Been there, done that. It’s usually a bit of a cocky term, or at least it was when it was said a lot in the 1990’s. But in the case of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Luke Schenn, it simply means bringing the ultimate experience to the table. That of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
Bottom pair or 7th defenceman? It doesn’t matter, Schenn went through the Stanley Cup experience the last two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lighting and the subtle benefits are just as valuable as the bling.
“You have a greater understanding and a better appreciation of how hard it is and what it takes,” Schenn said. “When you have those experiences and you see other guys around you go through the same thing, what it takes to collectively all pull the same way together to win, you enjoy the process, you don’t exactly think about winning at the end of the day, you enjoy the day-to-day grind and what it takes to come together and achieve that.”
Schenn signed this past summer with then Canucks General Manager Jim Benning on July 28th for two years at $850-thousand per season. When the preseason started most speculators had him on the right side in the third pair behind Tyler Myers and Travis Hamonic, if not as an extra defenceman.
Through the end of November he played that role, averaging about 14-minutes a night. With the multiple absences of Hamonic due to Covid vaxx issues and then a lower body injury, Schenn finds himself clocking in closer to 20-minutes a night, working with the young puck-moving maestro Quinn Hughes.
“He’s solid, he’s strong, he’s competitive and he knows what he is,” Hughes said of Schenn. “He brings a lot of value to the team, not only on the ice but off the ice, older guy, older presence. Great person, great leader and we’ve been doing very well together.”
Schenn thus far has played 18 games this season for the Canucks. Oddly enough that’s the exact number of games he played for Vancouver back in 2019 after coming over in a January trade from Anaheim with a low draft pick for Michael Del Zotto. Schenn left that summer for Tampa.
His new head coach echoed Hughes’s sentiments, particularly in the stable-head-on-his-shoulders department.
“He plays within himself, which is really important,” Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “he knows his role, what he has to do, and I think he gives Quinn a lot of protection just being out there. He simplifies his game and when he plays a simple game he’s so effective.”
The game has changed, but as every NHL club re-learns, especially come playoff time, is that a team needs toughness. And yes, even the willingness in the regular season to drop the gloves. Schenn is physically imposing and although the call for fisticuffs has been dramatically reduced in recent years, Schenn is obviously not afraid. He’s fought 53 times in his NHL career including twice this season.
On October 28th, he won a fight against former Canuck Zack MacEwen, who somehow decided to celebrate like he won, and then on November 5th he dropped ’em against Tanner Jeannot of the Nashville Predators, who took the decision. It may be a gradually dying art, but as Boudreau alluded, Schenn’s aura gives Hughes a little extra room on the ice.
“My game is simple, it’s just trying to win battles in the corners and take care of the D-zone and be strong in front of the net,” Schenn stated. “Try to let the goalie see the puck and when there’s an opportunity to make a play, there’s really nothing more for me than trying to make the five to ten-foot pass and try to get it in Quinn’s hands or the forwards’ hands, just try to advance the puck.”
A Saskatoon native and a Western Leaguer with Kelowna, the 5th-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft to the Toronto Maple Leafs finds himself 14 years later in a satisfying place. He enjoys his teammates, he’s happy to be back in Vancouver, and he’s happy with his role.
Referring to challenges, he’s about to experience plenty of them on a very difficult five-game eastern road trip. It includes the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, and Nashville Predators. Buckle up.
“We’ve been a good tandem and we’ve just gotta keep going,” Hughes added, “and I think the next couple of games on that long road trip coming up is going to be a really good test.”
“If he can continue to do the simple things, make the good first pass, block shots, clear out in front of the net, I don’t see why we wouldn’t continue to play him as much as we’re playing him now,” Boudreau concluded.