Brayden Schenn one of few bright spots for Flyers
When general manager Paul Holmgren decided that Mike Richards was no longer essential to the Flyers' future, it was the promise and potential of a teenager who had played all of nine NHL games that persuaded Holmgren to change the franchise's course.
In June 2011, Brayden Schenn was 19, two years removed from being the No. 5 overall pick in the NHL draft, when Holmgren traded Richards to the Los Angeles Kings to get him.
Although the Flyers also acquired Wayne Simmonds in the deal, and Simmonds has been a solid and productive forward for them, there was no mistaking, then or now, that Schenn was the true centerpiece of the trade. His development would determine whether Holmgren's gamble had been worth the cost of Richards - the Flyers captain, perhaps their most popular player, and a key cog in a Kings team that won the Stanley Cup less than a year after acquiring him.
If only symbolically, the sight of Richards' hoisting the Cup so soon after the Flyers had sent him away added pressure on Schenn to accelerate his growth into an elite forward. And as he began his second full season with them Wednesday, he flashed a glimpse of what the Flyers have wanted from him, and will need from him.
He scored their goal in their 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, ripping home a shot from the slot on a power play after a deft bit of stickhandling and passing by Vinny Lecavalier. He played the role of impromptu enforcer in the first period, taking on the Leafs' Joffrey Lupul in a brief and relatively benign fight after Lupul knocked down Claude Giroux. He has to be a factor, and he was - as much as any Flyer was, anyway.
"When you're not scoring goals, you have a problem," Schenn said after the Flyers poured 32 shots on Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier. "We have to fix that."
It's no exaggeration to suggest that Schenn will have a significant impact on the Flyers' fortunes this season. He had come to them from the Kings organization with a reputation as a scoring savant - 315 points over 224 games in Canada's Western Hockey League, the sorts of numbers that can get that country's hockey cognoscenti humming with excitement.
In his first NHL postseason, Schenn had nine points in 11 games for the Flyers, including three in his debut, a memorable comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The sky seemed the floor for him. But he regressed last season amid a set of expectations that, for a player who just turned 22 in August, may have risen too far too fast. Schenn may not have been the greatest disappointment of the Flyers' forgettable 2013 season - their first without a playoff berth in six years - but he was a contender.
He scored eight goals in 47 games, hardly the sort of output that would justify his status as an indispensable member of the Flyers' young core.
To try to coax more offense from Schenn, coach Peter Laviolette recently had him practicing on the team's top line, with Giroux and Scott Hartnell, and he was out there with them Wednesday. "I thought he played a good game on that line," Laviolette said. "Again, you'd like to see one or two drop in on the five-on-five."
What the Flyers have to do with Schenn is the hardest thing in sports. They have to wait. (That patience is made all the more challenging, of course, by the franchise's 38-year championship drought.) Not every prospect bursts on to the scene. Not all of them are superstars from the start.
When Holmgren made those two blockbuster trades in that summer of 2011, parting with Richards and Jeff Carter, his implicit acknowledgment was that the Flyers were starting over to a degree.
Because Holmgren had signed both Carter and Richards to long-term contracts, tethering the franchise to the two of them for the foreseeable future, it would take a stunning series of changes to start the Flyers in a new direction.
He made them, and for the moment, he's still living with them. How much longer Holmgren will have to see if his plan works, no one can say. They don't abide quiet springs around here, and Wednesday's loss looked like more of the same from last year - so many scoring chances ending in so much frustration, a game that the Flyers dominated for long stretches and still let slip away again.
On a long opening night, Brayden Schenn, the kid at the heart of a general manager's riskiest move, at least showed a little flash of something. He has to show more, and for the Flyers' sake this season, he has to start now.