Brayden Schenn returns from his three-game suspension for the Flyers' home opener against the Anaheim Ducks at the Wells Fargo Center after serving his punishment for a hit on Washington forward T.J. Oshie in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last April.
Schenn hasn't played in 13 days, and when puck drops Thursday, it'll be a full two weeks since the last time he competed in a game. On Wednesday, Schenn claimed he feels he's in game shape because of the bag skates assistant coach Ian laperriere has put him through.
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But bag skates and playing in a hockey game are two different animals.
"He's got to be ready to go," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Wednesday. "I know he's chomping at the bit. He's worked extremely hard. He's been a pretty productive part of our team in the role he plays, not just through preseason but the stretch of last year. He'll be an important player for us. We'll have to gauge a little bit where he's at game condition wise, but I expect that he will be just fine and will be ready to go in terms of his full role."
While Hakstol wouldn't confirm Schenn will be with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on Thursday, read between the lines and all the signs point to him being on the top line. With Raffl's abdominal pull, it appears to be a no-brainer Schenn will be on the top line.
After all, the 25-year-old did play with Giroux and Simmonds in the preseason.
"I played as much as I could [in the preseason]," Schenn said. "I think I played six. They sat me out the last game just because they wanted the full roster playing for opening night. I felt good in preseason, I felt I had my timing back. …
"I think it might take a half a period or period just to get the timing back, but they've done a good job to keep us ready and I feel ready to go."
The Flyers return to South Philly 1-1-1 following a season-opening road trip out West, a start both Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall categorized as "OK" on Wednesday.
With Schenn's return, Hakstol's top six is defined. While Giroux, Schenn and Simmonds stand as the top line, the Flyers' second line — Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek — has been their most productive through the first three games.
Konecny, 19, has four assists; Couturier has three goals; and Voracek has three assists. It's the kind of production the Flyers have been searching for from their second line for the past few seasons, and on Thursday night, they'll finally see their top six in play.
"Obviously Brayden coming back is going to be big for us," Hextall said. "He's a physical presence, he scores goals, he's good on the power play. So I think Brayden [will make] a big impact, too, so it's nice to get your lines in how Hak foresees them."
The quandary for Hakstol comes when Raffl returns. The Flyers have more depth this season up front. The thought process was when Schenn comes back from his suspension, Raffl moves down to the third line and then the dominoes fall from there, which means a player that would have suited up with the team last season would find himself a healthy scratch.
"I think that's the nature of any good team," Hakstol said. "We hope that we're able to have depth at each and every position, and I think that we have that.
"More so, I'll flip that around a little bit. The thing that we really want to make sure that we concentrate on is rewarding players that do go out and do a good job.
"That's really where the focus is. Lineup decisions sort themselves out as you go through the daily grind of the season. We'll take those one day a time."
Schenn is coming off a career season in which he finally put together a consistent effort and became comfortable playing on both wings. The 6-foot-1 winger set career highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59) in 80 games last season, a campaign that rewarded him with a four-year, $20.5 million contract extension.
"I think I continue to get more confident and get better every year,” Schenn said. “I think heading into this year, I start off with a great opportunity to play with great players throughout the start here and try to run with it. I feel confident, I feel good heading into Game 1 for me.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to try and beat my points from last year."