Re-signing Brayden Schenn shouldn't be the Flyers first offseason priority, but it should be near the top of the list

Re-signing Brayden Schenn shouldn't be the Flyers first offseason priority, but it should be near the top of the list

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?

Probably not.

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.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”