Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke wasn't mincing words when asked about Luke Schenn.
"I don't want to embarrass Luke," Burke said Friday, "but what you see is a classic, hard-nosed shut-down Canadian defenseman. Luke plays the game the way we all dream about finding players to play that way."
Burke backed up his statement by signing Schenn, a restricted free agent, to a new five-year contract. Terms of the deal were not released, but multiple media reports place the average annual value at $3.6 million per season.
The deal allowed Schenn to go through physicals and fitness testing Friday with the rest of his teammates. The on-ice portion of training camp starts Saturday.
"I've been proud to be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I've been drafted here," Schenn said. "My first three years have been awesome. The organization has been unbelievable. Being able to get a contract extension for five years form the Toronto Maple Leafs, I'm very grateful for it. I'm looking forward to the next five years in Toronto. This team is a good young team. I know we're only getting better here the next few years and I'm looking forward to being part of that."
The 21-year-old blueliner played all 82 games last season and set career-highs in assists (17), points (22) and shots (128). He led the team with 168 blocked shots and 251 hits -- he was eighth in the League in hits and first among defensemen. Schenn was the only player in the NHL to have at least 250 hits and at least 150 blocked shots last season. He also had five goals, 34 penalty minutes, and his average ice time of 22:22 per game was second on the team.
The fifth pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, Schenn has 12 goals and 41 assists in 231 games in his first three seasons.
Burke has been very happy with the way Schenn has developed since arriving in Toronto.
"He plays hard and he's hard to play against," Burke said. "He finishes his checks. He's gotten dramatically better in the time he's been here. His improvement has been a rapid ascent in terms of his skill development. And I don't think he's done. I think he can get better in his own end and I think his offensive side can continue to develop. You saw that a little bit last year, getting over 20 points, and I think that number can increase."
For Schenn, though, the only number he wants to increase is the amount of playoff games he's played. That number currently is zero -- as the Leafs have missed the postseason for six straight seasons.
However, a 17-7-5 run in their first 29 games after the All-Star break got them into playoff contention, and sparked positive thoughts for the 2011-12 season.
"I know that we're definitely on the right track," Schenn said. "Since I've been here this is definitely the most competitive we've been. … There's no question everyone is excited for the year and optimistic going into every year, but this year definitely feels a lot different because of the way we ended last year, and we have a lot of those guys coming back. That extra year of experience should help everyone. I think we're definitely on the right track, not only to becoming a playoff team, but hopefully going above and beyond that."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK