January 26, 2010
Luke no Doughty, but ...... Leafs' Schenn more than just a consolation prize
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
From his perch high up in the Air Canada Centre press box Tuesday night, Cliff Fletcher will peer down at Los Angeles Kings super sophomore Drew Doughty and probably wonder what might have been.
What if Fletcher's Maple Leafs had been able to pry the second-overall pick away from the Kings at the 2008 entry draft in Ottawa, putting them in position to put Doughty in a blue-and-white jersey?
Fletcher tried to make that happen. He really did.
Holding the seventh overall pick, Fletcher arrived at Scotiabank Place intending to land one of the top four blue-line prospects: Doughty, the highly coveted Guelph Storm defenceman; Zach Bogosian of the Peterborough Petes; Alex Pietrangelo of the Niagara IceDogs; and defensive-minded Luke Schenn of the Kelowna Rockets.
Fletcher, then the GM of the Leafs, knew all four likely would be gone by the time Toronto was on the clock. So he worked the phones.
"We knew Doughty was further advanced than the rest of them," Fletcher says now. "We approached the Kings but they didn't have any interest in giving the pick up."
Nor did No. 3 Atlanta and No. 4 St. Louis, making Doughty, Bogosian and Pietrangelo unobtainable.
"The Islanders (at No. 5) were the only ones willing to move," Fletcher said.
In order to snap up Schenn, the Leafs acquired No. 5 pick from the Isles for the No. 7 overall plus two additional selections. A heavy price, perhaps, but they got their man.
One of them, anyway.
Some 19 months later, there is a noticeable difference between the development rates of Doughty and Schenn. Such a comparison, however, would be misguided.
Doughty, after all, is a unique specimen. Fletcher knows it. Schenn knows it. And Canadian Olympic team GM Steve Yzerman knows it.
"I've played with Drew five times -- two under-18 championships; a world junior championship; the world championship; and the Super Series against Russia. And the bigger the stage or the competition, the better he is," Schenn said.
"He never worries when he messes up. Or what people think. He just has confidence in himself."
A trait that helped Yzerman and his staff overcome any trepidation of selecting a 20-year-old greenhorn to play under the Olympic spotlight.
"Seeing his poise in the world championship last year and playing extremely well against the best teams this year was very impressive," Yzerman told The Toronto Sun via e-mail. "I don't think the Olympic setting will bother him at all."
While Doughty has been on a Phoenix-like rise to prominence, Schenn's early season struggles raised questions concerning his future. Truth is, none of the other three defencemen taken at the top of the '08 draft -- Bogosian, Pietrangelo and Schenn -- has enjoyed anywhere near the success authored by Doughty in their young pro careers.
Plagued by a broken leg in his rookie season, Bogosian still is learning the defensive end of the game, sporting a plus/minus of minus-10 with the Thrashers in 2009-10. Pietrangelo, meanwhile, took a while to recover from an early season concussion against the Leafs in October 2008, causing the Blues to decide he could use more time in junior.
Schenn is plus-3, the second-best plus/minus behind Ian White on this ailing Leafs team. Maybe Schenn isn't facing the opposition's top line on a nightly basis, but his plus-3 remains fodder for optimism.
"I've watched some of his games including the one in Florida (Saturday night) and I thought he played very well," Doughty said. "He had a slow start but I think he has rebounded to have a strong year. He's going to be a good leader."
Schenn admits regaining his confidence, something he lacked earlier this season.
"When you aren't playing much, you worry about messing up," Schenn said. "When you start believing in yourself again, you just play."
Schenn will never have the raw talent of Doughty. There is a reason Doughty was targeted ahead of him by the Leafs in the '08 draft.
At the same time, Schenn, early season woes and all, should be considered more than just a consolation prize.
A look at how the top four defenceman plucked in the 2008 NHL entry draft have progressed since being selected.
\ DREW DOUGHTY
JUNIOR TEAM: Guelph Storm.
SELECTED: Second overall, 2008, by Los Angeles Kings.
2009-10 STATS: 51 GP; 9 G, 29 A, 38 Pts; plus-15; 34 PIM.
CAREER STATS: 132 GP; 15-50-65; plus-2; 90 PIM.
HOW HE HAS FARED: Easily the cream of the crop of the four defencemen picked at the top of the '08 draft ... Showed maturity beyond his years both on and off the ice ... Along with his offensive flair, his competence in the defensive zone was a significant reason why he was picked for the Canadian Olympic team over bigger names such as Mike Green and Dion Phaneuf.
JUNIOR TEAM: Peterborough Petes.
SELECTED: Third overall, 2008, by Atlanta Thrashers.
2009-10 STATS: 51 GP; 9-11-20; minus-10; 42 PIM.
CAREER STATS: 98 GP; 18-21-39; plus-1; 89 PIM.
HOW HE HAS FARED: Finally getting into the groove after an injury-plagued rookie season ... Had appeared in just eight games in 2008-09 before being knocked out with a broken left leg against the Flyers ... Still having growing pains in own end ... Has gone from plus-11 a year ago to minus-10 this year.
JUNIOR TEAM: Niagara IceDogs.
SELECTED: Fourth overall 2008, by St. Louis Blues.
2009-10 STATS: 9 GP; 1-1-2: minus-9; 6 PIM.
CAREER STATS: 17 GP; 1-2-3; minus-9, 8 PIM.
HOW HE HAS FARED: Rookie season was derailed early by a hit-from-behind from the Maple Leafs' Ryan Hollweg, leaving him with concussion problems ... Spent much of the season between the OHL/AHL ... Named best defenceman at 2010 world junior hockey championship ... Recently traded from Niagara to Barrie in OHL ... Blues obviously think another season of development at OHL level will be beneficial.
JUNIOR TEAM: Kelowna Rockets.
SELECTED: Fifth overall, 2008, by Maple Leafs.
2009-10 STATS: 50 GP; 2-7-9: plus-3; 37 PIM.
CAREER STATS: 120 GP; 4-19-23; minus-9; 108 PIM.
HOW HE HAS FARED: Defence-first kid who was surrounded with the hype and hoopla to be a first-round pick in Toronto ... Rookie season was good enough for Canadian officials to pick him for the 2009 Canadian team for the world championship ... Struggled early this season, even finding himself a healthy scratch on a handful of occasions ... Has rebounded recently and is a respectable plus-3 for the campaign.