Last season, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn was one of the teams best, most consistent defensemen. He averaged 21:51 of ice time per game, second on the team only to Braydon Coburn, who missed the final 15 games of the season. Schenn played a majority of his shifts with Kimmo Timonen (48.5% of even strength shifts) and, in the later stages of the season, Oliver Lauridsen (22% of even strength shifts). Schenn played 2:49 per game on the penalty kill which ranked 5th in the NHL. Although it seems like a distant memory to many Flyers fans, Luke Schenn was one of the brightest spots on the Flyers blue line last season.
At the beginning of this year, Schenn was in Craig Berube’s doghouse. He was a healthy scratch for three games at the beginning of November and quickly became the fans whipping boy. He started the year paired with Mark Streit, then with Timonen, and then went back to Streit. By the end of the first month of the season he was consistently logging third pair minutes. Ever since, Schenn has been playing with Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson, whichever one Berube plays on a given day. Although Schenn bashing continued for weeks after he came back into the line up, he slowly but surely has started to play well.
In the last six games Schenn has looked quite good. He is a big part of why the Flyers went 5-1-0 in their last six games. I’m not sure if I want to go as far as Anthony SanFilippo and say that he has been “excellent“, but he sure has been reliable.
Schenn has logged over 20 minutes three times in the last six games and has been just fine. He has averaged 19:11 in that span and has one assist. Schenn’s advanced statistics never look good, but he has been adequate in that department lately. The quality of competition that he has faced over the past six games has been much better than the average, and with the exception of the Anaheim game his CF% rel has been much better than his average. In three games he has even had a positive CF% rel (basically meaning that the Flyers generate more shots on average when he is on the ice than when he is on the bench). All advanced stats for Luke Schenn can be found here.
However, Schenn’s game can rarely be captured in stats. Obviously Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann have similar roles on this team. Players who’s primary role is to shut down the opposing scorers, tie up opponents along the boards, and clear the porch should not be noticed on the ice. If those types of defensemen are noticed, it is usually because they made a mistake. Right now, Flyers nation is noticing Grossmann, not Schenn.
Articles, like the one linked to above, have been written to defend Grossmann, but he really has not been very good. He is trying to do too much with the puck, taking penalties, and missing key assignments. Schenn, on the other hand, is playing a smart game. Schenn seems to be realizing that he has limitations and is not trying to do too much. Recently, when Schenn has had the puck in his own end, I do not cringe or anticipate a dumb play/turnover. He has been wise about keeping possession of the puck and getting it to Mesz/Gus or the forwards.
If the Flyers are going to insist on dressing multiple big, slow defensemen the players need to be aware of their limitations. Schenn, like last season, is once again realizing what he can and cannot do. He is making smart plays with the puck, doing his job, and going unnoticed. Schenn is the youngest of the eight defensemen on the Flyers roster and is also younger than both Oliver Lauridsen and Marc-Andre Bourdon. If the 24 year old Schenn can learn to play within his limits and make smart decisions it is not out of the realm of possibility to believe he can still be a top four defenseman in the NHL. Lately, the Luke Schenn – Mesz/Gus pairing has played worthy of more minutes and has not been a liability on the ice.
Let’s just hope Luke can keep it up. If he continues to play well down the stretch, it will greatly increase the Philadelphia Flyers chances to compete in the playoffs.