Sunday, January 25, 2009

Young defensemen step up this season

Most times, rookie defensemen in the NHL come in to little fanfare. It is common knowledge that it takes some time for them to develop their offensive games in the NHL. It is very rare to see someone like Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames to come on and score 20 goals and 49 points in their rookie season.

The 2008/09 season is not an exception like Phaneuf's season, which incidentally was the first following the lockout. But, there is still some impressive play coming from rookie blueliners this season.

Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings is the name that most people recognize first. He has the best offensive output amongst rookie blueliners with three goals and 15 points. He's also helped fill the void left by on the power play departing veterans Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky, with a goal and six assists. He's also a very good defender from what I saw when the Kings played the Washington Capitals, helping to stifle a very potent offense. Some have him pegged as a possible Calder candidate, and if he can double his first-half output the rest of the way, a six goal, 30 point campaign for a defenseman can not be ignored.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been lucky to have Luke Schenn on their squad this season. It's a rebuilding year for the Leafs, and two veteran blueliners, Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, have struggled in a new system and dealing with constant trade rumors. Schenn, meanwhile, is providing a hard-hitting defensive presence, taking players off the puck and is really turning heads. He doesn't have much offense- just four assists- but is an emerging player and has a future on the top pairing for Toronto.

Incidentally, both Doughty and Schenn were selected in the 2008 NHL Entry draft. Doughty went second, while Schenn was selected fifth.

I might receive some heat for this selection, seeing as how the player comes from my team. But, Karl Alzner, in his time with the Capitals this season, really impressed me. Alzner was in the minors until injuries really struck the Capitals, and with some maneuvering, the Caps were able to fit him under the cap. Alzner immediately made an impact defensively, making smart decisions and his presence also helped Milan Jurcina to improve his play. Alzner was sent down to the minors last Wednesday, but finished with a goal and four points, as well as a +3 in 26 games. He will be back in Washington soon enough.

Another mention goes out to the Atlanta Thrashers' Zach Bogosian, the third overall pick in the draft this season. Bogosian, who went toe-to-toe with Donald Brashear at the end of his first game, broke his shin after the first month of the season and missed 28 games. Since returning, he's gained confidence and has two goals and four points.

Hope everyone enjoys the All-Star game tonight. I'll be sure to catch most of it, and have some thoughts afterwards, hopefully tonight.

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