Around this time last year, Ron Wilson and I were discussing the ups and downs of life as an elite young hockey player. And the Maple Leafs head coach made a point that might shed a sliver of light on what’s been ailing Toronto defenceman Luke Schenn for much of the current NHL season.
“More than likely, a player who’s played junior hockey is not going to hit a big wall his first year,” Wilson said at the time. “But I’ve noticed a lot of junior players hit that wall in the summertime after their rookie year, when they’re headed into their sophomore season.
“They don’t work as hard as they should and there’s a hangover there … and some of that I believe happens because of what goes through a player’s mind. They go home for the summer and all their buddies tell them they’re a hero and they just back off a little bit because they’ve achieved their dream.
“But from what I’ve seen with Luke, if we can convince him to spend more of his summer in Toronto, he won’t have that kind of issue.”
Nobody knows whether a lack of conditioning and/or slight decrease in personal drive is behind Schenn’s struggles — struggles that led to him being a healthy scratch for the Leafs’ last two games — but there is no doubt the 20-year-old is encountering the same individual woes hundreds of NHLers have encountered before him.
Some observers have suggested Schenn be demoted to the American Hockey League, where he can continue learning his craft without the white-hot spotlight on him each and every day.
The trouble with such advice is that, what with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate also being located in Toronto, I’d be willing to bet the media focus on him would be almost as intense — and Schenn would have the added humiliation of playing before a half-empty Ricoh Coliseum most nights.
Schenn can just as easily rebuild his shattered confidence by practising every day with real NHLers and making the most of the first opportunity he gets to return to the lineup.