Two moments in Toronto’s shootout loss to Anaheim Tuesday crystallized the possibilities that lie within rookie defenseman Luke Schenn.
In the first period, Schenn came within a hair of dropping the gloves with Ducks young gun Corey Perry and trust me, Schenn wasn’t the one who backed out. For the rest of the game, Schenn’s older teammates (most notably Jonas Frogren and Jamal Mayers) took turns unloading heavy hits on Perry whenever possible, as if to say “if our kid wants to go, you better go.”
In the third period, trailing 2-1, Schenn grabbed a loose puck and streaked down the wing with Matt Stajan quickly joining him. Only a great defensive slide from Chris Pronger prevented the 2-on-1 from becoming a sure scoring chance.
In both cases, nothing ended up happening, yet both illustrated the complete game Schenn is capable of playing in the NHL and the fact he is capable of doing so right now.
Ah, but therein lies the rub. Toronto has nine NHL-caliber defensemen right now. In keeping Schenn for the season, rather than returning him to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western League after nine games (at which time his NHL entry level contract would kick in), the Buds are going to be playing musical chairs too frequently for most tastes. Just ask recent healthy scratches Carlo Colaiacovo or Ian White.
The heat turns up a little more when Jeff Finger, signed as a free agent this summer to play in the top four, returns from injury.
Now, I was well prepared to claim Schenn should be sent back to junior, but on second thought, maybe he should stay.
In keeping him up, he learns from coach Ron Wilson, who clearly trusts the youngster enough to play him more than 20 minutes a night. Wilson, himself a former Maple Leafs defenseman, has the luxury of knowing Schenn will likely slow down at the tail end of the season (many rookies do thanks to an increased amount of games played versus their previous season) and can adjust his expectations and the rookie’s ice time accordingly. If Schenn doesn’t slow down? Bonus. The Leafs will be in tough to make the playoffs, so it’s basically a firm 82-game timetable we’re dealing with here.
The one big advantage of sending Schenn down is the fact he would certainly play for Team Canada at this year’s World Junior Championship in Ottawa; nothing like a gold medal to make a kid’s year.
But there is another way to get the best of both worlds and there have been rumblings that the following will happen: the Leafs keep Schenn, but loan him to Team Canada in December for the tourney.
With so many defensemen available, it would benefit both the Leafs and Schenn to send him off for a little mid-season change of scenery, not to mention playing in some pressure-packed medal games.
Based on his poise and play of late it’s obvious Schenn is a future cornerstone in Toronto. He can’t be expected to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year and he’s not going to score 20 goals. Heck, he may not even finish with a positive plus-minus this season. But all the tools are there. With the proper sharpening, Schenn will be doing big things and scaring a lot of opponents in the next couple seasons, more likely sooner than later.
This article also appears in the Toronto Metro newspaper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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