Many people have concluded that Luke Schenn is not top-pair or even top-four material because he struggled on a poor team’s third pair. I am here to tell you that is just not the case and that Luke Schenn is not only going to be in our top-4 this year, but he has all of the potential to eventually be a legitimate top pair defender.
Last year was Luke’s worst in the NHL by a long shot. He failed to improve on his 22 points from the year before (ending the 2012 season with 22 again), he failed to crack the top-4 in Toronto, ultimately causing him to be shipped out to our Flyers. Here are his advanced stats:
(Key: CRQoC/CRQoT: Quality of competition/teammates with 0 being average, 1 being quality competition/teammates and -1 being poor competition/teammates. OZS%: Offensive zone start %. G/60: Even strength goals per 60 minutes of ES ice time. A1/60: Even strength primary assists per 60 minutes of ES ice time. CRel: +/- using shots instead of goals (it is a more accurate predictor of driving play due to the larger sample size))
The first thing that pops off the charts is that Luke Schenn (22-years-old) was paired with a 21-year-old rookie, Jake Gardner for 55% of the time Schenn was on the ice. Gardner was in his first season out of the University of Wisconsin where he tallied 41 points in 41 games as a senior (including 10 goals). Gardiner is a “versatile offensive defensemen” (according to hockeysfuture.com) with the potential to be a top-4 player. However, in his first year in the NHL he was relatively sheltered by starting in the offensive zone 56% of the time and facing -.328 competition. Although Gardiner managed to rack up some solid numbers (.23 G/60 (first on Toronto), .42 A1/60 (first), and a +2.6 CRel), Schenn didn’t. His time slipped from 18+ to below 15 even strength minutes per game and he was driven back to the tune of a -7.6 Corsi Rel (Toronto had 7.6 more shots against than shots for with Schenn on the ice). There were a number of factors that could have caused the down year for the young defender, but Luke being a bad defender is just not one of them. Lets check out 2010-11:
Unlike in 2011-12 when Schenn got limited minutes with a rookie partner, in 2010-11 Schenn was 2nd on the team with 18.00 even strength minutes per game behind only Dion Phaneuf with 18.64. He also lead the team in PKTOI with 2.58 (he was 5th on the team last year with only 1.27 minutes per game on the PK). In his even strength minutes he faced the toughest competition (and the only positive competition) of his career with the best teammates he’s ever played with and beat the opposition with a 1.5 Corsi Relative. He started more than 50% in his own zone and was a major offensive contributor. He lead the team in both G/60 and A1/60 with a .2 and a .41 respectively. That .61 G+A1/60 would have been second on the Flyers this past year behind only Kimmo Timonen’s .65. He played most of his time (55%) with Tomas Kaberle before he was traded to Boston and played 25% with Carl Gunnerson---a 24-year-old at the time who has never topped 20 points in a season. It was an excellent year in both the offensive and defensive zone for the “Human Eraser” as he is called.
In Luke’s second year in the league he didn’t put up the greatest Corsi number (-7.3) in the world, but he did rack up the offense again. His .27 G/60 lead the Maple Leafs and his .27 A1/60 was second on the team. He did face weaker competition with some help from stronger teammates, but when looking at who his partners were, it’s not difficult to tell why he never fully got in a rhythm. No more than 30% with one guy and at least 18% with three guys. He was bouncing from partner to partner and to make matters worse, each partner had a totally different role. Kaberle had a 58% OZS vs. below average competition, Beauchamin took on top competition, and Exelby started in the offensive zone 46.9% of the time. Bouncing from role to role, from shutdown guy to sheltered is not what a (at the time) nineteen-year-old needs to develop in the NHL.
Young defenders need a few things to come into their own in the NHL. They benefit from defined roles and steady partners. How much did Matt Carle learn from Chris Pronger? How much did Braydon Coburn learn from Kimmo Timonen? There’s no correct answer to those questions but there is a general idea: if you put a young defender with potential with a stud blue-liner, it will help take the pressure off of the youngster helping him develop and find his game. What does this have to do with Luke Schenn? Lets take a look at the Flyers defensive corps this year and potential defensive pairings:
The Coburn and Grossmann pair received a lot of praise in the playoffs for shutting down Evgeni Malkin. They are both big (6-5 and 6-3), strong, physical defenders. They clean the porch and block shots. They frustrate forwards with their bruising play and Coburn’s elite skating ability makes this a true “shut-down” pair. Grossmann’s knees should be ready for the season and hopefully his concussion issues are behind him.
After the Stanley Cup Finals vs. the Blackhawks, Homer went out and decided to solidify his third pairing by acquiring Andrej Meszaros from TampaBay for a second round pick. Meszaros has had two main partners in his time in Philly: Sean O’Donnell two years ago and Andres Lilja last year. Both O’Donnell and Lilja are old, big, and slow. Bruno Gervais is not. He’s a right handed shot, 6-1, 205 Lb. steady defender. He’s had some success on the Island before a bad year in Tampa. His increase in puck moving and skating over OD and Lilja makes him a much better fit for the Flyers---a team that was a little bit too slow in the playoffs last year. If Gervais doesn’t cut it then puck mover Erik Gustafsson could get a shot from Adirondack (or Marc-Andre Bourdon or Brandon Manning or Danny Syvrett). This all leads us to our final pair of:
Kimmo Timonen and Luke Schenn
Braydon Coburn was aquired in that horrible year that the Flyers sucked. He was Homer’s first big move as a GM. He was under performing in Atlanta after being selected in the top-10 of the 2003 draft out of the WHL. Homer knew he found a diamond in the rough here, but he needed someone to play with the kid. He then traded Peter Forsberg to Nashville for a first, Ryan Parent and Scottie Upshall. He then took that first and traded it right back to Nashville for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scotty Hartnell. Timonen and Coburn paired up (Coburn logged 83% of his TOI with Timonen, Hatcher, or Jason Smith---all rock solid defensive defenders and former captains) and it really helped Coburn develop into the defender he is today. Back to Schenn. I think Kimmo is Luke’s best option for a partner this year. Kimmo excels in all areas of the game: thinking, skating, puck-moving, and positioning. Letting the Finnish God of Defense rub off on one of the most physical young defensemen in the league can only be a good thing. Kimmo would easily be the best defender Luke’s played with, and considering the only other time Luke played with good teammates (above .5 CRQoT) he had a great year (Kimmo also played roughly 40% of the time with the Giroux line---if Luke is given the opportunity to play with Kimmo and G, I’d be blown away if he doesn’t have a good year). Luke should benefit a lot this year and hopefully will come into his own as a premier defender in the NHL.