VOORHEES TOWNSHIP - Peter Laviolette isn't sure what Brayden Schenn will bring to the Philadelphia Flyers' top line, but five days before the season opener that's where the 21-year-old forward was in practice Monday.
Thanks to the 113-day lockout, Monday was the second of only six formal practices for the Flyers before the abbreviated season starts Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There will be no exhibition games, so Laviolette is being forced to use some guesswork in replacing Jaromir Jagr, who signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars.
"I don't know," Laviolette said when asked about Schenn on the top line. "I guess we're going to find out. I haven't seen (much), really."
The coach did have his reasons, though for giving Schenn first crack at playing alongside center Claude Giroux and left wing Scott Hartnell.
After an injury-plagued start to last season, Schenn was one of the Flyers' best players in the playoffs, with three goals and six assists in 11 games. This season, Schenn was assigned to the American Hockey League during the lockout and led the Adirondack Phantoms with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) in 33 games.
"You could tell he's got a lot of confidence right now," Hartnell said at Flyers Skate Zone. "He's played some games, so that'll help ... 'G' and I, and hopefully we can jell quick and jell right away."
Schenn has played center for most of his career, but he played right wing with the Phantoms and said he's comfortable there.
"I'm just trying to blend in, find chemistry as quickly as possible and hopefully step up and fill that role," Schenn said.
That role was filled previously by Jagr, a future Hall of Famer who turned 40 last February but still managed 19 goals and 35 assists last season.
"Jags plays, I think, different than anybody else in the league," Hartnell said. "He's so big. He's so strong on that puck. I think he thinks three plays ahead of almost everybody else on the ice."
Schenn doesn't have Jagr's experience, but he might be able to make up for that with his youthful energy, especially considering Hartnell did not play professionally during the lockout and Giroux left his team in Germany in mid-November after a neck injury.
And while he's not Jagr, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Schenn does play a physical style of hockey.
"He's a big body," Hartnell said. "I think, remember in the playoffs (during) that Pittsburgh series, he was just mowing guys over, he was controlling the puck, he was making plays, doing everything that you want a big power forward to do. I think he kind of grew up as a centerman, but playing that right side he's going to be doing a lot of skating. And he's got some touch around the net, too."
Schenn has another thing going for him this season: His older brother, Luke, joined the Flyers in an offseason trade.
The Schenn brothers went one-on-one during one sequence in practice Monday. Luke, a defenseman, got the better of his brother.
"He obviously knows all my moves, (so I) wasn't able to beat him," Brayden Schenn said. "But it's a pretty cool feeling looking up, going down, and it's your brother in practice."
That play was one of the highlights of Monday's practice, which drew a packed crowd for the second day in a row. While it wasn't quite like Sunday, when it was estimated that more than 2,000 fans attended, the large parking lot was filled nearly to capacity again Monday. Fans filled the bleachers and were four- and five-deep in front of the section of glass where spectators are allowed.
If all goes well for the Flyers, those fans will be buying up Schenn jerseys this season.
"Getting the opportunity to play with, obviously, Giroux and Hartnell, I'm looking forward to it and I've got to make the most of it," Schenn said.
Notes: Defenseman Chris Pronger attended practice. Though he did not speak to the media, Pronger talked to Laviolette and "says he's feeling better," the coach said. … The Flyers announced that John Paddock will switch from assistant general manager to assistant coach, though he will work from the press box. Paddock has been a head coach with the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators.
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