The damage has been done, the error made for what seems like the millionth time in Maple Leaf history.
Now, the challenge for Brian Burke and Co. is to make sure that more damage isn't done to Luke Schenn that would ultimately see him lumped together in Leaf history with Jim Benning, Bob McGill, Fred Boimistruck, Luke Richardson, Gary Nylund, Drake Berehowsky and Jeff Ware as promising defencemen whose careers were compromised in the name of rushing them to the NHL.
Some of those one-time Leafs enjoyed long and productive NHL careers, but none became stars. The idea was that Schenn, drafted fifth overall in '08 after the Leafs traded first, second and third round picks to the Islanders to move up two slots in the draft, would become a star and possibly a future Leaf captain.
He still might. He's a terrific young man, big and rugged and game. But only a fool would argue now that having Schenn play in the NHL last season was a useful move. It was pointless then and looks more pointless now.
It's clear that, like Richardson way back when, Schenn has not only taken a step back in his sophomore season, parts of his game were either retarded or left undeveloped by preventing his return to the junior ranks last season just so he could participate in yet another lost Leaf season.
You don't have to look much further than Buffalo's Tyler Myers — a player drafted seven slots after Schenn — to understand what a difference an extra year of junior experience, experience as a dominant player in all phases of the game, can make.
Schenn is capable of no more now than he was last year. In fact, some of the things he did well last season he does awkwardly now, with his confidence in tatters. Among the problems of rushing kids to the NHL is that if they do slip in their second seasons and require a move back to junior or the minors, it appears as though they've failed somehow. That's the impression many have of Columbus youngster Nikita Filatov, drafted immediately after Schenn and now back playing in Russia.
Schenn hasn't failed. The Leafs, starting with Cliff Fletcher and Ron Wilson, failed him, or at least failed to logically and gradually sculpt his talents to make him the best player he can be, not just a kid who made them look good because they could say he was ready to play in the NHL at 18.
So what now, now that Schenn has tumbled to the bottom of the Leafs blueline depth chart? As hard as it might be for all concerned, Schenn needs to go to the AHL to begin to serve the apprenticeship he should have served before he played his first NHL game. It might take the rest of this season. Maybe next year as well. That's what the minors are there for. What is it about this Leaf organization that forever makes it treat the farm like a punishment or a form of menial labour rather than a useful development tool? At least the signs are that Burke intends to change this mentality, with Nazem Kadri properly returned to junior (hopefully more people understand the wisdom of that move now) and with Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg spending most of their time with the Marlies. Wouldn't hurt Jonas Gustavsson to get a few AHL games under his belt either.
Schenn, meanwhile, certainly isn't a lost prospect yet. But he will be if the Leafs, once more ignorant of their own history, continue to pretend he's developing as a player at the NHL level.