back to the Flyers in return for Mike Richards prior to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
That accolade instead belongs to Wayne Simmonds, who has burst into NHL stardom with 72 goals in his first three seasons in orange and black and has endeared himself to Flyers fans with his spirited and physical style of play.
That’s not to say Schenn has been a bad player during his tenure so far in Philadelphia. He’s been quite a good one with 40 goals – including his first 20-goal campaign this past season - and 45 assists for 85 points in three seasons as a Flyer.
But Schenn has been inconsistent at times, gone stretches without goals and can disappear on defense at times as he’s a combined minus-15 over the last three seasons. In fact, his usual line of him centering Simmonds and Vinny Lecavalier finished last season minus-20 combined.
Fair expectations or not, one can assume that Flyers fans and management expected more than they’ve gotten so far out of the guy the team’s captain – and arguably most popular player at the time – was traded for.
Add those facts in with the glut of centers the Flyers currently have on the roster and prized center prospect Scott Laughton ready to challenge for spot with the big club come training camp in the fall, and the question of what to do with Schenn, who is no doubt a valuable trade piece if that option crossed Hextall’s mind, is a somewhat legitimate one.
But he should be re-signed unless Hextall is blown away by an offer that will help the Flyers in the long-term, specifically along the blue line. There’s no way the Flyers should just let him walk to another team’s offer sheet. (Remember, the Flyers would have the right to match any offer Schenn agrees to with another team because he is a restricted free agent.)
The main reason is that Schenn, who will be 23-years-old when the new season starts in October, is an incredibly skilled player with a boatload of potential that has yet to be tapped.
There’s a reason he was the fifth-overall pick in a 2009 draft that included first-rounders such as the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Rangers’ Chris Kreider.
Schenn hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be at the NHL level. Part of that is because of the way he has had to jump around lines and positions during his short NHL career. He’s played on all four lines and on the wing despite the fact he’s a natural center. But it’s the NHL and things like that happen.
Another part of the questions surrounding Schenn could do with the market he plays in.
Philadelphia, at its very core, is hockey-crazed. When a player with the popularity and caliber of Richards is traded and a guy as highly touted as Schenn comes in, superior results are wanted almost immediately. It may not be fair, but it comes with the territory.
A lot of the time, superior results don’t come immediately, especially from a young player.
Young players have to find their respective games.
Schenn just finished his third season – his second full season, one of which was lockout-abbreviated – as a Flyer, is still in his early 20s and is finally getting a chance to play his natural position alongside other talented players on a consistent basis. It takes time.
Sure, more may have been expected sooner, but the Flyers would be foolish to give up on such a high level of young talent. They’ve done that before with disastrous results during previous general manager regimes. (See: Williams, Justin and Sharp, Patrick)
Hextall knows what holding on to young talent can do for franchise. Take a look at what the Kings team he helped build and develop has accomplished not only this season, but over the past few seasons. Sure, additions from the outside were made to push them over the top, but that happens with every successful team. Their core was developed from within.
And, whether you agree or not, Schenn is a major building block as Hextall tries to develop the Flyers in his image from within.