Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday Top 10 - Defensive Defenceman

If you remember, last week we took a look at the top defensive forwards in the OHL (here), in an effort to glorify the hard work of some of the more less heralded players in the Ontario Hockey League.

Well today on the Top 10, as promised, we examine the top defensive defenseman in the OHL. These players are not necessarily all stay at home type defenseman, but they are the best at what they do in the defensive end, and shutting down the opposing teams offense.

Here they are:

10. Jacob Muzzin - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
You don't hear a lot about Muzzin, which is odd considering he was an OHL all star this year and a draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps it was because he played for such a bad team this year in the Soo, or perhaps it is because he plays such an unglorified style of hockey. Regardless, Muzzin is a solid defenseman. He uses his big body (6'3, 220) to clear the front of the net and despite some skating issues, is generally able to keep pace with opposing forwards. On an interesting note, Muzzin (as a 2007 draft pick) wasn't signed by Pittsburgh by the recent June 1st deadline. This means he will be re-entering the 2009 NHL draft. I hope someone takes a chance on him because he deserves it with the solid improvements he has made.

9. Adam Comrie - Saginaw Spirit
Comrie is only starting to get noticed now, after flying under the radar for the better part of the last two seasons in the OHL. At 6'4, 200lbs, Comrie's greatest asset is his mobility and reach in the defensive end. He stays with opposing forwards very well and is tough to get around because he uses that long stick to be an active pest. While Comrie is still learning to use his size more in terms of asserting himself physically, he's still a quite aggressive defender who will play the body. I think Comrie has a really solid chance to make the U.S. 2010 WJC team, which could be his coming out party as a prospect.

8. P.K. Subban - Belleville Bulls
P.K. gets a lot of flak for being this notorious offensive defenseman who needs to work on his defensive game. There is no doubting that was the case when he was drafted in 2007, but he's come a long way. Subban is now an active defender who makes an effort to return defensively after a rush, and who has been smarter in picking his spots to rush. He uses his smooth skating ability to really help him defensively, as he's developed into a very good one on one defender. While I think there is still needed improvements for him to be called a solid NHL level defender, the progression he has shown leads you to believe that it can happen. Getting the nod from the OHL coaches as the 2nd best defensive defenseman can't hurt his confidence either.

7. John Carlson - London Knights
Carlson is a guy who made quite the big impression in his first and likely only OHL season this year. Coming from the USHL, Carlson immediately became London's top defenseman and was a large reason for the amount of success that team achieved this year. He plays a strong two way game, but I don't think he gets enough credit for being a great defender. Another guy who is an excellent skater, Carlson seems to be everywhere on the defensive side, winning puck battles in the corner, taking his man in front of the net, and being generally conscience of what is happening on the ice. I don't think there is any coincidence that he's been able to take a regular shift in the Calder Cup final right now for Hershey and that he's being highly considered a possible member of the Washington Capitals next year.

6. Harry Young - Windsor Spitfires
Young is just a willing combatant, who uses his intensity level to be an effective defender. Being 6'4 with his wingspan doesn't hurt either. Like Jacob Muzzin, the skating could use improvement, but Young makes up for it by not allowing defenders to use their speed by breaking up plays with his stick, or by simply physically imposing the opposition. It's no surprise that Young compiled 138 penalty minutes this year (including 20 fighting majors), considering his brand of in your face defense.

5. Tyler Cuma - Ottawa 67's
I know, weird seeing his name on this list after he missed the majority of the season with a knee injury he suffered while attempting to make the 2009 Canadian World Junior Team. However, when not injured, Cuma is an excellent defender and likely could have been even higher here, if not for the injury. He has excellent hockey sense and knows where to be on the ice. This makes him an excellent zone defender who does his best to eliminate scoring opportunities for the opposition. There is no question the 67's missed Cuma tremendously this season.

4. Julien Demers - Ottawa 67's
Cuma's loss was Demers' gain. After Cuma was lost for the season, Julien Demers stepped up huge for Ottawa, leading a group of inexperienced defenseman to 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Once, one of the most feared body checkers in the OHL, Demers toned down his game this year in order to be a more effective positional defender. That isn't to say he got soft, because he still plays the body. It's to say he got smart and subsequently became a more effective defender.

3. Dan Kelly - Kitchener Rangers
Kelly is probably the least flashy player on this list. He plays a very quietly effective defensive style of game. He's not incredibly physical, nor is he much of an offensive presence. But that isn't what this list is about. Kelly is a downright effective positional defender who reads and reacts to plays at a very high level. He skates well enough to keep with opposing forwards and he uses his stick to push them to the outside. In a way, he channels the defensive musings of Nik Lidstrom (not comparing Dan Kelly to Lidstrom or anything). He's going to be a big part of Kitchener's expected massive improvement next season, as an overager (unless he earns a contract).

2. Cameron Gaunce - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Not many players in the OHL, took as big a step forward this season as Cameron Gaunce. A surprise 2nd round pick by Colorado at last year's draft, Gaunce emerged as one of the best defenseman in the OHL this season, being named to the OHL second all star team, as well as finishing 3rd in voting for OHL defenseman of the year. Gaunce was also recently named as a participant at the Canadian WJC Summer camp. Gaunce is just a really smart player, who rarely makes mistakes in his own end. He beats opposing forwards to the puck using strong positioning and anticipation, and he keeps forwards from the front of the net using his size and bullish nature. There is no surprise that Gaunce was named the East's top defensive defenceman by OHL coaches this year.

1. Brett Bellemore - Plymouth Whalers
There is no surprise that Plymouth only caught fire after Bellemore returned from a stint in the AHL with Albany. Bellemore, Hurricanes draft pick, started the year with the Albany River Rats after signing an entry level deal with Carolina. However due to strong depth in Albany, Carolina returned Bellemore to Plymouth just after the half way mark of the season. Bellemore, like many of the other players on this list, uses his size to position himself accordingly in the defensive end. While not a dominating physical presence, Bellemore is not passive either and will do the dirty work infront of the net. Considering his role, Bellemore is actually a very disciplined player. This is evidence of his strong positoning and work ethic at the defensive end, as he's rarely forced to take stupid or lazy penalties. Rightfully so, Bellemore was named the Western Conference's top defensive defenceman by OHL coaches.

Stay tuned for the next two weeks of Sunday Top 10, as we profile some of the players who saw a change of stock this season (both for the good and the bad) for the nearing 2009 NHL Entry Draft.


Anonymous said...

A miss on Saginaw's Nick Crawford. Buffalo pick is always on the ice in key situations with Spirit.

Brock Otten said...

Interesting call on Crawford. Admittedly, I don't get a chance to see Saginaw as much as I'd like to. However, the impression I've always gotten of Crawford was that of a smart puck mover who is also intelligent and safe in his own zone.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that all the guys on this list are playing in every key situation for their respective teams, so what would set Crawford apart from them? I mean, pretty tough list to crack, a guy like Alex Pietrangelo didn't even make it on, and when he's at his best, he can be a dominating defensive presence. Unfortunately for him and Ice Dogs fans, that isn't as often as we'd like because he takes his chances offensively.

Anonymous said...

Not a surprize that no Colts defense ever mentioned in this kind of category. The man to man style of play on that team (and the only team to do that if I'm not mistaken)