Injuries leave door open for Schenn

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- The Maple Leafs' worsening injury situation could affect Thursday's opening-night lineup -- and keep Luke Schenn in the picture.

Coach Ron Wilson said yesterday that defenceman Pavel Kubina and winger Nikolai Kulemin could both be out seven to 10 days with knee injuries, as the season kickoff in Detroit approaches.

With Kubina hurting, Jeff Finger already held to one game by a foot injury and none of the other young Leafs defencemen standing out in camp so far, the teenager Schenn technically is where Wilson and management said he needed to be to avoid a ticket to junior, within the top four active defencemen on the team.

Schenn was poised again in his fifth NHL pre-season game here against the Blues and was a big part of the Leafs killing six of seven power plays. He played more than 20 minutes and blocked two shots on an otherwise horrible night for the Toronto defence.

Wilson opined that keeping him with the Leafs and not the WHL's Kelowna Rockets might not be the developmental blunder many have feared.

"If he's ready, he's ready," Wilson said. "When I watch him, I'm looking at how he moves on pucks, how he defends the forecheck and does he get the puck out cleanly.

"If he played in junior he might not get better. He might be beyond junior. You send some kids back and could find out later that he picked up bad habits or didn't try hard.

"But don't read into this that he's on the team. We just have to look at things like that. You have to look at the depth on our team, too. (The injuries) could delay some decisions. I'm playing some guys more than I like, but that's not always a bad thing."

There are 10 defencemen at camp and depending on how long Finger and Kubina are out, the top of the class now includes Tomas Kaberle, Mike Van Ryn, Carlo Colaiacovo and Schenn. But the Leafs aren't giving up on Swedish import Jonas Frogren and still to be heard from are are Anton Stralman, Ian White and Staffan Kronwall. Kulemin's knee injury saw collegiate winger Kyle Rogers back in for a second game, though Robbie Earle hardly was used and was minus-2.

The Leafs have three pre-season games remaining, a weekend home-and-home with the Detroit Red Wings and then Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the ACC. Last night's starter, Curtis Joseph, was expected to play Saturday, sandwiched around two games by No. 1 Vesa Toskala.


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