Big boost for Leafs

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson will have his cool hand Luke Schenn back in the lineup tonight against Bryan McCabe and the visiting Florida Panthers at the Air Canada Centre.

The big question will be who will sit in Schenn's place? It likely will be one of the other rookies on defence, Jaime Sifers, or the big Swede, Jonas Frogren.

Both have played pretty well with Schenn and Mike Van Ryn lost to the team as a result of injuries. Schenn went down on Dec. 6 with a strained knee, while Van Ryn has been out since Dec. 18 when he suffered his second concussion of the season.

As for the club's No. 1 centre, Matt Stajan, the Mississauga native is expected to return from an eye injury on Thursday against the Canadiens in Montreal.

Stajan, who is tied for first on the team in points, with 30 in 34 games, suffered bleeding in the anterior chamber in his right eye, a condition known as hyphema, when he was accidently struck in the eye with a ball during a warm-up session in Washington on Dec. 27.

Stajan called the accident one of the "scariest" times of his life.

"You can't see for three or four hours, and your eye's open and you don't know what's going on and you have no control. It's scary," he said yesterday, following a team practice at the ACC. "Luckily it has healed nicely and it will be back like it was. But it was scary."

The most frustrating part of the accident, Stajan actually wasn't taking part in the soccer warmup session, but was just walking by when the ball struck him in the face.

"If I was playing, I would have reacted to it. It's just something ... I was walking by, it was a small area, and someone spun kicked it and caught me the wrong way. It's a freak accident," Stajan said, adding that he will continue to take part in warming up with a soccer ball. "I found myself in a bad spot, it hit my eye in the wrong way and caused some blindness for a few hours. But, definitely, I'm going to get back to my normal routine, which includes playing keep up before the game."

For Schenn, the month-long break was the first extended injury layoff for the strapping 19-year-old, who has become a fixture on the Leafs defence. But Wilson expects the Saskatoon native to find his legs fairly quickly.

"He'll probably be worried (early on) if he's ready to go. But he's a physical player and I think the first hit, maybe on his first shift, whether he hits or is hit, that will settle his mind down and he'll be ready to go," Wilson said. "Your first injury, often times you're a little tentative out there and we'll try to guide him through that."

At the beginning of the season, Wilson wouldn't have hesitated to remove Ian White from the lineup in place of an incoming regular on defence. In fact, White was a healthy scratch for the first 11 games of the regular season. But since being put in the lineup on a regular basis, the Steinbach, Man., native has been one of the team's most consistent defencemen, recording 11 points with a team-best plus-seven.

"I've been very impressed with Ian White," Wilson said. "He's a lot calmer as a defenceman than he was in training camp. He plays his position better, he doesn't run around. (Frogren) is basically the same. When he is running around like a maniac out there, bad things happen. When he's under control, yet still physical, he's a pretty effective defenceman. Both of those guys have held down the fort pretty well with the injuries we've had."


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