Part of the appeal of watching Luke Schenn learn the ropes in the NHL this past season was that on many nights he was the toughest Maple Leaf on the ice.
Such performances made him a favourite with fans, the coaching staff and teammates as the Saskatchewan native left a measurable mark as a rookie, one of the few bright lights in a miserable Toronto season.
But with some added beef to the blueline thanks to the off-season moves thus far of general manager Brian Burke, Schenn will have plenty of bruising company for his sophomore season.
ď(Burke) went out and got a couple more defensive guys and some bigger, stronger guys, so hopefully itís going to help out in a big way,Ē Schenn said this week while in town to participate in the Mike Weir Charity Classic at Glen Abbey.
ďI think all three guys we have on the back end are really physical guys. Itís going to bring a lot to the penalty kill and itís going to make it tougher on other teamís forwards when they are down low.Ē
The addition of free-agent signees Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin, as well as Garnet Exelby, who was acquired in the Pavel Kubina trade with Atlanta, are welcome company for Schenn, who played 70 games as a rookie, amassing 71 penalty minutes along the way.
The coaching staff was impressed with Schennís learning curve. He logged 20 minutes or more of ice time in 48 games, many nights being matched against the oppositionís top players.
ďFor me, being physical is one of my strengths, thatís when Iím most effective,Ē said Schenn, who will turn 20 this November. ďSome of the guys who they brought in fit in well with the type of game I like to play.Ē
Moving midweek games at the Air Canada Centre to a 7 p.m. start time for the 2009-10 season is not, as coach Ron Wilson joked the other day, to avoid contests going late into the night because of all the toughness injected into the lineup.
There are two more practical reasons. First, the team is hoping the earlier start times will appeal to a younger audience, both live at the ACC and on television. And perhaps more importantly, the earlier starts will help enable more efficient getaways on the eight occasions the team has a road game the following night.
Two Marlies return
Burke re-signed restricted free agent forwards Darryl Boyce (for two years) and Alex Foster (for one) yesterday.
Both are expected to spend the bulk of their time with the AHL Marlies as they did this past season.
Boyce joined the Leafs organization as a free agent on Jan. 1, 2008. Foster played in all 80 games with the Marlies last year while Boyce appeared in 73 games.