On Monday morning (April 25), the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) announced their nominations for the 2022 Bill Masterton Trophy and the Vancouver chapter nominated Vancouver Canucks defenceman Luke Schenn.
The 32-year-old Saskatoon native was signed by then-general manager (GM) Jim Benning in the offseason to be depth for the blue line in case of injuries. Well, he’s been far from depth this season as he’s played in 63 of the team’s 79 games so far and plays regularly in the top-four with Quinn Hughes. He also leads the team in hits with 260 and has contributed to the offence with the most points (15) since putting up 16 with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings in 2015-16.
According to the description on the NHL Records website, the Masterton Trophy is given “to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” Let’s take a look at a few reasons why Schenn fits that definition to a tee.
Schenn’s NHL Career Appeared to be Over in 2018-19
Schenn’s NHL career started way back in 2008-09 when he made the Toronto Maple Leafs as a 19-year-old after being selected fifth-overall only a few months beforehand. In hindsight, that may have been too early for him, but he ended up playing four seasons in the blue and white, accumulating 14 goals and 75 points in 310 games. He was even playing over 20 minutes a night in a couple of those seasons.
Seemingly not living up to expectations as a high-end draft pick, the Maple Leafs traded the 23-year-old to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012 for James van Riemsdyk. He then played parts of four seasons in Philadelphia before they traded him to the Los Angeles Kings in a package involving Vincent Lecavalier and Jordan Weal in 2016. He ended up playing the balance of the season in Hollywood before signing with the Arizona Coyotes in the offseason, where he spent two solid seasons.
An unrestricted free agent again in 2018, the Anaheim Ducks went out and signed Schenn on the first day of free agency and left him in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the San Diego Gulls for most of the season. In fact, he only played eight games and went pointless with a minus-6 in the plus/minus column. He also spent time on waivers a couple of times without being claimed.
Basically, it appeared that his days of being a regular on an NHL blueline were over. Well, not so fast. A trade to the Canucks at the 2019 Trade Deadline started his journey back.
Canucks Give Schenn a Second Chance
While Schenn was dispatched to the Utica Comets after the trade, he was eventually called up and played the last 18 games of the season primarily as a partner to 18-year-old Quinn Hughes, who had just signed his entry-level contract (ELC) out of the University of Michigan. He became the perfect complement to the more offensively-inclined Hughes and a mentor to him as well.
“He calmed me down,” Hughes said [of Schenn] “I wasn’t, I honestly wasn’t nervous at all in that first game; and those five games, I wasn’t nervous. I think because, you know, he was always talking to me, he’s really communicative and he was good, like we didn’t spend a lot of time in the D zone. He helped me out a lot” (from ‘Patrick Johnston: Quinn Hughes’ nervy start was calmed by cool hand Luke (Schenn)’, The Province, 1/7/20).
Schenn was a huge influence on Hughes and helped him adjust to life in the NHL as a young defenceman, since he was in that same position back in 2008-09. Too bad it took a few seasons before they were reunited again. Still, Schenn credited the Canucks for giving him another chance at NHL stardom, even though they didn’t end up signing him in the offseason after his 18-game stint.
“I love Vancouver. It was awesome. Honestly one of the best times of my career playing there. I loved it,” Schenn said. “It was only a short time and we were kind of in a playoff push only for a little bit, but at the same time the guys were still playing hard even when we were out of it. The organization’s awesome. All the players, coaches are great.”
When Schenn became a free agent in the summer of 2019, the work he did at the end of the season with Hughes and the Canucks was enough for the Tampa Bay Lightning to sign him as a depth defenceman for what became a magical two-year run.
Schenn More Than Depth and Helps Lightning Win Back-To-Back Stanley Cups
Once again, acquired to be veteran depth for a Lightning team that had the likes of Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev leading their blue line, Schenn’s two-way physical style was a welcome addition whenever injuries struck. Especially when they occurred during their 2020 and 2021 playoff runs. His work ethic and personality in the dressing room were lauded by his teammates and head coach on multiple occasions.
“Luke is the ultimate team guy. He works so hard when he’s playing, when he’s not playing. He always stays ready for when he’s going to get into the lineup…Luke, he just brings that energy to our team, and when he’s not playing, he works so hard in practice and stays after practice to stay in shape and be ready for when he gets called…” – Victor Hedman
Even his coach, Jon Cooper, made a point to exclaim how important Schenn was to his team at the time.
“Schenner is a pro…And young players should watch the way he conducts himself on a day-to-day basis. He understands his role. He wants to win. He’s selfless. He treats his career like every day’s going to be his last day. To keep himself in shape, and I know it hurts guys that they don’t have an ability to play, it’s different for a kid that’s been in the league 20 games and he’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just glad to be here.’ Well, he’s been around the block for a bit, and for him to not be down, to keep working, to understand his time is coming and then to have himself thrust into the limelight and perform the way he did, it’s a lesson. And it’s a lesson people should watch, admire and if you want to have a long career in this league, regardless of the ups and downs, you do the things Schenn does, and things usually work out for you.”
Work ethic, dedication, and perseverance. Sounds a lot like a Masterton Trophy winner doesn’t it?
Schenn Returns to the Canucks & Rediscovers His Top-Four Potential
It took a few years and a lot of hard work, but Schenn has reinvented himself and become the top-four defensive defenceman every scout envisioned for him when he was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2008. He may have been signed by the Canucks as a depth defenceman at the beginning, but he’s become as important as Hughes in the defence corps right now. Who would have predicted that at the outset of 2021-22? I think people would be lying if they said they did.
Again, hard work, leadership, setting an example, and of course, chemistry with Hughes kept Schenn from being sent to the press box on a regular basis. From the start of the season, he has played an average of 17:08, become an important part of the penalty kill and is arguably the biggest physical presence the Canucks have next to Kyle Burroughs. Like Cooper before him, his coach Bruce Boudreau has recognized his impact on the team’s success since he stepped behind the bench at the beginning of December.
Schenn hasn’t only protected the Canucks’ franchise defenceman, but other teammates as well. He’s always there to throw a stiff check or drop the gloves if anything untoward is being done to a member of his team. The 6-foot-2, 226-pounder packs a punch too, not only when it comes to his fists, but his body checks sometimes sound like they are sending his opponent through the boards and into the upper deck of the stands.
While Schenn was not signed by the regime currently in control of the front office, new GM Patrik Allvin and president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford saw it fit not to trade him at the trade deadline because of his attributes and aforementioned importance to the team. That says something because he could have fetched a pretty penny on the open market considering the returns that were floating around for defencemen.
“I have a lot of respect for Luke Schenn as a player, and more as a person, and what he means to this club off the ice in terms of being a winner, the culture, the commitment he has to be a pro every day,” said Allvin. “For me, it’s extremely important for this young group to have a guy like Luke Schenn here.”
Schenn is deserving of the Masterton Trophy nomination for all of these reasons and more. With another year left on his contract, he might just provide that playoff leadership and moxy again with the Canucks next season when they hopefully return as a stronger team on the back end. All I know is, that he should remain glued to Hughes’ side on the top pairing, regardless of the additions or changes they make around them. His hard work and perseverance have paid off, now it’s time to add a third Stanley Cup ring to that already impressive collection, this time as a top-four defenceman instead of a depth one.
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.
Matthew also co-hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.