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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A conversation with Hitch



Hello readers. I've got a a Light the Lamp exclusive for ya (I"ve always wanted to type that!).

Thanks to a good friend and reader of Light the Lamp, I had the great fortune to sit down with Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock today over lunch and discuss a wide array of Blue Jackets topics including offseason moves, prospects, players, camp and expectations heading into the season.

Here is a recap of some of the topics we touched on:

* Brassard and Voracek are key. They aren't make or break it but the message I received is that these two will be given every opportunity to be impact players this coming season for our offense to really take step we need these two to contribute.

* The Jackets need to improve their goals for and goals against by 1 to be a playoff team. How that divides up it doesn't matter as long as it equals '1'. For instance the Jackets averaged 2.4 goals for last year and 2.54 goals against last year -- if they were to improve that to say 3.1 goals for and 2.24 goals against there would be your '1' improvement goal.

* On Brassard. Says Brass needs to work on his ability to manage the game. Right now he is a guy who likes to get the puck when he's on the move up the ice. That won't work all the time at the NHL level. He needs to learn to take what the opposition gives him. Said he did a much better job of managing the game in the AHL playoffs. We really need him to be able to hold his own out there. Said he is up to 190 lbs -- last year he came to camp at 175.

* On Voracek. Said he is incredibly aware of what is going on the ice. Said his body is NHL ready as he's gained some 20 lbs. Will have to see where he's at in camp and when I asked him where he sees him starting the year he said he would most likely start him lower in the lineup and let his "skill take over" and then go from there.

* On Filatov. Said the thing he's got going for him is that he's played against men for a year. The league he played in was comparable to the ECHL. He's only been able to watch a game of him on video but said he doesn't see a whole lot of separation between he and Stamkos. He, like the rest of us, are interested in seeing what this kid has in camp.

* On Umberger. He isn't your puck possession type of guy who can carry the puck and dipsy-doo -- he's more of a big body who goes through you and is very good down low. The thing that impresses him the most about RJ is his ability to score the tough goals down low and he just doesn't miss much from there. He also creates plays and notches assist with those little poke type passes to guys in tight traffic areas. Nothing fancy about RJ's game.

* On Huselius. A finesse player who creates space for guys like Nash. Like we've heard him say before he expects him to help Nash like he did Iginla since they play the same similar style. Said he is by far the best player we have at using mis-direction when making plays.

* Reports are that Nash has been a monster in the gym in Toronto and is really working out hard. He worked out a lot with Boll and guys like Brad Boyes. Expects an even bigger year from the franchise.

* Kelsa - Tyutin; Commodore - Hejda; Backman - Russell/Tolly/etc --- that is the initial thought on d-man pairings. Said that he will use Commodore in the exact same role that Foote was used for. Said Commodore role was lost in Ottawa and they will have a clearly defined role for him. Thinks the Tyutin pairing with Klesla will be a big key if they can mesh. Of course he re-itereated that it will take camp to sort them out.

* Would rather have two top flight pairs and then match the 3 pair up against weaker lines throughout the game.

* Backman will be the PPQB. Likes offensive game and he QBs the PP for Sweden in international competitions well. He does needs to work on his defensive game which they will focus on as coaches.

* I asked him how thing operate behind the bench defensively - i.e. does Gord Murphy call out the matchups? He said in game he controls the D but they gameplan the matchups before the game and during each intermission in case they need to change things up.

* The tentative plan is to carry 8 d-men. When I asked what happens if they have to choose between Rome and Methot due to waivers he said they get calls all the time about both of these guys so they may have a tough decision to make. Also thought Sigalet would be in the mix.

* Said he was surprised at Torres' size. He is really thick and oh yeah, he has beached blond hair. When I asked about his injury he seem to be confident he'll respond.

* When asked who would surprise this year. First name was Mason. Said this kid is that good. Second was Russell.

* Speaking of Mason, he hit the ice for the first time today in terms of taking pucks. I asked if his injury was worse than we expected he said that actually they took no risks with him and shut him down immediately. Wouldn't let him touch the ice until he was absolutely 100%.

* He loves Clitsome and sees no reason why this kid can't be an NHL defensemen after he gets at least 1 year of AHL seasoning under his belt. When I asked if he thought its b/c he played in the college for 4 years he said that two years ago the staff asked Clitsome to get in better shape -- said that was the motivation to him that said hey, maybe I have what it takes to get to the highest level. Said in college they played him 30 minutes a night so he conserved himself which hurt his conditioning. Said he loves his poise and calmness with the puck and he's really worked on his conditioning. He's just got "it". Is very interested to see if his solid performances in camp translate in games.

* Speaking of Clitsome he said these are the types of guys we need to start hitting on with late picks. Also mentioned Plekhanov as being one of those -- thinks he's maybe a 1/2 season away from being ready to play in the NHL. Loves his shot.

* Fredrik Modin got in town yesterday. Said he feels 100%. Will need camp to evaluate where he's at.

* Brule was just to small for the NHL when the organization brought him up and that hurt his development. Thinks he'll be okay and carve out a role for himself as he continues to fill out.

* He made a good point about the Swedes -- what is it about guys like Sundin, Alfredsson, Nylander and guys like that enable them to play at such a high level so late in their careers? Said someone should do a study :)

* I asked him how he was going to keep Boll's gloves on during camp -- he said "no fighting". He said this could be a really good thing for Boll as it will allow him to concentrate on other areas of his game and become a better player. You can just tell he loves this kid and thinks he can be much more than just a brawler.

* I asked him about any new philosophies coming into the season. He said he learned some new things from coaches at the World Championships and that there will be some adjustments to things like the PP, entering the zone, etc.

* On the coaching subject Hitch and his coaching staff start their day long season preparation sessions tomorrow.

* On philosophy I asked specifically if we had enough skill to enter the zone the way the Wings did on their PP which was to draw the opposition to the sides of the ice to allow a d-man like Lindstrom to carry the puck directly up the ice while backing off the d and then drop the pass to a forward like Datsyuk/Zetterberg to gain the zone. He was well aware of this strategy and said Russell and Huselius are two guys who could make that work. Didn't get sense into how confident his thoughts were in terms of having the player personnel to pull it off.

* Said Russell was more of a back door type player as opposed to a guy who sits on the point and rockets shots. Said right now his slapper isn't hard enough to scare opponents. He did say that Backman's was.

* I told him Tyutin was my favorite acquisition this offseason and asked if he could play the point. Said in NY he was a 2nd PP unit guy behind Straka (who played the point) and Rozsival -- but he's got the ability to be that #1 unit type guys including the shot. He'll definitely see time on special teams. As I stated he really wants to see how he works with Klesla.

* Another nugget on Umberger was that most of his points did not come on the PP.

* I asked him about where the offensive production on the back end would come from and he said that is going to have be answered in camp.

* Is very excited about the depth. Said a guy like Kelly would have been our second line center at the end of last season (sad I know). Said the organization is spending money to bring in guys on 2-ways and on PTOs.

* Speaking of PTOs -- another guy coming in is a guy by the name of Shane Willis.

* When I asked what if Brassard wasn't as ready as we hoped he said he would have to rely on the veterans like York, Peca, Malhotra, Kelly, MacDonald to pick up the slack. Again though I want to reiterate that Hitch realizes the importance of getting guys like Brassard and Voracek meshed into this team -- says those are the type of guys will take us to the next step.

* Hitch is excited about this market. Says now is the time to make a significant move. He doesn't want to be chasing the playoff pack this season - his goal is to be in that playoff pack jockeying for position.

* Said that when talking with various folks in the know that they told him when we played Nashville that even though we outworked them they weren't worried b/c they knew only 1 or 2 guys could score.

* When I asked him if we'd finally be able to kick Nashville's ass this season Hitch looked at me and smiled. (I know I said previously that it was Hitch who said we'd kick their ass but after thinking about it more today and running it past the reader who was there with me I think I actually asked the question -- I know its no big deal but I apologize -- the last thing I want to do is mis-represent anything or one)

It really was a fantastic meeting and he sounds genuinly excited about this upcoming season. I could have talked with him all day but I had to get back to work and he had to get to the golf course for one last round before they hit it hard tomorrow.

Thanks again to the reader whom set this up (your the best!) and for Hitch taking the time to talk a little CBJ hockey with LTL.

-LTL

23 comments:

DRU said...

"yes we will kick their ass". - K. Hitchcock

Dammit, I love that. Great work, great read. Congrats on your first exclusive. Awesome job.

trackstar said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
pete goegan said...

Great job, LtL! That must have been as much fun as a lunch can be! As for Brule vs. Russell, their games, roles, and styles are very different. Size is used differently by different players. Russell at 165 played "bigger" than Brule, last year. Maybe that will change for Gilbert with a new address, but Russell also worked to get bigger. We've never seen any evidence that Brule did any off-season work of any kind.

Your opinion of Hitchcock is not shared by many knowldgeble hockey people, trackstar.

LTL said...

I probably didn't do a very good job elaborating about what his point was about Brule and will make that change in the post to clarify.

Brule was too small at the time when we brought him into the league to be effective at his game and it hurt his development. That was the point he was making.

Also Brule plays a completely different game than Russell. He played a power forward type game the WHL and was effective -- when he tried to translate that style against bigger faster men in the NHL it didn't work. A lot of that was the organization's problem for rushing to soon to fast.

-LTL

Anonymous said...

A great lunch indeed!

Also, Russel has a boatload of quickness that Brule doesn't have. Russel has been small his whole life and has learned to spin off checks and he has the mobility to bypass the trouble. Brule doesn't have that and got killed--as evidenced by his serious injury his first year.

Brule will find his way eventually, but I will take Russel everyday. By the way--Russel is 179lbs as of two days ago.

trackstar said...

You are way off base on Brule's quickness. The Oilers think they stole him. I guess we will see how the CBJ will handle a motivated Brule this season. Your coach will never get the necessary offense out of this team to make the playoffs. He can teach dump and chase and checking. This is a compliment. Offense, he hasn't a clue. Not a compliment.

WufPirate said...

Way to go LTL!

Anonymous said...

Great! The Oilers think they stole him and we are happy that we got a guy who averages 19 goals per season compared to 12 in 146 games! Everyone's happy!

Hitch's teams, when they are even half decent, have always finished in the top 10 in both goals for AND goals against. Trackstar, somebody doesn't have a clue and it isn't Hitchcock.

jrussjacket said...

LTL- Best CBJ blog out there!

Must have been a great time talking with Hitch, lucky dog!

Anonymous said...

Re: Filatov--I believe he said the league he played in was equivalent to the 'coast' league, meaning ECHL. He compared the KHL to the AHL and the one Nikita was in was just a phase below that. Men nonetheless.

mike said...

Sounds like a kickass interview ltl! Like some1 else said, it shall be glorious if we can finally solve those predators. Makes me even more excited cause I just found out I got accepted to be on the Power Patrol or Cannon Crew, so now I will have even more reason to be at plenty of games, as compared to just going to a game here-n-there as a college student, whenever I had freetime.

"Fire the Cannon"

LTL said...

Thanks for the heads up on the ECHL. I corrected that one :)

-LTL

Mattlund said...

Looks like I've been de-throned as the most connected Blue Jackets blogger! ;)

Blog Hunter and I will get you for this, LTL. Never surrender.

Good interview, though.

LTL said...

Too funny Mattlund. I love your blog though -- some great stuff in there.

For those that haven't seen it check it out here --
http://blog-rakers.blogspot.com/

In fact I need to add it to the blog links!

-LTL

WALLY said...

I can't believe you have a day job... Where on earth do you find the time! Good info, extremely excited to get the season started.

Anonymous said...

ltl is the best cbj blog I have found. He clearly cares about his content, creates a nice environment here, and keeps it up to date! It is rare that he will go days and days without posting something new. If that happens, we are usually informed that he will be out of town, etc.

Erik said...

http://www.edmontonsun.com/Sports/Hockey/2008/08/21/6523911-sun.html

Jason Chimera interview.. not much info but we at least he seems somewhat excited..

Rick said...

From the Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo

"Ken Hitchcock chats with Blue Jackets blogger about new faces, making the playoffs and destroying Nashville"

"There are major daily newspapers that haven't had the newsworthy week the Columbus Blue Jackets bloggers have had".

"First, Bethany's Hockey Rants breaks the Stefan Legein story; now, Light the Lamp has a very in-depth lunchtime interview with Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock that covers nearly every facet of the upcoming season. (Sadly, however, no photo of what Ken Hitchcock looks like while eating lunch.)"

"Much of this will only appeal to Columbus fans and/or fantasy geeks whose ears perk up when they hear Rostislav Klesla and Fedor Tyutin might be paired up on defense. For the rest of us, LTL got some prime info from Hitch on several topics".

Way to go LTL!!!

LTL said...

Very cool Rick. Thanks for pointing that out!

Who says folks in Cbus don't like hockey eh?

-LTL

Anonymous said...

People are starting to catch on at how little research the average sports writer puts into their stories and are realizing that not all bloggers are phonies like eklund.

Bethany said...

Congrats!!! I am VERY happy for you!!!

LTL said...

Thanks Bethany. Really I have to thank a reader for setting up this entire thing -- I just got lucky.

Keep up the great work over on your blog!

-LTL

Blog Hunter said...

This interview would have been a helluva lot better if you had asked him about Doug Maclean.