h1

Spotlight on: Defense

August 14, 2007

In a continuation of the season ending review process, here is my take on the defensemen in the organization.

Defense

Duvie Westcott

– Age – 29

-Status – Signed through 2009-10

-Pros – Westcott has shown flashes of being a hard-hitting player who positions himself fairly well in his own zone and still has a nose for the net in the other end.  Capable on the breakout and a decent skater, a healthy Westcott is easily a top-four man on this team.

– Cons – Duvie has been saddled with the label of injury prone, and I am willing to admit it is not an undeserved moniker.  Having missed a total of 61 games in the last two seasons will do that for you.  Westcott’s size is also a concern against the bigger forwards in the league.  He’s not afraid to take on any challenge, but sometimes that fearlessness can send a guy to the press box a little dazed.

– If I were GM/Coach – Duvie is around for the next three seasons, so there is no contract work to worry about.  I’d continue to drill the defensive aspects of the game, and encourage Westcott to develop his positional game and worry less about the big hit.  Brian Rafalski is another “undersized” defenseman who has not suffered any major injuries yet plays a sound game.  Duvie could pick a worse model to emulate.

Rostislav Klesla

– Age – 25

-Status – Signed through 2009-10

-Pros – A good-sized young blueliner, Klesla is a guy who loves to hit people.  His scoring touch is starting to emerge, and he has taken steps in maintaining a consistent approach to his game.

– Cons – Oft-injured, Rusty needs to make every effort to stay off the bench in the upcoming season.  Not the best skater in the world, he needs to be positionally sound as he lacks the ability to recover once burned.

– If I were GM/Coach – I’m hoping that this is the year Rusty blossoms into a top two talent (if only for this team).  Thrust into the NHL too early, Klesla has hopefully learned some valuable lessons going into his sixth season.  If Rusty’s development continues, his role as a young backbone of the team will be realized as ex-GM Doug MacLean always said it would.

Adam Foote

– Age – 35

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – He has the captaincy at this time, so he must be a good leader, right?  I’m sorry, but at his age and price ($4.6M per year) it’s tough to call much of anything a positive.  Despite his lack of agility, Foote is still decent in his own zone.

– Cons – Adam has been injured more than one would like for such an expensive team leader, missing 40 games in the last two years (for those of you keeping track at home, that’s almost $2.25 million paid to a guy sitting on the bench).  Foote also seems to have a knack for taking a careless penalty (hooking, roughing, high-sticking) when the team least needs it.  Not to mention his comments this summer about (paraphrased) wishing he’d never come to Columbus.  True or not, this seems to run counter to the definition of leadership to me.

– If I were GM/Coach – I let Adam play out his final year on his contract as a 5 or 6 defenseman, doing some time on the penalty kill unit (when it’s not him in the box), and wave goodbye to the Foote family in mid-April.  If the opportunity presents itself to unload Adam at the trade deadline, I’d consider almost any offer.  I don’t suspect that much more than a late round draft pick or two would be available in return, but that seems fair.

Ron Hainsey

– Age – 26

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – Another young defenseman who is showing signs of becoming an NHL mainstay, Hainsey moves well with and without the puck, and is by far the best skater on the team’s blueline.

– Cons – Ron could use polish in all areas of his game.  He is not great in any one aspect at this time, and could use a little grit to go with his flash.

– If I were GM/Coach – I believe Ron has the potential to be a producer for the club, and I’d work on getting him locked up for two or three years.  He will likely see a lot of power play time, and it would be nice to see him develop the skills that enable Hitchcock to trust him in all situations.

Ole-Kristian Tollefsen

– Age – 23

-Status – Signed through 2008-09

-Pros – A decent defensive defenseman, Tollefsen is another guy who loves to hit.  Not afraid to drop the gloves to protect himself and his teammates, OK is one of the tougher Blue Jackets in terms of pure physical grit.

– Cons – Still lacking polish in most areas of his game, Tollefsen is a guy who has a lot to learn about the NHL game as a whole.  His penchant for the big hit sometimes leaves him out of position.

– If I were GM/Coach – OK will see a lot of time at even strength and on the penalty kill.  If he can keep himself healthy, he will be important to any success the club may have.  Looking beyond this year and working on the assumption that Jody Shelley will not be retained, Tollefsen looks like the major physical force of the CBJ.  I’d make sure he’s ready for that role.

Marc Methot

– Age – 21

-Status – Signed through 2007-08
-Pros – A late-season call-up in 2007, Methot proved to be a solid defensive specialist in his limited action with the big club.

– Cons – Not a name you’ll see much on the scoreboard.

– If I were GM/Coach – Methot will be one of many players vying for one of the final spots on the defensive corps in training camp.  He provides a steadiness in the defensive zone that is sometimes (often?) lacking on this team.

Position overview

A dangerous combination of youth/inexperience and an over the hill veteran, the Blue Jackets defenseman are being touted as a club weakness again as they have been pretty much every season since the franchise’s inception.  If a few of the young guys experience or continue their breakthrough play while staying healthy, and the aging vet can find a way to remain relevant, this unit could surprise a few people.  On the other hand, it could be another copy+paste season for the CBJ D-men.  Swiss cheese they’ve been, what will it be this year?

In the system

The Blue Jackets signed unrestricted free agent Jan Hejda from Edmonton to a one-year contract.  He only has 39 games of NHL experience at the age of 29, but does have plenty of experience in the Czech and Russian leagues.  I don’t recall seeing him play, so I don’t have a personal opinion, but it seems from Edmonton fans that this is a guy that may be missed.  So we’ll see what kind of guy he is in a few months.

Other defenseman that may see time in Columbus this year: Filip Novak (saw 6 games with the Jackets late last season), Sheldon Brookbank (last year’s AHL Defenseman of the Year), and Kris Russell (highly touted CBJ prospect I’d expect to see in Syracuse this season).

Bryan Berard is still an unsigned unrestricted free agent and will not be back with Columbus.  Anders Eriksson was signed as a free agent by Calgary, and Aaron Johnson was not tendered a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent and later signed with the New York Islanders.

If the club is to improve and have any shot at “being in it” in March, the blueliners will have to improve.  It’s as simple as that.  Lastly, the talk around Columbus in April and May was that Sergei Fedorov would be asked to play defense full-time.  In my unprofessional and uninformed opinion, I think this would be a huge mistake.  Overpaid or not, Sergei is more valuable as a center than as a defenseman.  As thin as the club may be on the blueline, they may be even thinner down the middle.

Stay tuned for the final installment in the 2007 Spotlight Series, the goaltenders.

Advertisements

One comment

  1. […] of the Bench Views on the Blue Jackets, hockey, and sports in general « Spotlight on: Defense Spotlight on: Goaltending August 20th, 2007 In the final installment of the season ending […]



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: