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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Crowd control


As the NHL.com season preview of the Jackets stated yesterday -- this is by far the deepest team the Jackets have ever entered training camp with. A lot of that depth lies in their defensive core which Hitch comments on in that article:

"We're going to end up with six good players with the possibility for eight or nine," Hitchcock said. "We're in a situation where we can have significant depth on the back end that we have never had before. We have four or five big-minute players."

So whom are these 8 or 9 players. Well lets take a look.

The locks

Mike Commodore
Age: 28
How acquired: Free agent 2008
2008 Salary: 4.3 million
2008 Projection: Top 4; PK, 2nd unit PP
Skinny: Commodore is expected to fill the role vacated by Adam Foote. He isn't as strong of a shot blocker or in the corners as Foote but he's got size, physical presence and can certainly play a shutdown role and eat tough minutes. He's also got on and off ice leadership intangibles that this team desperately needs to get over the hump. He had a bumpy year last year but Hitch will have play him in a well defined role and he'll respond. The Jackets also love that he's a right handed shot and that he isn't afraid to stick up for teammates.

Fedor Tyutin
Age: 24
How acquired: Trade 2008 (Rangers)
Salary: 2.250 million
2008 Projection: Top 4; PK, 2nd unit PP
Skinny: Tyutin plays solid in all 3 zones and like Commodore, eats the tough minutes. He's known for his wicked hip checks and the Jackets feel he's got a lot of untapped offensive potential. Being only 24 he's just now figuring out how good he can be at this level. Expect Hitch to ride this horse all season long as he is the Jackets best all around d-man.

Jan Hejda
Age: 30
How acquired: Free agent 2007
Salary: 2 million
2008 Projection: Top 4; PK, 2nd unit PP
Skinny: Hejda stepped into the top 4 last season and played a solid mistake free game leading the Jackets to a club record +20. He's not a bone cruncher but he hits. He's not a barn burner but he can skate. He's not offensive but he makes a decent outlet pass. He plays against the other team's best players and on the top PK unit. Expect Hejda to continue in this role and the Jackets will ask him to contribute more offensively. He needs to work on his shot.

Rusty Klesla
Age: 26
How acquired: Draft 2000 (1st round)
Salary: 1.620 million
2008 Projection: Top 4; PK, 2nd unit PP
Skinny: Klesla hasn't quite lived up to his draft potential as a franchise defensemen but he has found his niche in the top 4 as a solid yet unspectacular defensive defensemen. He had his first ever + season last year and after Foote left he showed he can eat major minutes. He was the only Jacket defensemen to play in all 82 games last season. Klesla isn't afraid to play a physical game and has become a very good PKer. Expect Klesla to continue in the same top 4 role he played last year. The Jackets would like to see him contribute more offensively.

Christian Backman
Age: 28
How acquired: Trade 2008 (Rangers)
Salary: 3.4 million
2008 Projection: Top 6; 1st unit PPQB
Skinny: Backman is known as an offensive d-man who could use work in the defensive zone and on his conditioning. The early reports are that offensively he's the best the Jackets have ever had and that his conditioning is up to par. Expect Backman to be given every opportunity to quarterback this Jackets powerplay and play in the bottom pair against the opposition's weaker lines. The coaching staff will certainly work with him to improve his defensive zone play.

On the bubble

Kris Russell
Age: 21
How acquired: Draft 2005 (3rd round)
Salary: 750,000k
2008 Projection: Top 6, 1st or 2nd unit PP
Skinny: Russell took his bumps as a rookie last season but showed he can play at this level even at his size. His game is speed, strong puck handling, an active stick and smart positional play. As Hitch has mentioned he sees him more as a backdoor player who can jump up into holes with his spectacular skating and create offense. He's also very good rushing the puck and making the outlet pass. The knock will always be his size and can he handle NHL sized opposition. He also has a weak shot which needs improvement. The key for Russell to stay in the lineup is to produce points and if the game has slown down for him his second season.

OK Tollefsen
Age: 24
How acquired: Draft 2002 (3rd round)
Salary: 675,000k
2008 Projection: Reserve
Skinny: Tollefsen is a rugged stay at home defensemen with very limited offensive upside. We now know he battled through some major injuries last season before finally calling it a year on April 6th. While I think the team loves Tollefsen's competitive spirit he is only average in the defensive zone and has below average puck skills and offensive ability. He does have experience going for him having played in parts of 3 NHL seasons. I see him having a tough time this year cracking the top 6 and could be a decent trade chip.

Aaron Rome
Age: 24
How acquired: Trade 2007 (Anaheim)
Salary: 2-way
2008 Projection: Reserve
Skinny: Rome is a guy who is on the cusp of full time NHL duty. He got an 17 game cup of coffee with the big squad last season and showed signs that he could play at this level. He plays mostly a defensive game but has shown some offensive ability in the AHL notching 29 points in 55 AHL games last season. Look for Rome to really challenge this year for playing time and for the coaches to ask that he bring that physical competitive game every single night.

Marc Methot
Age: 23
How acquired: Draft 2003 (6th round)
Salary: 2-way
2008 Projection: Reserve
Skinny: Methot has paid his dues in the minors leagues the past 3 seasons and his game has matured because of it. Methot's game isn't pretty but its effective. He's a big body at 6'3" 224lbs which he uses to his advantage. He skates well for a big man but has very limited offensive upside as the most he's scored at the AHL level was 6 points in 59g back in the 06-07 year. His physical game has certainly picked up judging by the 130 PIM he racked up last season.

Outside shot

Jonathan Sigalet
Age: 22
How acquired: Trade 2008 (Boston)
2008 Projection: Minor league
Skinny: Sigalet is an young offensive defensemen trying to find his way as a pro. The good news for him is that the Jackets seriously lack in the skill set that he brings. Sigalet spent two season with Bowling Green of the CCHA and his first year pro he racked up 36 points in 75 games and even got a 1 game call up back in 06-07 season. Sigalet will have a large roll in Syracuse as their PPQB and should his game progress and injuries occur I could certainly see him getting some time up with the big club. I can't see him cracking the top 8 out of camp.

Grant Clitsome
Age: 23
How acquired: Draft 2004 (9th round)
2008 projection: Minor league
Skinny: Clitsome spent 4 years with Clarkson of the ECAC notching 22 points in 39 games last season and a +22. In the camps I've seen him he has definitely impressed with this puck poise and hockey sense. I rarely saw this kid get beat in any drills. This will be his first year pro so I see at least a 1 year of seasoning in the minors but I think the organization is cautiously excited about what this kid can bring now and down the road.

Nick Holden
Age: 21
How acquired: Free agent 2008]
2008 projection: Minor league
Skinny: Holden spent 2 years with the Chilliwack of the WHL and has been labeled a late bloomer. He's got the size at 6-4 200lbs and he put up 60 points in 70 games last season. Holden, like Sigalet, has that offensive game from the back end that the Jackets lack in their system. I suspect he'll need a year or two of seasoning but at only age 21 and having the size that he does combined with decent skating ability he is an intriguing prospect to follow and may surprise.

I also wanted to note that as of now Richard Matvichuk is still scheduled to attend camp on a PTO (Player Try Out) deal. He is a complete wild card but at this stage with the blueline already crowded he is going to have a decent mountain to climb to crack this lineup.

The question now is who stays and who goes?

I think we can all agree that the blueline looks as follows:

Hejda Commodore
Klesla Tyutin
XXX Backman

That leaves Russell, Tollefseon, Methot and Rome in the mix for that final top 6 spot and 2 extra as Hitch has made it known they will carry 8 d-men.

Russell is the only player out of that group who does not have to pass through waivers. I think Russell makes this team b/c his skill set is desperately needed and to be honest, his rookie season wasn't much bumpier than any 20 year old d-man coming into this league and he should certainly improve.

So that leaves two spots for Tollefsen, Methot and Rome should everyone remain healthy. If the org is faced to make a decision between the three I think both Rome and Methot get the nod over Tolly. The reasons being are that I think those two bring more to the table in terms of youth, skating, size and upside -- plus they are cheaper. Tollefsen has them all covered in the toughness and experience department but I'm not sure that is enough to justify keeping him over the other two.

My guess as to the opening night defensive roster looks like:

Hejda Commodore
Klesla Tyutin
Rusell Backman
Extra: Rome, Methot

Honestly though somebody is going to get injured so at the end of the day I think Tollefsen stays in the mix. I mean these are the Blue Jackets -- they are never 100% healthy...right?

Discuss - how do you see our defense shaping up?

-LTL

7 comments:

LTL said...

Something interesting I wanted to point out is that if you took the average age of my projected top 6 its is 26 years old.

Russell is the youngest at 21 -- Hejda the oldest at 30.

In other words this defense is just entering its prime.

-LTL

Jeremy said...

LTL,

Nice post.I agree with most of it, execpt for one piece. Maybe I have blinders on, but I think that you have to carry OKT. He was part of the transformation to a team that is built on toughness and until Dorsett or Sestito make it up here he is the next best thing to a Jared Boll. Going into this season I think that the CBJ are going to need 2-3 guys willing to mix it up every night and I dont see anyone else really willing to do that.

I move Methot down to the farm to start the season and bring him up as needed.

The other option is to move Russell back down to the minors. We have Backman and are paying him an arm and a leg for the same skill set as Russell. I cannot see Hitch putting both Backman and Russell out on the ice the same night and if he were to put both of them on the same line then i think we would have major issues!

LTL said...

Good point about Tollefsen Jeremy. I also love his toughness but with Commodore in the mix and Tolly's problems with the puck I'm just not sure that is enough to keep him should a decision need to be made.

Certainly a tough call. Really nice to have some depth but damn there could be some tough decisions to trim this roster down to its opening night lineup.

7 days til rookie camp!!

-LTL

Erik said...

LTL,

I agree with Jeremy, even though OKT will never be a top 4 d-man he's not a liability either.. and he brings a little bit of an edge..I have read a lot of very lofty Hitch quotes for Rome and Russell, and I agree with Hitch... I think both can mature very nicely in the Hitch system.. So it's my believe that Russell and Rome will be in the top 8.. That leaves 1 spot open, I think it is fair to assume that the remaining rookies need some more seasoning so that leaves OKT and Method.. Comparing the two... Method isn't that different from OKT he's not a puck handler, they both have zero offensive upside and they both have a very similar game styles, including the occasional turn-over or poor positioning.. ...In this situation you have to go with OKT because he has more experience and he's willing to drop the gloves a bit more...

pa28flyer said...

The only name I didn't see, but was interested in, was Plekhanov. Sounds like he's not strong defensively, but interesting because of his great shot. Probably spends the season in Syracuse unless something surprising happens somewhere in the system.

LTL said...

pa28flyer - good point on Plekhanov. He should have been included in the "outside shot" category but I forgot about him :)

Apparently the org loves his shot and thinks he has the tools to be an NHL d-man but he probably needs at least another year of seasoning.

I wouldn't rule him out from getting a cup of coffee at some point next season though.

-LTL

Anonymous said...

I don't see Russell getting sent to Syracuse unless he really stinks it up and a guy like Plekhanov really steps up.