OTTAWA – The Toronto Maple Leafs were in unfamiliar territory when they drafted Luke Schenn.
The bruising defenceman was selected by the Maple Leafs with the fifth pick on Friday night, making him the team’s highest-drafted player since Scott Thornton was taken third in 1989.
Toronto has missed the playoffs the last three seasons and Schenn will now be seen as one of the players who can help turn the franchise around in years to come.
He welcomes those expectations.
“There’s always pressure when you play in Toronto,” said Schenn. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best that I can be.
“For sure there’s a lot of pressure being in the Leafs organization but it’s going to come from within too.”
The Maple Leafs entered the draft with the seventh pick but swung a deal with the New York Islanders to move up and select Schenn.
They gave up a second-and third-round pick along with their first-round selection to get it done.
“The top four defencemen are all special and we knew we had to act to get one of them,” said GM Cliff Fletcher, adding that 15 teams had called the Islanders trying to move up.
Schenn is six-foot-two and a solid 220 pounds.
The 18-year-old spent the past two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets and has drawn comparisons to Adam Foote because of his hard-nosed play. Fletcher saw Schenn play a game during a scouting trip in March and came away impressed.
“What became evident is that he has leadership skills,” said Fletcher. “You won’t see him do too many end-to-end rushes but he’s a very good shutdown guy, very physical, makes a great first pass and has a good shot.”
He won’t be expected to jump right into the team’s lineup, but he’ll do his best to accomplish that as soon as possible.
“I’m going to have a good summer,” said Schenn. “We’ll see when September comes.”
It’s been a great year for him.
He played for Canada during the eight-game Super Series against Russia in August and was part of the world junior team that won gold in January.
Those experiences really helped his development.
“Those two events were definitely big,” said Schenn. “You get great exposure playing with the best players in your country and the top players from around the world.”
He wore a wide smile while talking to reporters in his brand new Maple Leafs jersey.
Schenn couldn’t help but marvel at how far he’d come since first playing minor hockey in his hometown of Saskatoon.
“To say I’d be in this position, I never could never have predicted that,” he said. “It’s indescribable right now.”