A lot of people are really impressed by Luke Schenn these days. And well they should be. He really impressed in his rookie season in 2008-09, logging big minutes with the weak Toronto Maple Leafs. Aside from Tomas Kaberle, he was arguably their best defenseman while still being a teenager.
This Luke reminds me of another Luke who entered into the NHL as a rough and tumble rookie with a sorry Leafs team - Luke Richardson back in the late 1980s.
His intimidating presence won him a lot of fans in the early days. He had never played a game in the minor leagues, jumping straight from junior hockey to the NHL, heightening expectations even more so. Fans had visions of another Larry Robinson or Borje Salming, Richardson's two boyhood idols, the latter of whom he actually had the chance to play with in his first two seasons. Coaches and fans definitely had early visions of a similar player in Richardson, but they had lots of work to do. In order to be a true impact player Richardson needed to improve much of his game, something that he was very slow in doing. This led him to travelling around the league a fair deal.
His defensive reads were poor at times. He could look spectacularly awful in overcommitting at the wrong time, especially when he strayed into corners when he should have remained clearing the slot. He also strayed out of position to make a big hit. He never had the speed or the hand skills to carry the puck or jump into the rush. He rarely put the puck on the net with his merely adequate shot.
His physical exuberance also drew a lot of enemies from around the league. Other teams' tough guys would target young Richardson, who was really not a fighter. He answered the bell and accepted the job, but he rarely won the fights.
Yet Richardson lasted 1417 games in the league, always remaining positive, winning the admiration of his teammates. He accepted his limitations and played within them with great determination. He became known a serviceable veteran depth defenseman providing quiet leadership, physical presence and eager shot blocking for several teams.
He was involved in one of the more high-profile trades of the 1990's, dealt to Edmonton from Toronto with Vincent Damphousse, Peter Ing and Scott Thornton, for Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube, on September 19, 1991. After six seasons with the Oilers, Richardson signed as an unrestricted free agent with Philadelphia for five seasons. he later signed in Columbus, Ottawa.
In some ways Luke Richardson never achieved his potential, but that potential was probably built up by the media and fans too high. He did play in over 1400 games, so he no disappointment either.