Schenn makes the grade

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

Given the choice of hanging around and banging heads with high school kids or NHLers, Luke Schenn would go with the obvious.

After signing a three-year, entry-level deal yesterday, the Leafs' top pick in the 2008 draft is about to get his chance.

"Here it's different than playing against 16- and 17-year-old kids," Schenn, 18, said yesterday. "Here I'm playing against men. Everyone is bigger, stronger and quicker. If you adjust to that, it's going to help you become a better player."

IMPRESSIVE CAMP

From the start of training camp, the young defenceman impressed management, earning a roster spot. All that remained was getting him signed to a deal which will see him earn a base salary of $875,000 US per season.

"His presence on the ice and his maturity are far beyond his years," Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher said. "He adapted to tough situations well and he passed every test."

It has been speculated that Schenn will be returned to his junior team in Kelowna after nine games, which would allow the Leafs to delay the start of the contract until next season. But Leafs coach Ron Wilson said yesterday that if Schenn logs 17-18 minutes per game during his next audition, it may be difficult to send him back.

"He has earned the right to start the season here," Wilson said. "We want to see how he matches up when the intensity is dialled up. If he thinks he's physically, emotionally and mentally ready, then he has got a chance to stay."

Schenn, who saw quality time in tough situations throughout the pre-season, said he feels comfortable with his older teammates.

"I didn't come in here worrying about my age," Schenn said. "It's whether you can play the game or not. I feel comfortable right now."

Meanwhile, a day after putting Mark Bell on waivers, the Leafs did the same thing to forward Boyd Devereaux and defenceman Staffan Kronwall. No one claimed Bell, which means he can be assigned to the AHL Marlies.

"When you get down to the bottom end of the roster, the players are pretty close," Fletcher said of keeping 23-year-old John Mitchell instead of the 30-year-old Devereaux. "We opted to go younger as opposed to going for the veteran."

Also yesterday, forward Nikolai Kulemin (knee), who is on injury reserve, skated and could be activated for tomorrow's opener.


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