These days, the consensus in the Maple Leafs community seems to be that Luke Schenn's third year with the blue and white has been a successful venture, and his performance on and off the ice is giving fans reason to be excited about the future.
The Toronto blueliner has two goals and 11 assists in 60 games with Toronto this season, but more than any offensive prowess, it's been the intangibles like steady play on the blue line, solid leadership and off-ice preparation that have improved greatly, in the eyes of both teammates and fans.
"There's a big difference from last year," says veteran goaltender J.S. Giguere. "I think when I came here last year, he was a bit down on himself, lacked a little bit of confidence. He was really hard on himself. I think this year he came here in really good shape, he was well-prepared for the season and that way he was able to start the season on the right foot."
For his part, Schenn says he's been working on finding the right balance between playing an aggressive, powerful game and staying disciplined at the same time.
"You just want to be physical and play with a bit of an edge, but you don't want to put your team down short-handed," says the 21-year-old. "I guess in the past, I did take a lot of minor penalties that were probably not needed, but I guess you want to try to stay out of the box as much as you can and play hard at the same time."
Giguere says he's noticed the Saskatoon native's play has improved on the ice, and his work ethic is admirable off of it.
"He's been one of our best defencemen, most stable defencemen, he's very patient with the puck, he's making some good plays," says Giguere. "I tell you what, every morning you come to the rink, Luke is in the gym trying to get stronger and better."
That sentiment of improved play is shared by head coach Ron Wilson.
"He's learned a lot, playing with two hands on his stick and keeping his stick on the ice," says Wilson. "He's not on the ice for as many goals against any more."
"He can turn and go, he's pretty quick to transition and go back for pucks and he doesn't let too many people get a step on him, which is big," says assistant coach Tim Hunter.
Giguere, a Stanley Cup-winner with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, compares Schenn's leadership skills to those of a former teammate.
"He reminds me a little bit of Ryan Getzlaf, who has the 'C' right now in Anaheim," says Giguere. "Ryan came in and, at a young age, he took charge."
Schenn was drafted fifth overall by the Leafs in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The 6'2, 216-pound blueliner has nine goals and 35 assists in 209 career NHL games.