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Luke Schenn Should be Part of Blue Line Solution

The NHL has rapidly evolved since the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Luke Schenn with the fifth overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Speed and puck possession has now overtaken the commodity of brute force and size, leaving the current Philadelphia Flyer in no man’s land.

But while the 26-year-old veteran quietly dangles on general manager Ron Hextall’s trade block, is it possible for the Flyers to benefit from the league’s current lack of interest in any way?

 

Fallen Stock

Heading into the 2008 Draft, Schenn was revered for his size and physicality, while possessing a sneaky scoring touch, considering his style as a defensive defenseman.

As a result, Hockey’s Future tabbed the right-handed-shooting defender with a prospect score of 7.5 out of 10, projecting him to become a “shutdown defender” between a consistent second-line pairing and a No. 2 defensemen who’s just below the cusp of the “elite” label.

The top resource for the NHL Draft and prospects further gave the following for Schenn’s talent analysis and future:

Schenn plays a strong and physical defense.  Touted as a shut-down defenseman, Schenn is generally underrated offensively, an aspect of his skill set that is likely to materialize as he matures in professional hockey.

He has the potential to become a shut down defender at the NHL level.

In what is now known to be a deep pool that year, the Saskatoon native was selected just behind the likes of Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, and Alex Pietrangelo, while going ahead of names such as Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers and John Carlson, among others.

“What became evident is that he has leadership skills,” said Toronto then interim GM Cliff Fletcher upon selecting Schenn, per NHL.com. “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.”

Not only were the Maple Leafs sold on their first-round selection, who earned an “A” from Hockey’s Future for “Probability of Success,” they believed enough in the then 21-year-old to extend him to a five-year, $18 million deal right before the start of training camp in 2011.

Schenn was traded to the Flyers a year into that contract, however, as former GM Paul Holmgren scrambled to replace the gaping void left behind by Chris Pronger. But despite the expectations that arrived with him in Philadelphia, the blue line continued to regress, exposing the highly-touted defender’s shortcomings.

The once valued attributes of size and physicality would turn into one of Schenn’s biggest drawbacks, as his skating ability was visually below standards. This, of course, affected his defense, making the projected shutdown defenseman even more vulnerable to criticism.

Steve Ewen of The Province writes:

Schenn plays a simple, solid style when things are going right for him. He can’t “overcomplicate things” on the ice, by his own admission.

The knock on him is that he doesn’t have the foot speed to keep up in today’s NHL. The stats suggest that he still keeps up enough to be physical; he was credited with 194 hits in 58 games last season.

Laying claim to fame for real time statistics like hits isn’t exactly the M.O. of a standard top five draft pick, though, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Last season alone, the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks accumulated the second fewest hits (1,357) throughout the regular season, while the Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning finished 22nd overall with 1,759.

The Flyers, on the other hand, were fourth, registering 2,511 hits as they failed to make the playoffs.

But while teams around the league continue to pass on the opportunity to acquire the former NHL All Rookie Team member, is it plausible to believe he still possesses value to the Flyers this season?

 

Playing the Hand That’s Dealt

With the latest injury to Mark Streit causing the unplanned call-up of prospect Shayne Gostisbehere, perhaps the lack of tire kicking from other GM’s on Schenn is a good thing.

What was once considered to be a crowded blue line at the Wells Fargo Center has now turned quite thin with the absence of their top scoring defensemen in Streit, along with free agent newcomer Evgeny Medvedev in and out of the lineup.

Before the start of the current campaign, Charlie O’Connor of Broad Street Hockey wrote:

To start, losing a useful asset like Luke Schenn for nothing would be painful, even if he is no longer in the organization’s plans past this season. Aside from Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn may have the most trade value of any of the team’s current defensemen. He’s an NHL veteran who has proven over an extended career that he can play a meaningful, limited role on a contender. He also has only one year remaining on his contract, which would allow another team to add Schenn without committing long-term.

Despite being scratched in four contests already this year, Schenn has earned his keep in the lineup, providing reliable depth to the core while adding a pair of goals and three assists in 13 tilts.

Although not acclaimed for his point production – a career-high of 22 points recorded in consecutive seasons with Toronto – the older sibling to his teammate Brayden sits tied with Sam Gagner and Matt Read for fifth in team scoring, while his five points through Nov. 14 are more than Nick Schultz, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning, and Medvedev combined.

As strange as it sounds, it’s not by chance.

Among all teammates who have appeared in 10 or more games, Schenn leads all defenseman, while trailing five forwards, with a five-on-five SAT percentage of 53.14 percent. Both of his goals were scored on snap shots just beyond the faceoff dot, yet his 1001 percent SPSv percentage ties him with his brother for 10th under the same game number standard.

While it’s beyond logic to declare Schenn as the second-coming of P.K. Subban (above obvious reasons), the eighth-year pro sits seventh among all NHL defensemen with a minimum of 150 minutes of even-strength ice time in points recorded per 60 minutes with 1.32 through Nov. 15.

Whether it’s pure luck or not, the former World Junior Championship gold medalist has achieved such marks while skating with the lowest time on ice teammate percentage to this point in his career at 16 percent.

Comparing 13 games to past bodies of work that include close to, if not, overall full seasons may leave room for skepticism, but given where the Flyers find themselves today – especially along the blue line – it’s a positive takeway.

At this point, it sure beats stewing over van Riemsdyk.

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