VANCOUVER – Between five different NHL clubs and stints in the American Hockey League, Luke Schenn has logged a lot of kilometres over the past few years.
But this season, the 29-year-old found a new home with the Vancouver Canucks — and a chance to prove his worth as an NHL defenceman.
Schenn was playing for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls in February when the Anaheim Ducks dealt him to Vancouver for defenceman Michael Del Zotto.
“I’m very grateful and thankful for the opportunity. I didn’t know if it was going to come,” Schenn said last week. “I was working towards it all year, went down to the minors hoping to improve on some things. … It’s been so far a good fit and I’m just trying to play hard and compete until the end. We’ll see what happens.”
Picked fifth overall in the 2008 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Schenn’s journey through professional hockey has been bumpy.
He spent four seasons in Toronto, followed by another four with the Philadelphia Flyers. There was part of a season with the L.A. Kings, then some time in Arizona. Last summer, the free agent signed a one-year deal with Anaheim.
After being traded to the Canucks, the Saskatoon native was sent once again to the AHL, this time joining the Utica Comets in New York. Soon, though, a rash of injuries to Vancouver’s blue line necessitated a call up.
He carved out a much-needed niche as a physical defenceman who could complement and protect Vancouver’s young talent.
In 18 games with the Canucks this season, Schenn logged 81 hits, nine penalty minutes and two assists.
He was exactly what the team needed, Vancouver’s general manager Jim Benning said Monday.
“He’s a good person, he’s got a lot of experience playing in the league and he filled a need for us,” Benning said. “He’s a physical, stay at home defenceman but he moved the puck fast. I thought he played well for us.”
Schenn also played a role in mentoring one of the franchise’s most highly anticipated defensive prospects, Quinn Hughes. Head coach Travis Green put the pair together for the 19-year-olds first five NHL games.
Skating alongside the veteran was “really cool,” Hughes said.
“I remember watching him when he was drafted to the Leafs and then his rookie season and everything like that,” he said.
“He was unbelievable with me. He made me feel more confident, just his presence. He’s played like (734) games or whatever it is. So many. He just talks a lot on the ice and makes it easy for you. … He definitely helped my adjustment for sure and I had a lot of fun.”
The pairing was a special experience for Schenn, too, who said the young defenceman was “awesome.”
“He’s so skilled with the puck, great skater, can jump in the play and has poise and makes a lot of plays obviously that not a ton of defencemen can,” he said. “When you’re drafting guys like him and (forwards Elias) Pettersson and (Brock) Boeser, it’s pretty impressive that these are the guys coming through your system. So the future in Vancouver is very bright.”
It’s also a future that Schenn wants to be a part of. He’s an unrestricted free agent come July 1, but wants to stay in Vancouver.
“I absolutely love playing in a Canadian market, the passion of the fans and how much everyone cares is awesome,” he said, adding that the city’s also close to his off-season home in Kelowna, B.C., which has made life easier for his wife and young son after years of unpredictable travel.
Schenn’s family followed him to Vancouver in February and they’ve been able to spend lots of time together since.
After spending a decade in the NHL, Schenn knows the Canucks have tough decisions to make this off-season, but he hopes there’s a way he fits into the plans going forward.
“I’ve loved every minute of it here, I haven’t taken anything for granted,” he said. “It’s real special being here. It’s been a real great experience so far.”