PHILADELPHIA — Luke Schenn may be the NHL’s most gracious player. At the very least, he made a strong case for that distinction upon his return to Philadelphia for the first time since signing with the Arizona Coyotes as a free agent this summer.
Schenn was not well received at Wells Fargo Center in his two full seasons and parts of two others with the Flyers, and Philadelphia fans know how to voice their displeasure with a player better than any fan base in professional sports.
“It’s all part of it,” Schenn said. “Sometimes, when you’re not having the success that you think you could have or they think you could have, or you haven’t quite reached your peak or your ceiling yet, you take a little criticism,” Schenn said. “As far as the fans go, they want everyone to succeed but they want team success and the more team success you have, the more individuals can stand out a bit.”
Despite his high-road approach, Schenn was a Philly piñata almost from the time he arrived from Toronto in what was viewed as a lopsided trade for James van Riemsdyk, a highly productive left winger who would probably be one of the Flyers’ top six forwards today.
In two of the three seasons Schenn finished with Philadelphia — he was traded to Los Angeles after 29 games of the 2015-16 season — the Flyers did not make the playoffs. In the other, they were eliminated in the first round. Schenn’s lack of foot speed became a sore spot for Flyers fans and media alike.
“There were ups and down,” he said. “Obviously, I would have liked to have more success and team success. There were stretches where I played great and stretches where I played not so great, but saying that, I really enjoyed my time here. It was a great experience, and getting the chance to play with my brother (Brayden) was probably the most special thing that I take away from here.”
The reunion was a special one for Brayden, too.
“No trash talk,” he told Philly.com. “It’s not only cool for us, but we have family here tonight watching the game. We’re looking forward to it.”
When the Coyotes signed Luke Schenn to a two-year, $2.5 million deal, they knew he needed work on his skating, but they thought that spending time with skating coach Dawn Braid might unlock the potential of a former first-round (fifth overall) pick. The rest of Schenn’s contributions have been as advertised.
“Pretty solid play; big, heavy body; penalty killer; good attitude in the room,” coach Dave Tippett said in assessing what Schenn has delivered through seven games. “He’s brought a real positive attitude to us.
“We’re not there yet with all the new players, but he’s been solid. I had him in a couple World Championships so I had a pretty good idea what he would bring. He’s been very similar to what I expected.”
Schenn is still trying to settle in. He played on the team’s second pairing while Michael Stone was still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Since then, he has consistently been paired with rookie left defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
“I’ve been with pretty much every left-handed defenseman so far so it’s still getting sorted out — we’re still a work in progress,” said Schenn, who has appeared in all seven games with no points and an even plus-minus rating after Thursday’s 5-4 win. “It’s tough to start the season with a six-game trip and to have a bunch of new guys so I think everyone is figuring out where they fit in and chemistry and when you’re not winning games, the lines have been changing so we’re all still trying to find our way but I think we have been getting better.”
Schenn believes a fresh start with a franchise that is still building offers him the best chance to achieve the potential Toronto saw in him when the Maple Leafs drafted him. It was a major reason for him signing in Arizona.
“No question,” he said. “I think there is opportunity to be a part of a young team that is up and coming. There’s no question that I want to have success here and make it work here; figure it out here. This organization will have success with all the young talent. It’s just a matter of everyone developing and I want to be a part of that.”