TORONTO – When we first learned the NHL season would be saved, and a new 48-game schedule was going to be released in early January, everyone was scrambling to scour the Internet in search of someone who may have gotten their mitts on it first.
Included in that group was Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn.
“When the schedule came out, this was the first game I looked for,” Schenn said. “It’s something you look forward to… I think both teams have obviously moved on and they’re both having success too and we are starting to too. There is no question that I look forward to going back there.”
Schenn, who was under constant media pressure in Toronto to be a defensive savior after being their first round pick (No. 5 overall) in the 2008 NHL entry draft, had a lot of ups and downs as a Maple Leaf. Last season, he saw his ice time diminish and even was a healthy scratch as the Leafs grew impatient with his development as a top tier defenseman, which amounted to a serious case of criticism heaped upon him by the ever-needling Toronto media.
Yet now Schenn, still just a pup at 23, is getting top pair minutes playing with Kimmo Timonen. And although he has had his mistakes from time to time, seems to be getting better and better with each game.
And there’s no doubt that his game against Carolina Saturday was his best as a Flyer.
He led the team in hits with eight and blocked shots with six and was a force against Eric Staal all game long.
And that’s just the thing, Schenn isn’t playing against third and fourth line pluggers. He’s going out against the best in the league every game – and he’s been successful.
He has a goal and an assist, but he is also a plus-3, which isn’t a be all, end all statistical measurement of his defensive game by any means, but considering he plays against top players and the Flyers have struggled to score, it says a lot about how good they’ve been as a team when he’s been on the ice.
And now he gets to go back to Toronto, where it’s safe to say the reception won’t be warm from the fans, and the media spotlight will be harsh – at least one more time.
“It has gone a little bit better as a team (lately) and I have a little more confidence going in there for sure,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting, but the whole team needs to be prepared and play hard. It’s a tough place to play and it’s a tough crowd.”
Any time a player is traded, they will forever be compared to the player they were traded for.
In Schenn’s case, it was James van Riemsdyk, who was the No. 2 pick in the 2007 NHL draft by the Flyers, who never really lived up to his expectations either.
However, van Riemsdyk has gotten off to a blistering start for the Maple Leafs, with seven goals and two assists for nine points in 12 games, which has the Toronto faithful giddy about the deal so far.
But the value of the two players is hard to compare and if Schenn, who spent time working with surefire Hall-of-Famer Chris Pronger in training camp, continues on his path with the Flyers, it wouldn’t surprise to see the orange and black faithful being the ones feeling better about the deal in the end.
Still, even Schenn wants to see how he and JVR are comparing from time-to-time.
“I wouldn’t say (I check his stats) every night… but he plays in Toronto so you’re going to see it, whether you check or not,” Schenn said. “It looks like he is having a lot of success and I know him a little bit and obviously wish him the best. He’s getting a few goals and that’s good to see.”
What’s also good to see is the development of Schenn as a reliable rearguard on an underrated defensive unit that along with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has kept the Flyers in mostly every game.
“It’s always a little bit challenging when you got back to a team that you started with or that you played for,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “But he’s really found a nice home here and he’s really become a valuable player for us on the back end.
“Every night you look at his hits and his blocked shots. (Saturday) I thought he was terrific with the puck. He made a lot of nice exits out of our zone. He joined and skated the puck up the ice at times… I’d like to see him keep doing what he’s doing, keep it simple and play a good steady defensive game for us.”
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