It was just a year ago, but for Luke Schenn, last season probably feels like a lifetime ago. Especially on the ice.
Rolling into his sophomore season after an impressive rookie campaign, expectations were high, and for Toronto's fifth-overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, that meant high expectations piled on top of previously towering ones.
And as the story usually goes for Leafs in his situation, well, it didn't go well.
In his first year, he had confidence, patience, physicality and best of all, he had his coach's trust. He played over 20 minutes 50 of the 70 games, which for a first-year defenseman, is a big deal. Especially when he's of the stay-at-home variety, and not simply pinching in a potting a few goals to keep the fans happy.
In his sophomore season, it seemed like Schenn either expected too much out of himself, or tried way to hard to be something he wasn't. He lost the confidence that got him to where he was in the first place. He lacked patience and mistakes that he should have been making the year prior, and in trying to be physical, he often put himself out of position. It looked like after taking a giant step forward, he was taking one back.
He played nine more games, but played over 20 minutes in just five games the entire year. Four of those games were late in the season.
As they tend to, the trade rumours began to swirl, the questions of whether he really was capable of playing a big role got louder. People were doubting Schenn already, so when it came to the start of 2010-11, he once again had a lot to prove.
And with just a few weeks left in the regular season, consider the doubters proven wrong.
Schenn's confidence is no longer a concern. His patience is vastly improved. And when it comes to his physical game, well, he quiets the doubters in a rather loud way on a nightly basis.
Schenn's 238 hits are seventh in the NHL, and number one for defensemen. He ranks 11th in blocked shots with 161 with every player ahead of him being 26 or older.
A clear indication that he's in the company of players much more experienced than him, and looking like he belongs.
Something that hasn't been talked about at all this season is his discipline. As one of the most physical players in the league, you'd expect Schenn to have worn a path to the penalty box, but in reality, he's taken just 12 minor penalties all season. That's right, 24 PIM's plus two fighting majors means Schenn has spent a grand total of 34 minutes in the box all season.
This 21-year-old is playing like a grizzled veteran, but with that youthful energy as he's still looking to impress on every shift. After only cracking the 20-minute mark a handful of times a season ago, Schenn averages 22:32 through 77 games this year.
He also has a career-high in assists (15), points (19), and shots (120) as he's managed to show a little offensive flair from time to time, including an end-to-end rush to score on Tim Thomas just a week ago against the Boston Bruins.
He's becoming everything the Leafs brass wanted him to be when they selected him: the cornerstone of the blue line and a force in front of the net for years to come.
There have been bumps along the way-as is the case with most players, but Schenn's rise has been a quick one in Toronto. Long gone are memories of the sophomore slump. The focus is now on the future of the Leafs defense looking a whole lot brighter with the emergence of Schenn.
Last season sure does seem like it was a long time ago.