Maple Leafs Rising Defenseman: How Luke Schenn Quickly Became One of Team's Best

Jon NeelyAnalyst INovember 17, 2010

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 16: Luke Schenn #2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal against the Nashville Predators during game action at the Air Canada Centre November 16, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

It's hard to find someone who wasn't hard on Luke Schenn after his less-than-stellar season last year.

As second-year players around the NHL lit up scoreboards and cemented their spots on the team long-term, Schenn struggled and watched his ice time drop as each game passed.

Though he improved towards the end of the year, the season ended with many wondering if he was really the player the Leafs thought he was and whether his future was with the blue and white.

Heck, even I predicted before 2010-11 that Schenn would be a non-factor on the blue line, and would be quickly phased out of any important role on the club.

Oh, how we were wrong.

Schenn has not only answered his critics with a great start to the season, but he's quickly becoming one of the team's most reliable defenders, in any situation.

He's stepped up his physical play in a big way, throwing his bigger-than-last-year body (6'2", 230 pounds) around like we all thought he should, and we've seen a major improvement in his puck-handling ability.

And for those of you who wanted Tomas Kaberle out of town, make sure to thank him for that before sending him away.

The biggest change is in his confidence.

He actually has some this season.

Actually, he has a lot, and with every great game he not only helps himself, but proves to his coach that he can be the go-to guy on this club. Especially with Dion Phaneuf sidelined until mid-December.

He was a turn-over machine last season, but paired with Kaberle now, he's become as sure-handed as they come with the puck in his own end.

Cool Hand Luke is right.

And where many figured he had no skill last season shooting, he's now showing he can unload a bomb from the point.

He scored his first goal of the season Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators, and with more time on the power play sure to come, expect for him to make more than a few appearances on the score sheet.

His five points are second on the team (behind his partner Kaberle) and he's clearly on pace to reach a career-high in points.

Simply put, Schenn has launched himself into the top four on the team, and has no signs of looking back to a disastrous sophomore season last year.

A slump would be a kind way of putting it, and he's determined to make everyone forget about it.

It's only 17 games into the season, but Schenn has already done enough to quiet the haters and have fans excited about his future with the club.

It's hard to believe he was able to come so far, so fast, and though it's not a Michael Vick rise-from-the-ashes story, it's looking more and more like the Maple Leafs are finally seeing the player they thought they drafted in Luke Schenn.

The future is now, and for a player who found himself in a dark place last season, the future suddenly looks very, very bright.