Thursday, September 13, 2012

What to Expect From: The Sixth/Seventh Defenseman.

This post and the next will compete the little roster bios I've been haphazardly typing up. They're both interesting situations from which I've struggled to figure out exactly what we can expect. This post will deal with the final defensive positions and how we hope they might play out, tempered with a healthy dose of patented #CBJ pessimism.

These slots are a bit of a moving target and, like the rest of the roster, they present an opportunity for anyone who can seize it. Here are your prime candidates:

Ryan Murray is somewhere under there.
Tim Erixon is is somewhere under here.

John Moore isn't hiding. 

As many have written, if there's a bright spot somewhere in the CBJ roster, it's on the back line. There is a lot of depth, a lot of talent, a lot of reasons to break out the champagne and hand lotion. If  you came to this blog, you probably already know who these three chaps are and roughly what they're capable of. 

The way I see it, there need to be some decisions made. The first decision is: whether to carry six or seven D positions? The second decision is: to whom do these positions get awarded?

With the major potential weaknesses being in goal and at forward, and with the relative slow development time that is typical for NHL defencemen, it would seem to make a lot more sense to carry six D and let the seventh go someplace that they will maximize their ice time and work on their game. 

I'll assume the Jackets want to go into the season carrying six D. That could change, but it's my personal opinion so we will continue on this premise.

So these three guys have to battle it out for either one low-minute spot playing with Adrian Aucoin, or perhaps they keep two of the guys around with an Aucoin-Young D-Young D trio rotating in and out of the press box until one clear winner emerges from a months-long tryout. At least one of the three contenders will have to bite the bullet and go down. Let's try to figure out who that guy will be. 

Murray: has zero NHL experience and is 18 years old. When I was 18 years old I believed that pickup trucks handled better in snow than front-wheel-drive cars and that drinking beer would make me smarter and stronger. Murray seems smarter than me at that age (which can be said for 85% of adults) in that he seems mature, well adjusted and capable of dealing with difficult situations. If he sticks in Columbus, it will add some dollars to the CBJ cap number and it would be a 50/50 shot whether or not he would actually benefit from his time, which we would expect to be limited and protected. See also: Johansen, Ryan. Another year in junior wouldn't kill Murray's long term development and it will allow him another chance to try and captain a fledgling team toward its first successful season in a long time. I'm talking about the Everett Silvertips, btw. If the other defensive options look less green and, for one reason or another, are preferred, then Murray should go down.

Erixon: there is a lot of weight put by some people on the fact that Erixon was ranked as the Rangers' best prospect, above Kreider, when he was traded to us. He had only spent a few games in the NHL at limited minutes and he hadn't shown a ton. But he hadn't been exposed as a weak player either, which is good. He brings some size and skill to the position and he seems to be on the cusp of breaking out in the NHL. He could provide a very helpful first pass and great defensive positioning, if he can perform as billed. The potential downside of sending him down to the AHL has been brought up, in the fact that he's had some tumultuous relationships with other organizations' front offices (insert cowboy hat emoticon here), so it would make sense to tread lightly when dealing with this player and trying not to create a negative situation. If you're an NHL GM, you can't be bullied or held hostage by a young player, but I say if he has to be sent down, put Jack Johnson in the room for the bad news discussion and see if Erixon bitches. I'll bet you that our new dressing room atmosphere will not cater to young bucks who think they're hot shit, if that's what Erixon turns out to be. Management should be listening to the teams' veterans very closely on the young players too, to see who is putting in the most work to get their game up to snuff. If Erixon turns out to be a "problem" player, I'll bet you Adrian Aucoin will be able to tell just by sniffing the air at his stall. 

Moore: John Moore is an interesting player. He was the Jackets' 21st overall pick in 2009 and much has been expected of him. The CBJ have exercised patience in the past few years, but he was called up early and often last year due to injuries and suspensions. In the ideal world, Moore would shave been allowed to lead the AHL Falcons to a playoff berth last year while earning spot duty in the NHL. This was not to be, and he ended up getting exposed to a much higher level of competition throughout the season. Despite playing limited and protected minutes, he seemed to fit in about half of the time and never really seemed to find his stride. This is OK. Moore is still young and has time to develop. Most defensemen aren't really ready to peak until they hit around 24-25 so I'd encourage Howson and Richards to be exceedingly patient with this guy. He has a lot of tools- he's big at 6'3" and can skate like Scott Niedermayer's long-lost twin. His defense has been alternatively lauded or laughed at, and his offensive potential is mid-range. He will probably need a few more laps in Springfield to build confidence in his judgment and positioning, but I see some good things coming out of Moore long-term. If he can nail down the defensive side of his game, positioning and paying closer attention to detail then he can probably blossom into something like Fedor Tyutin. If he does that and is able to add to his offensive game, then we will have a valuable asset in our hands.

There are a lot of potential ways for this whole scenario to play out. From my point of view, I'd have to weigh the risks and benefits of sending down each guy before they even showed up, then explain to each of these guys that they will have to outplay each other or an established NHL defenceman in order to gain the spot, then let the chips fall where they may. At the end of the camp/preseason/first-few-games/five-years-from-now-when-the-lockout-ends, Richards should pick two of these guys and spend a month or two rotating them in and out of the seventh spot with Aucoin and the press box. We could even see them paired up together if old man Aucoin needs to rest his aching bones.

At the end of the trial period, I'd send one of the remaining two guys down and keep a total of six defensemen dressed so long as there were no injuries or suspensions (wood=knocked).

The riskiest defenseman to send down is Erixon, in the event that he gripes his way to Filatov-dom and becomes another CBJ asset, pissed out in the wind. The next riskiest would be Moore, who may mistakenly think that his time in the bigs last year was a success. It wasn't. The safest guy to send down is Murray, who looks like you could inform him that his whole family died in a plane crash and he would respond with "well they gave it their full effort, but it's gut-check time. you just have to take it one game at a time..." He's already a fucking pro.

So all this said, I believe the way it will play out is with Erixon taking the more full-time NHL slot, Moore sent to Springy and Murray back in rural Washington state. I think Erixon will adapt well to the atmosphere and the ice time, perhaps because he knows that people are waiting for him to turn into another Jeff Carter or Adam Foote and this approach won't work for a guy who's an unproven future RFA. I think Moore should be told that he doesn't get NHL call-ups until Springfield makes the playoffs (these could be reserved for Murray in spot duty or Savard, Goloubef, etc...) and I think this makes sense if you're looking for him to have an incentive to improve his all-around game and be more of a leader on and off the ice. Murray will probably go back to Everett, play stellar hockey on a losing squad for a month, get traded to a Mem-cup contender and play an insane amount of high level junior hockey, including the WJC. He will make the team the following year and be better than Erixon or Moore.

But that said, this is all guesswork...

Prediction for Tim Erixon in 2012-13: 2G, 25A for 27Pts in 70 GP. Many overweight Ohio women will also be bedded by this man.

The prediction is based on previous AHL stats and could end up being overly optimistic. I think both Moore and Murray are capable of putting up better stats, possibly with more goals.

And a hearty pat on the back for you, dear reader, if you made it through this long of a ramble. If you ever meet me and are able to spit the gist of this article back at me, I will buy you a beer.

"so do you come to this buffet often?"

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