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Schenn joins the rush Add to ...

Luke Schenn knows he wasn't drafted for his hands.

But against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman picked up the puck at the top of the faceoff circle, danced around veteran winger J.P. Dumont and put his first goal of the season past netminder Pekka Rinne.

It was a play that sums up his season, one in which Schenn has continued to turn heads even as his team has struggled through a 2-8-3 stretch in its past 13 games.

Just two weeks after his 21st birthday, Schenn has become the Leafs most dependable player in many ways, leading his team in even-strength ice time, plus-minus and hits.

With captain Dion Phaneuf out, Schenn has also begun to play a few shifts on the power play, something unthinkable when Toronto made him its fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft and he was branded an Adam Foote clone.

It's all been part of a concerted effort to round out his game, something Schenn said he realized he needed to do as soon as he made the Leafs as an 18-year-old rookie two years ago.

Watching the established veterans around him, he saw he couldn't shoot the puck nearly as hard or skate nearly as fast as he needed to in order to make an impact.

He said his shot, in particular, has improved dramatically.

"It's so much better," Schenn said. "I've shot so many pucks after practice - I've tried to make it a habit to do it as much as I can. My first year, my shot was nowhere close to where it should have been."

His skating, meanwhile, has been a focus for Leafs skating coach Graeme Townshend since his rookie season and it improved significantly over the summer.

Now 166 games into his NHL career, Schenn is taking considerable ice time away from his veteran teammates, playing an average of seven more minutes a night than Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda after earning coach Ron Wilson's confidence at key points in the game.

And while Phaneuf, Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Tomas Kaberle and Phil Kessel were the Leafs on the NHL's all-star game ballots released last week, there's even an argument to be made that Schenn has been their top player after 17 games.

Especially if the offence continues to come.

"I'm not making any predictions," Schenn said in terms of how many points he can produce. "I'll see where it takes me. I'll just continue to build confidence in the offensive zone and try to make some plays."

Schenn's improvement has come in the final year of his entry-level contract, making him one of the few real bargains on the roster but potentially giving general manager Brian Burke more of a challenge when it comes to re-signing him.

There may, after all, be more to Schenn's game than was originally believed.

"I've always wanted to be more of a complete player," Schenn said. "Obviously playing to your strengths is something you need to do. Being solid defensively is the best part of my game and it's probably why I got drafted here, but it's a bonus if I can play both ends of the ice and be effective.

"That's something I want to take on, to be a guy relied on in all situations."

Giguère out up to two weeks

Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Jean-Sébastien Giguère, who left their game Tuesday with a groin strain in the third period, will miss the next one to two weeks with the injury. Toronto recalled James Reimer from the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday morning to take his place.

Backup Jonas Gustavsson will start against the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur on Thursday at the Air Canada Centre.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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