VOORHEES, N.J. — Coming off the best season of his NHL career, Brayden Schenn sat down at his end-of-the-year press conference on Tuesday and wasn’t all smiles.
For one, he was waiting to hear back from the NHL’s Department of Player of Safety about a hit he delivered on T.J. Oshie in the Flyers’ season-ending Game 6 loss to the Capitals on Sunday in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series. He ended up getting suspended three games (see story).
And secondly, his season just finished earlier than an NHLer ever wants.
So Schenn wasn’t celebrating anything, even with a payday on the horizon this summer.
The 24-year-old believes there are bigger things in store, that the 2015-16 season was just the start.
“I think I’ve come a long way and I still feel like I can get better and will get better,” Schenn said. “I finally felt this year like I had to be one of our go-to guys or one of the guys who tried to get the job done each night. I think that’s part of the reason guys like [Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek or Claude Giroux] try to hold me accountable each night to perform and be good out there.”
Schenn set career highs across the stat sheet with 26 goals, 33 assists, 59 points and 11 power-play tallies. He also took his game to another level in physicality, finishing fourth on the Flyers with 187 hits but accruing just 33 penalty minutes, compared to the team’s top three hitters, Radko Gudas, Ryan White and Simmonds, all of whom compiled 100-plus penalty minutes apiece.
In one season, Schenn became better, tougher and smarter.
He’s set to be a restricted free agent this offseason. He’s staying put, but where is locking up Schenn on Flyers general manager Ron Hextall’s offseason agenda?
"You know what, I've got a lot of things on my to-do list,” Hextall said Wednesday. “I don't have it done, but I've got a lot of things on it and sometimes those things take time. I venture to guess that it's not going to be the first thing we get done, but in the end, we'll get it done."
Schenn, who is coming off a two-year, $5 million deal, sees his future with the Flyers.
“You want to be here long term,” Schenn said. “I believe in this team. I believe in the guys in that locker room. I guess we’ll see what happens, see how it plays out. I’ve been here for, jeez, five years now. If they want to go long term with me, obviously I want to be a part of this team.”
Hextall cautioned that much goes into a long-term commitment.
"There's a lot of factors that come into play with term, money, cap,” Hextall said. “So I can't make a blanket comment right now and say that we'll sign Brayden to a long-term deal. I would certainly be open to it, but I have no idea right now where that's headed."
Not to his preference, Schenn said negotiations were put off until the conclusion of the Flyers’ 2015-16 season. Ironically, the former first-round pick flipped that into his favor.
The discussions now revolve around a career season.
"I’ve said it all along: it wasn’t my idea that there hasn’t been talk since Day 1 of the season," Schenn said. "I guess that’s what the summer is for and I guess we’ll see what happens after that."
Also working for Schenn is his versatility. A natural center, Schenn adeptly played all three forward positions at a high clip, helping the Flyers adjust to a variety of injuries that affected their lineup.
“I think Brayden played his best hockey for us this year as a winger,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s pretty efficient playing both left and right wing. I thought he was outstanding here down the stretch on the left side. I think he elevated his game in the playoffs when he needed to at both positions but probably played his best hockey at the left wing.”
Schenn said he believes he’ll start next season as a winger.
“It’s valuable for me to play both wing and center,” he said. “It’s valuable to the team and I think I did a good job of both this year.”
Mostly, he just wants to be with the Flyers — and long term.
“I think moving forward, if you look at what’s coming up and what we did this year and we were able to get into the playoffs and battle,” he said. “For a lot of guys on this team, including myself, to feel that playoff rush, I think next year will even be better.
“A good start would go a long way and, I think year by year, you’re going to see a better Flyers team."