Rookie defenceman Luke Schenn has been a defensive wonder with the Maple Leafs this pre-season, making it extremely difficult for the organization to send him back to junior.
But Schenn showed yet another side to his game last night, scoring a dramatic goal in the shootout to give the Leafs a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues in front of 18,581 delighted fans at the Air Canada Centre.
And now, the decision whether to send him back to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, or keep him with the Leafs, has become even tougher. More than just the fancy goal he scored last night (making three head fakes and then beating St. Louis goaltender Manny Legace on a high, backhand shot), has been his poise in four pre-season games. Head coach Ron Wilson enjoyed the goal last night, of course, but he has been impressed with the 2008 first round draft pick for many other reasons.
"He hasn't looked out of place yet," Wilson said. "Certainly, physically, he's strong enough. He man-handled Keith Tkachuk at the end of the second period last night, and I haven't seen him get beat one-on-one yet."
But it was the goal that had the ACC abuzz last night.
Schenn, who is close to signing an entry-level contract with the Leafs, said he was taken aback when Wilson informed him after the overtime period that he would be the fourth shooter, if it got that far. Normally rookie defencemen who specialize in defensive play don't get picked for the shootout. Schenn, 18, never had been selected to take part in a shootout before, not even in junior.
"The coach named off the first three guys, then he looked down and said, 'Luke, you're fourth' and I was just thinking, 'Hopefully there's not a fourth shooter,' " he said, with a laugh.
The Cinderella story almost turned into a nightmare at the start when Schenn almost overskated the puck as he moved in on Legace. Afterward, Toronto's backup goaltender, Curtis Joseph, presented Schenn with the puck.
"That was pretty cool," Schenn said.
Wilson admitted that he selected Schenn "to have some fun" but also because he thought a right-handed shooter would be effective against Legace, and because Schenn had demonstrated some breakaway chops in practice.
"We did a little practice (shootout) the other day and he was a finalist, he scored two times, that move and another where he went to his forehand," Wilson said. "He had that great move in practice."