Schenn in tough

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:51 AM ET

Rookie defenceman Luke Schenn is making it awfully tough for the Maple Leafs organization to send him back to junior hockey.

But unless two or three older defencemen get injured or forget how to skate backwards, the young man will be going west when the pre-season ends following the game on Oct.5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Head coach Ron Wilson said yesterday, prior to last night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Air Canada Centre, that the 18-year Schenn has done everything the organization has expected from him during training camp and the exhibition schedule, but it's almost certain he'll start the season back with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

It's a numbers game more than anything else. The Leafs may not score a lot of goals this season, but the one area the team is deep is on the blue line, with 10 defencemen fighting for seven spots, although Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina and Jeff Finger are givens.

"We do have nine other guys (with NHL experience) and I'll throw (Jonas) Frogren in there too, because even though he hasn't played NHL games, other than one exhibition game, I regard him as an NHL defenceman," Wilson said. "It will all depend on how everybody plays. None of the other defencemen have failed at anything, so it will still be tough for Luke to make the team."

The Leafs have made it clear that they won't keep Schenn in Toronto as a tourist. They plan to give him a lot of minutes this season, if not with the Leafs, then back with the Rockets.

"He won't be here to be the seventh defenceman, sitting in the press box, learning the game from you," Wilson said to a reporter. "I'd rather have him learning from the real coach."

Wilson made it clear, however, that the Leafs are absolutely thrilled with the way the Saskatoon native has carried himself, on and off the ice.

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Schenn dressed for the third time in four pre-season games last night and scored his first goal. The coach said that Schenn will play in every pre-season game until the regular schedule begins, with the exception of tonight's contest in Buffalo.

"He's going to be a great defensive, shut-down, defenceman. You can see that," Wilson said of the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder.

Wilson said Schenn is a coach's dream in terms of his reliability in the defensive zone -- and that will be his value to the team, not his goal-scoring.

"He reads defensive situations as well as any defenceman we have, if not actually the best," Wilson said.

"Defensively, he knows what he's doing, it's just he worries about all the other (offensive elements) -- moving the puck, turnovers, things like that. But he's a pretty quick learner.

"He's one of those players, the better the lineup around him, the better he's going to play. And the better the other team is, the better he's going to play.

"Obviously I'm happy with everything he has done up to this point and I like it that the most important thing is his coachability," Wilson said.

"I talked to Craig Hartsburg at the draft this year. Having coached him at the world (junior) championship, he had nothing but rave reviews about him. He said, 'As a coach, you'll love this guy because he's a sponge.' And I've seen that."


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