No Philadelphia Flyer has had a tougher draw this season than Brayden Schenn. He failed to make the team out of training camp, largely due to salary concerns beyond his control. After tearing the AHL apart for four games, he got his first call-up and struggled before a broken foot sidelined him.
Then, after recovering, he went back to the AHL, added another four points in three games, and was recalled to the Flyers again. However, after two strong games, he was scratched for an upper body injury.
Now, it turns out that upper-body injury is in fact a mild concussion. And he is out indefinitely.
While there is always the chance he comes back, strong, highly-talented players who miss significant time early in their careers usually fail to reach their full potential.
There have been numerous players over the years who have had injuries upend their careers before they even began:
Brett Lindros (9th overall pick, 1994 draft), brother of Eric Lindros, retired from hockey at the age of 20 due to multiple concussions over his first two seasons. Ryan Sittler (7th overall, 1992 draft), a Flyers pick and son of Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler, suffered multiple injuries to his shoulder and face that prevented him from ever playing an NHL game and had him out of hockey at 25.
Those are the extreme cases, of course. Brayden Schenn will most likely play in the NHL again. I want to make it clear that I don’t believe that this latest injury will send him careening out of hockey. Just that it would not be unprecedented.
What’s more likely to happen is that Schenn’s injuries will prevent him from being as good as he possibly could be. And sad news for Flyers fans: this type of thing has become more and more common in recent seasons.
In terms of comparable players, Derick Brassard (6th overall, 2006 draft) stands out as a cautionary tale of what injuries can do to a burgeoning career.
In 2008, as a 21-year-old with Columbus, Brassard raced out to 25 points in his first 31 games, a total that led all rookies. Unfortunately, Brassard suffered a dislocated shoulder and missed the entire rest of the season. Since then, Brassard has yet to carry that level of production across a full season, with his best season a mediocre 47 points in 74 games.
This season, Brassard has had a paltry total of four points in 20 games, and seems firmly entrenched as an underachiever.
As I stated, there are other comparables.
Gilbert Brule (6th overall, 2005 draft) suffered a broken sternum and a broken leg as a 19-year-old in his first NHL season. His four points in seven games that year still reflect the highest point-per-game output of his 263 game NHL career.
Kyle Okposo (7th overall, 2006 draft) suffered a mild concussion before the start of his second season. He played in 80 of 82 games, but saw his goal total increase by only one from the previous season. Furthermore, in 61 games since the start of the 2010-11 season, Okposo has managed only eight goals (and one shoulder surgery).
Going a little further back, center Todd Harvey (9th overall, 1993 draft) comes to mind. Harvey posted 11 goals in his first 40 NHL games as a 19-year-old. However, injuries prevented him from ever playing a full season, and those 11 goals would be a career high.
Now, the one thing that could possibly separate Schenn from all these other players is something completely unquantifiable: talent. If you believe the hype, and I certainly do, Brayden Schenn’s talent level is on par with that of Jonathon Toews, Ryan Kesler, and, yes, Mike Richards.
None of the above players, with the possible exception of Okposo, are on the same level. And that is Schenn’s curse.
He will forever be judged as the player the Flyers received for Mike Richards. Even if he turns into a decent player, he will not be able to last long in Philadelphia if he cannot equal the level that Richards played at.
Just like Richards, Schenn plays a hard-nosed style of hockey that involves a lot of hitting and physicality. And he will get the little injuries that come along with it, also like Richards. That’s why there is reason to worry about him.
As talented as he may be, no one can play NHL-level hockey with a broken body. While his body hasn’t been broken yet, the more little cracks he picks up, the more likely he will break. And that would be a terrible waste of talent.