Philadelphia Flyers Midterm Top 25 Under 25, No. 7: Luke Schenn

Jesse D. Garrabrant

Almost two years after a seemingly ill-fated trade that brought Luke Schenn to Philadelphia, it's been a very up-and-down ride for the still-young defenseman. Has he taken a step back this year? And how much room does he still have to improve?

Luke Schenn

Position: Defenseman
Birthdate: November 2, 1989 (age 24)
Acquired via: Traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs for James van Riemsdyk, June 2013
Current Team/League: Philadelphia Flyers
Nationality: Canadian (Saskatoon, SK)
Size: 6'2", 230
Contract: $3,600,000 per year through 2016

In some ways, you kind of feel bad trying to evaluate Luke Schenn in a vacuum when you consider the circumstances that brought about his arrival here.

You all remember the deal. Following the 2011-12 season, the Flyers decided that they needed a stabilizing influence in their defensive zone -- a guy who could be strong defensively, block shots, make big hits, clear out the area in front of the net, etc. In Schenn -- the brother, of course, of prized forward prospect Brayden Schenn -- they got their guy. And all it cost them was ... James van Riemsdyk, the draft pick who was the team's reward for suffering through the worst season in franchise history in 2006-07.

The Flyers sold low on JvR, obviously disappointed with him following an injury-marred year and having some buyer's remorse on a six-year contract that, at the time, looked like a fairly risky investment on an obviously talented yet somewhat streaky and unproven player. Two years later, and van Riemsdyk has basically been about as good as one could have expected he would be. He's staying healthy, he's on pace to be a 30-goal winger at 24 years old, he's been great in these Olympics for Team USA, and that huge risky contract now appears to be a bargain. It was a trade that, for the Flyers, looked questionable at the time and probably looks even worse in hindsight.

And, as such, everything that Luke Schenn has done since he got to Philly has been put under the microscope of how far away he is from matching the expectations that JvR has created in Toronto. Is that fair? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is what it is -- the cost of a guy will always play into the expectations for him.

All of this acknowledged, Schenn's abbreviated first season in Philly was actually pretty solid by almost any objective measure. Despite some brutal-looking errors here and there, he and Kimmo Timonen took on tough minutes and actually did a respectable job of controlling play. And when basically all of the team's blueliners went down in late March and the blue line consisted of Schenn, Timonen and a series of AHL players, Schenn played admirably while getting buried even further in the defensive zone against tough opposition and being paired with a seventh-round rookie in Oliver Lauridsen.

Schenn's performance was even good enough to get him named to Canada's IIHF World Championships team last May. The JvR jokes were aplenty as the winger had a very good first year in Toronto, but in reality Schenn's year was pretty darn good and gave Flyers fans some reason for optimism moving forward.

Unfortunately, 2013-14 has been a different and much rockier story. While the team as a whole obviously had a pretty nightmarish first 15 games, Schenn's in particular were ones to forget. His early play sparked (somewhat odd) rumors that the Flyers were souring big-time on him, and he even spent three games as a healthy scratch in early November.

Things have almost undeniably gone better for Schenn since then. After having trouble clicking on a pairing with Mark Streit early on in the year, he's done a better job when paired with Andrej Meszaros and -- in particular, lately -- with Erik Gustafsson. His ability to do those things in the defensive zone that the Flyers love -- i.e. block shots, lay big hits on people -- is always noticeable.

But it does seem like -- more than maybe any other member of this defense, at least in my opinion -- that when things go wrong for Luke Schenn ... man, they just really go wrong. He's obviously not particularly fleet of foot, and that lack of speed -- coupled with a tendency to commit some questionable decisions with and without the puck here and there -- can make him look reeeeal bad sometimes. On top of that, he's probably had a half-dozen goals against this year bounce off of him and into his own net ... and while we can debate how much that's his fault, it sure doesn't look good when it keeps happening.

So the story on Luke Schenn seems to be that after showing signs of potential and improvement last year, he's taken a step back this year. That passes the smell test, I'd say, and the numbers back that up -- courtesy of Extra Skater, Schenn's taken at least a small step back in just about every relevant statistical category despite getting significantly easier minutes this year than last. You can see it, more than almost anything else, in his ice time -- after getting regular top-4 ice time and getting nearly 22 minutes per game under Peter Laviolette, he's under 17 per game this season with Craig Berube. Not a great sign for a 24-year old.

The question now, of course, is: what happens with Schenn from here? The step back this year isn't encouraging at all, and you could argue that with over 400 NHL games already under his belt, he's not a guy who's going to improve a whole lot over the rest of his career.

But maybe you're an optimist. Maybe you see what Schenn did last year when paired with a real top-4 puck-mover in Timonen and think that he can be a legitimately good defenseman in the right situation. Maybe you see the good glimpses of play here and there from him and think that he's still -- six years into his career -- working on putting it all together. It's easy to forget that, at 24, he's currently the youngest full-time blueliner on the Flyers (which probably says more about the Flyers than it does about Schenn, but I digress), and as we Flyers fans know, the developmental paths for defensemen are weird and unpredictable.

It sucks that things haven't gone the way we'd have hoped for with Schenn this year, and as long as van Riemsdyk is succeeding over in Toronto, the pressure's going to be on him to do what he can to at least somewhat salvage what looks like a trade gone horribly wrong for the Flyers. But while I'm not terribly optimistic about it, I think that the Flyers believe that there's a decent defenseman somewhere in there -- and whether or not they're successful, they're gonna try and find it.

How we voted for Luke Schenn:

Albert Allison Charlie Collin Kelly Kevin Kurt Travis
5 11 5 8 11 9 7 7

Who we voted for at No. 7:

Albert Allison Charlie Collin Kelly Kevin Kurt Travis
Samuel Morin Jason Akeson Anthony Stolarz Taylor Leier Robert Hagg Samuel Morin Luke Schenn Luke Schenn
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