ST. LOUIS — Brayden Schenn could read the writing on Ron Hextall’s wall — the one with the organizational depth chart on it.
“I probably talked with my agent a month before the draft, and there wasn’t even talk about me getting traded because I had no idea that this was going to happen," Schenn said after Thursday's morning skate. "I looked right around at St. Louis and saw that the Blues might need a centerman. It was one day we talked about it, and I never talked about it again until I got traded.”
Not long after the Flyers fortuitously leaped all the way into the number two slot at the NHL’s Draft Lottery is when Schenn realized he needed to start dissecting the trickle-down effect of Philadelphia landing a franchise center, knowing at that time the pick would either be Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick.
“The No. 2 pick, you knew it was going to be another center, right?" Schenn said. "Leading up to the draft, there was a lot of talk about Montreal and that’s what I was kinda hearing. I was just on a golf trip with a bunch of buddies and I looked at my phone, it happened to be on ringer and it happened to be Ron Hextall, and right away I knew I was gone.
“I always felt I could go play center and that was a natural position for me. I think Philly knew I could play the wing, but they also knew I wanted to play center as well. It just kinda helped that St. Louis was the landing spot.”
Schenn was dealt to the Blues for Jori Lehtera and a pair of first-round picks, plus a conditional third rounder. As Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic wrote Thursday morning, the Blues had even reached out to the expansion Golden Knights about taking Lehtera and his $4.7 million contract off their hands, but even they had no interest in the 29-year-old Finn.
Hextall realized with Patrick there was an organizational logjam at the center position that ultimately led to not only the Schenn trade, but the decision to transition the captain and arguably their most skilled player Claude Giroux to left wing. Watching Giroux’s almost seamless transition here in Philadelphia is similar to Schenn’s changeover in St. Louis, where he has clicked almost instantaneously with linemates Jaden Schwartz and superstar Vladimir Tarasenko.
“I think it’s just maybe having the confidence that you’re going to stay at center here, I guess,” said Schenn. “I played maybe ten games at right wing (in Philly), ten games at center, 20 games at left wing. I was kinda all over the place.
“I came here Day 1 and he (coach Mike Yeo) said ‘Do you want to play center? We’ll give you a shot there.’ I think here, you get in a rhythm and get in a groove of playing down the middle and being in situations where you’re counted on to be liable in your own end, playing against good players.”
When asked about Schenn, Tarasenko and Schwartz both referred to him as a “smart” player, which never seemed to be the label he was attached with here in Philadelphia. It’s not that Schenn is unintelligent, but possessing a high hockey IQ wasn’t one of his known attributes. Perhaps there’s a confidence boost that has accompanied him to St. Louis, as well as being more committed to the defensive side of the game.
“Playing in the middle and taking faceoffs, I find it gets you more involved in the game right away. It’s on you to win the faceoff and get the puck right away and it gets you a little bit more involved in the game,” Schenn said.
The trade of Schenn also came roughly a year and a half after the Flyers dealt his older brother, Luke, to Los Angeles as part of a deal to shed Vinny Lecavalier’s hefty contract and a center that was no longer in their future plans.
“I guess Schenns aren’t wanted in Philadelphia. I don’t know what it is,” Brayden said. “I think it was a little bit tougher situation with your brother being on the team with you. I just remember sitting in a car taking off for a road trip near the trade deadline, there were talks about L.A. and him going there, and I think it’s tougher when your brother’s not hopping on that flight with you. So for me, I was the only guy in Philly. It’s always tough leaving teammates and buddies, but that’s the business. I’m not the first guy ever to get traded and I won’t be the last.”
And with Luke now in Arizona, the flow of Schennergy is now amping up here in St. Louis.