Some of Brayden Schenn’s earliest hockey memories involve his hometown Saskatoon Blades.
It was there in what is now called the Credit Union Centre that he watched and cheered for his Western Hockey League heroes as a child with his family.
“Mike Green and (Devin) Setoguchi played together and I was old enough to remember how they played,” said Schenn of the pair who skated for Saskatoon from 2003-05. “Now seeing them in the NHL and what they’ve done in the NHL is a pretty cool thing, just because you’ve watched them grow up as a junior.
“The Blades had some good teams and some exciting players to watch back in the day, so whenever we weren’t busy, we’d try to make it out (to games) as much as possible.”
Now Schenn is the player little boys – and girls – in Saskatoon are watching and aspiring to emulate. Since the blockbuster deal with the Brandon Wheat Kings that cost Blades GM Lorne Molleken four draft picks – two first- and two second-rounders – and two 15-year-old prospects, Schenn has been on a tear averaging more than two points per game with 19 goals and 27 assists in 21 games with Saskatoon.
“That was a bonus,” said Molleken of Schenn’s return home. “With him coming to our side, that enhances our chances of having a successful playoff and it gives him an opportunity to come home and finish off his junior career. It was a win-win situation for Brayden and our hockey club.”
Schenn left home for Brandon at 16, leaving behind his parents, Jeff and Rita, and his two younger sisters, Madison and Macy. At the same time, his older brother, Luke, was paving a successful career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL. Coming home to Saskatoon has allowed him to spend more time with his family; last week he spent time skating at practice with Madison’s bantam girls team, the Comet Fusion. At the same time however, the homecoming has also left Schenn little option but to embrace life in the spotlight.
“Obviously with me being a hometown boy and (the Blades) trading for me, there’s a lot of pressure to do well,” said Schenn. “We’ve had good teams in the past, but never been able to win it all, so hopefully we can accomplish that even though we know it’s not going to be easy.”
What has been slightly easier for Schenn is adjusting to life with the Blades after spending the first half of the season bouncing between the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, where he played eight games, and the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs, where he dressed for seven contests. At the time he was sent back to junior, Schenn told reporters that only the future would tell whether the Kings made the right decision in sending him back to the WHL. And even with the power of hindsight and all he has achieved in junior of late, Schenn said as far as he’s concerned the jury is still out.
“I honestly still don’t know,” said Schenn, when asked if the demotion was the right call. “I’ve come down here and I’m having a lot of fun, gained some confidence and stuff like that, so for me I’m just trying to get better and prove myself and hopefully be ready (for pro) next year. That’s what I’m working towards.”
As far as Kings co-director of amateur scouting Mike Futa is concerned, the 19-year-old would have spent the year in Manchester if not for the CHL-NHL rules preventing Schenn from playing in the AHL.
“Ideally he was ready to play,” said Futa. “(Kings GM Dean Lombardi) found a way to get him down to the AHL for a two-week conditioning stint. I saw him play in Manchester and he was certainly ready for that level, but that’s not our rule to change. He’s not eligible to play at that level.”
Even after getting a taste of the NHL high life with chartered jets and five-star hotels, Schenn remains grounded while biding his time for another shot at the pros.
On this day, he’s napping on the team bus during a five-hour road trip to Edmonton when Molleken wakes him to take a phone call from a reporter. And while he can be heard grumbling about being disturbed, once on the phone Schenn is cheerful and talkative.
“Everyone knows the planes are a lot nicer and whatnot,” said Schenn from the bus. “You have to go through these times to motivate yourself to try and get back to the NHL.
“I guess I had a taste of (the NHL) briefly. I got to know what it’s like for a little bit and I definitely enjoyed it and I want to get back there as soon as possible, so I guess you could say it’s a little extra motivation.”
The Kings demoted him to junior in December, just in time for him to earn a second stint with the Canadian world junior squad after winning silver the previous year – in Saskatoon.
“A lot of kids wouldn’t be able to handle that disappointment, it would carry over and affect their play,” said Canadian world junior head coach Dave Cameron. “He came in and you could tell there was that passion and excitement. There was absolutely no, ‘Poor me’ or no pity (saying), ‘I should be in the NHL.’ He was just a real pro.”
It was there, with Team Canada in Buffalo, that Schenn captured the attention of the nation, tying the Canadian scoring record at the tournament with 18 points. He was named the tournament MVP despite playing with a separated shoulder suffered in the quarter-final game against Switzerland. When Canada lost a heartbreaker in the final to Russia, it was Schenn who was among the most stunned at having to settle for another silver. Even now, three months after the fact, you can tell it’s a topic that stings the centre to discuss.
“It’s obviously still tough to think about, knowing you could have had a gold medal,” said the 19-year-old. “But that’s the game of hockey ... I guess you learn from your mistakes.”
One of the areas the Kings asked Schenn to work on in junior was his overall defence, though his offence doesn’t seem to be suffering with the Blades (51-13-0-2), the top-ranked team in the WHL. Schenn has been on the top line with Team Canada teammate Curtis Hamilton and veteran Jake Trask.
“The hard thing to do – when teams trade 19 assets to get you at the junior level – they’re not trading for you to be Frank Selke,” said Futa. “But his game away from the puck and his attention to detail is better. I think his game the way you saw it at the world juniors is much more indicative of where he’ll be as a pro.”
In Saskatoon, like in the rest of the hockey world, Schenn is still a big deal. His name was bandied about by TV pundits at the NHL trade deadline with Kings GM Dean Lombardi having to state publicly that his fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft wasn’t going anywhere.
“The bottom line is he was never available,” said Futa. “We were never offering him up, but any player of value that was available at any stretch, the first person anybody asked about was Brayden Schenn – he was a non-starter as far as Dean Lombardi was concerned.”
Trade or not, some day soon, Schenn will once again be packing his bags and leaving his native Saskatchewan. In the meantime, he says he’ll continue working to help bring the Blades the WHL title that has eluded them for so many years and to share that success with those closest to him.
“My billets in Brandon were good cooks,” he said. “But there’s nothing like the home cooking.”