VOORHEES, N.J. — What a difference for Brayden Schenn to walk into Flyers training camp and feel as if he’s arrived.
The forward is coming off a season in which he posted career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), which earned him the team’s Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the most improved Flyer.
Best of all, he was rewarded with a four-year, $20.5 million contract in July.
“I feel good coming into this year,” Schenn said. “The Flyers showed some trust and confidence in me by signing me for four years. Coming in here, I’m excited to get the season going and build off last year.”
At least he won’t have to begin camp on the fifth line like he did last fall after general manager Ron Hextall had challenged him to take his game to another level and new head coach Dave Hakstol made him work to advance himself in the lineup.
“You hope it won’t be like that [fifth line], especially with [seven] guys gone,” Schenn said jokingly, meaning the Flyers playing in the World Cup of Hockey.
The big question for Schenn is whether he plays left wing on Claude Giroux’s line or plays wing on Sean Couturier's unit. He proved to everyone last season he can play all three forward spots now and be effective on the ice.
“I finished on the left,” he said. “I said forward or center but I played so much left wing, right wing a little center in the playoffs. So I feel comfortable now all over.
“Wherever the opportunity is to play with great players and make the most of the situation is where you want to be right now.”
These first two days of camp, Schenn has been very aggressive and motivated on the ice.
Schenn, Giroux and Wayne Simmonds represented the top line much of last season, especially in the second half. That was partly because Jakub Voracek had slumped so badly from his breakout season the year before and couldn’t hold his spot on the first line.
“It’s tough to say because lines change throughout the year,” Schenn said. “When you are trying to find chemistry and this and that. Wherever I start, I just have to make the most of every opportunity.
“We have a lot of top players around here to play with … to pencil my name into one spot is hard to say. Wherever they place me at the start, I’ll to try with it.”
It’s expected he’ll start the season again at left wing on Giroux’s line after he serves his three-game suspension for a hit against Capitals forward T.J. Oshie in the playoffs.
“It’s good to have guys who can move around because you never know what you are gonna need in a top six,” Hextall said. “You like a left-hand Brayden on the left side with skill.”
Hakstol said he wants guys “who fit well” together, so that may be the answer right there.
There was talk last season whether the Schenn Brothers were having negative impacts on each other. Luke Schenn, the veteran defenseman, came to camp and was demoted to eighth on the depth chart. He was angry from Day 1. Brayden Schenn was angry at the fifth line.
Both would huddle with each other every day. Both cared so deeply about the other, they acted as each’s confidante. Yet when Luke Schenn was traded, it seemed to benefit both players.
“Probably a better question for Brayden, but a lot of people have pointed to that,” Hextall said. “When Luke got traded, Brayden had played six or seven really good games ahead of that.
“Whether that was coincidence or not I don’t have an answer. I do think what he said there, there’s obvious reason based on personality and it probably could do you good or do you harm.”
Brayden Schenn said he always dreamed of playing with his brother, but it adds other pressures.
“When you come to the rink [as brothers], you are so tight and so close, you tend to worry about each other more than you have to, just because it’s family and he’s your brother,” he said.
“Now that Luke’s gone, he’s in a good situation in Arizona, I hope he gets a good opportunity. Now you tend to worry about yourself a little more. Come to the rink and focus on what you have to do and not to worry about Luke or vice-versa.”
Schenn said it’s obvious that the club has made a commitment to himself, Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier and Voracek with the long-term contracts handed out in recent years.
To that end, he said, the window of opportunity for some of these Flyers is fast approaching. Some are in their peak years now. Schenn, 25, and Couturier, 23, are the youngest among that group.
“They will challenge us again this year to get better,” Schenn said. “They have invested in us. We all got to step up. Parts on the back end like 'Ghost' [Shayne Gostisbehere] and Gudy [Radko Gudas]. Everyone has got to get better year by year.
“I hate to say it. We’re not old by any means, but our core group of guys are in their prime now and we have to try to make it happen.”
It starts in training camp.