Quick, which Leafs have played the most games in Blue and White?
Easy: Tomas Kaberle.
True enough but numbers two and three are shocking. Nikolai Kulemin
is second in Blue and White seniority with 156 games. Two games behind sits Luke Schenn
How many 20-year-olds stand third on their team’s seniority list?
The player who still can’t have a legal beer in Nashville trudged through a fine rookie season, an early slump in the second season and a streak of uninterrupted fine play in the third.
“You have young guys coming into the league who are 21, 22,” said Schenn, who turns 21 November 2. “I guess I’m looked upon as a bit of an older guy because I have been here for three years.”
Schenn has topped 20 minutes in every game this season and logged 24 against the New York Rangers. He has played with a noticeable vigour and confidence.
“I feel really good, pretty much through training camp on,” he said. “It helps a lot when you are playing well as a team and winning.”
The fifth overall pick in 2008, Schenn arrived a quiet kid from Saskatoon who grew up a Leafs’ fan. In his third, he has added about 15 pounds and comes in somewhere around 240 pounds. His features remain boyish, but a nose that was rearranged during a fight in junior refuses to conform to any mainstream shape. The cut at the bridge of the nose refuses to heal as well.
“Just part of the game,” he says. “I hear a lot about it but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”
Schenn now has the hockey player’s trifecta: a hockey player’s body, a hockey player’s nose and a hockey player’s game.
NHL players don’t gain experience in their first season so much as work to survive that initial campaign. The second year often brings the sophomore adjustment. It did to Schenn and Kulemin and right now, the same plague has beset Carl Gunnarsson
But by the third season the player has learned how to play in the league and where he fits on the team. If he is lucky, he will find someone with a complementary skill set.
Schenn has been paired with Tomas Kaberle and each man has profited from the arrangement. With Schenn the conservative part of the tandem, Kaberle can lug the puck knowing he has support. But just as important, Kaberle’s ability to skate or pass the puck out of harm’s way lessens the amount of energy Schenn must expend behind his own blue line.
“I haven’t seen too many guys better at that than Tomas,” Schenn said. “I can just bump the puck over to him and then he puts it right on the tape for the forward. The game is a lot easier when you have Tomas Kaberle beside you.”
“Even from this year I notice he is a lot more confident with the puck,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf
“He’s holding the puck; he’s moving the puck well. He is seeing the ice well. Right from when I got here he was playing really well down the stretch. He carried that over into this year and more.”