ABBOTSFORD — When the Roberto Luongo rumour mill went into full churn, promising Toronto defenceman Jake Gardiner knew who to lean on.
Who better than Luke Schenn?
Wait, a minute, Schenn did get traded.
“Sure, but it took four years,” Gardiner said. “He had rumours from the first time he got to Toronto. He had four years of it.
“I talked to him and he said, ‘Rumours are going to happen. You have to push them off. You can’t can’t ever worry about it.’”
From that point, Gardiner hasn’t, and with good reason.
Since a mid-season sag that saw him sit seven consecutive games in January, there hasn’t been a lot for Gardiner to be concerned about.
Even the rumours have been an ego stroke. The Canucks wanted him in a Luongo trade. His skating and transition game fit Vancouver’s attack like a longboard suits a hipster. The Leafs responded with their position that they can’t possibly give him up.
“I’m happy Toronto wants me, I don’t want to leave,” Gardiner said.
Not bad for a player who wasn’t considered a blue-chip prospect. He’s certainly covered a lot of ground since the Anaheim Ducks gave up on him 20 months ago, trading him and Joffrey Lupul for Francois Beauchemin.
Then, he was the third leading point getter on the Wisconsin Badgers. A decent prospect, but not one anyone raved about. His paperwork hadn’t been filed in the “can’t miss” folder.
Now, the trade looks ridculously lopsided. But just think of how it would look if the Leafs flipped Gardiner for Luongo, and the goalie led them on a long playoff run. Or two.
What would that be worth?
But after 21 points in his final 40 games, Gardiner is viewed by most as too valuable to flip. There is too much promise for a rookie who walked off a university campus and accelerated his growth in the NHL at warp speed.
Gardiner leads the Marlies into a double dip this week in Abbotsford, with games Thursday and Friday. He has three goals in his first six games and has the potential to be one of the best players you will see in the AHL.
It’s a trip which is sure to generate interest at Rogers Arena. You can expect the Canucks to be represented in Abbotsford, where you can take in a hockey game and play one of your own: Guess the assets coming back if Luongo does don the Maple Leaf.
For Gardiner, playing for the Marlies easily trumps the alternatives during the NHL lockout. On an entry level deal, he didn’t have to go to Europe. He didn’t even have to leave Toronto.
He remains bent on improving, and showing the second half of last year was no fluke.
“Even midway through the year, I sat out those seven games but I didn’t think anything of it,” Gardiner said. “I wasn’t playing well and I deserved to sit.
“I just kept working by tail off in practice, always figuring I’d get back in the lineup. I was never too worried about it.”
He is convinced he can grow in the minors, explaining why he has an advantage over most of his NHL peers.
“When you think about it, there are a lot of guys sitting on their couches right now,” Gardiner said. “We’re out playing in a very good league and we’re still getting better.
“I feel like I’m patient with the puck in my own zone. I feel very comfortable there. But I feel like I can be better in the offensive zone. I can get better at getting shots on the net, taking smart shots instead of having them blocked.
“And overall, I’m fine tuning my defensive game here.
“We have faced some really good players to do that against. Take a look at Oklahoma City. They basically have Edmonton’s top line.”