Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Deep on D-men

Jets have an abundance of rearguards, but NHL teams know you can never have too much of a good thing

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It's one of hockey's oldest commandments, listed on Page 1 of a general manager's bible and religiously adhered to by teams from peewee to the pros.

Thou shall not find thyself short of defencemen.

As evidence, we give you the 2013 Winnipeg Jets.

As deep as the Jets' collection of D-men looked on paper when the season finally opened last January, rare was the night when the squad had their entire compliment of blue-liners healthy. It began with Zach Bogosian opening the season on the injured list and also featured visits to the infirmary by Toby Enstrom, Zach Redmond, Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Stuart.

All told, of the man games lost to injury this past season, about a quarter of it came from the defensive corps.

That, in part, is what makes the next segment in our Jets At The Draft series so intriguing and why -- as much as management appears to covet offensive firepower up front -- it should never surprise anyone if they grab another defenceman with the 13th overall pick.

A quick peek at the current roster offers a little bit of everything as the Jets set up shop in Newark for Sunday's draft, from Byfuglien trade rumours -- which GM Kevin Cheveldayoff steered clear from earlier this week but which continue to swirl -- to key cogs such as Bogosian and Redmond becoming restricted free agents to Hainsey and Grant Clitsome inching closer to unrestricted free agent status.

There is a prized prospect in Jacob Trouba waiting in the wings and two or three developing down on the farm. But a team can never, ever have enough.


DEFENCE -- WHAT'S IN THE SYSTEM?

THE JETS

DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN: There are nights when he is a difference-maker for all the right reasons: a powerful point shot and a physical offensive dynamo. And there are nights when he is a difference-maker for all the wrong reasons: a mistake-prone, risk-taker with a questionable commitment to fitness. If the Jets cherish the good, they must also live with the bad.

Byfuglien FYI: Age: 28. 2013 numbers: 43GP, 8G, 20A. Contract: Three years remaining on current deal (2013-14 salary is $5.75 million)

TOBY ENSTROM: The skills aren't in question, but his durability is -- he did not miss a single game in his first three years in the NHL, but has missed 56 of 212 games since.

Enstrom FYI: Age: 28. 2013 numbers: 22GP, 4G, 11A. Contract: Five years remaining on current deal paying him $5.75 million per season.

ZACH BOGOSIAN: He is exactly the kind of player the Jets want to build around: a humble, accountable, burgeoning star.

Bogosian FYI: Age: 22. 2013 numbers: 33 GP, 5G, 9A. Contract: Restricted free agent (2013 salary was $2.5 million).

RON HAINSEY: Stepped up in a big way for the Jets in 2013 with all the injuries to their D corps. But he'll test the market and likely still draw a juicy salary elsewhere.

Hainsey FYI: Age: 32. 2013 numbers: 47GP, 0G, 13A. Contract: Unrestricted free agent (contract paid him $4.5 million in 2013).

MARK STUART: Ideally, he's not a top-four D-man, but is one of those vital core guys every squad craves. Blocks shots, offers leadership and a grit that is lacking from this D corps.

Stuart FYI: Age: 29. 2013 numbers: 42GP, 2G, 2A. Contract: One year remaining on current deal, which will pay him $1.8 million in 2013-14.

GRANT CLITSOME: Seemed to play his way back into chatter about a new deal down the stretch. In his last 13 games he had two goals, four assists and was a plus-10. He's a third pairing/depth D-man on those rare occasions when this corps is completely healthy.

Clitsome FYI: Age: 28. 2013 numbers: 44GP, 4G, 12A. Contract: Unrestricted free agent (contract paid him $1.25 million in 2013).

ZACH REDMOND: In just a limited sample size before that horrific life-threatening injury, Jets fans got a hint of his simple, but effective game. Returned to play with the IceCaps at the end of the season and should be a regular this fall.

Redmond FYI: Age: 24. 2013 numbers: 8GP, 1G, 3A. Contract: Restricted free agent (2013 salary was $875,000).

PAUL POSTMA: He's got superb hands and an accurate shot. Still has a tendency to get flustered and isn't exactly a physical beast. But there's something still intriguing to see if it develops here.

Postma FYI: Age: 24. 2013 numbers: 34GP, 4G, 5A. Contract: Restricted free agent (2013 salary was $550,000).

DEREK MEECH: The Jets were comfortable with the minutes he gave them this season but his age and the possible readiness of younger players in the organization means his return could block those needing big-league action.

Meech FYI: Age: 29. 2013 numbers: 16GP, 0G, 1A. Contract: Unrestricted free agent (contract paid him $700,000 in 2013).

ARTURS KULDA: Returned to the club in March after a season in the KHL but did not suit up for a single game. Still just 24.

Kulda FYI: Age: 24. 2013 numbers (0GP in NHL; had 15 points (6G, 9A) in 50 games with Novosibirsk. Contract: Restricted free agent (2013 salary was $550,000)

 

TOP DEFENCE PROSPECT

JACOB TROUBA: Coming off a season in which he filled his own personal trophy case... Named to the all-star team and voted top defenceman at the World Junior Hockey Championship in helping lead the U.S. to gold... In his first year at Michigan, Trouba was named a CCM Hockey all-American by the American Hockey Coaches Association -- the lone freshman... Suited up for the American national team at the world championship in May and helped the U.S. capture bronze... Has a competitive streak that has Jets' brass drooling and better offensive skills than he gets credit for. He had 12 goals and 29 points in 37 games for the Wolverines this year, tops among Michigan defenceman and third-best on the team... Named just last week as the University of Michigan's freshman of the year (all sports).

 

THE ICE CAPS

(defencemen under NHL contracts)

WILL O'NEILL: Still figuring out the pro game after a solid career at Maine. Just finished his second year in St. John's with 21 points in 59 games.

CODY SOL: Big dude at 6-6, 242 pounds; the organization wants him to continue to work on his speed but there is a good foundation here.

BEN CHIAROT: Made big strides according to head coach Keith McCambridge. Skates well, plays physical and was on both special teams.

JULIAN MELCHIORI: Good quickness, physical and with a mean streak. The Jets like his leadership and how quickly he accelerated in his first year as a pro.

 

IN THE SYSTEM

(draft picks or players under NHL deals)

AARON HARSTAD: Injuries cost him 11 games this past season at Colorado College; was the team's top rookie in 2011-12.

BRENNAN SERVILLE: Development has been slow for the 2011 draft pick at Michigan. Entering his junior year next fall.

PETER STOYKEWYCH: Winnipeg product coming off a solid season at Colorado College. Named to the WCHA Final Five all-star squad and to the conference's all-academic team.

 

THE NHL'S BEST

By comparison, a look at some of the NHL's top defencemen (ranked by 2013 scoring):

1. P.K. SUBBAN, MONTREAL: 42 GP, 11G, 27A

2. KRIS LETANG, PITTSBURGH: 35 GP, 5G, 33A

3. RYAN SUTER, MINNESOTA: 48 GP, 4G, 28A

4. ANDREI MARKOV, MONTREAL: 48 GP, 10G, 20A

5. KEITH YANDLE, PHOENIX: 48GP, 10g, 20A

Other notable defencemen: Erik Karlsson, Ott.; Zdeno Chara, Bos., Duncan Keith, Chi., Francois Beauchemin, Ana.; Drew Doughty, L.A., Alex Pietrangelo, St. L.; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phx.

 

Friday: Part 5 -- Goaltending ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2013 D9

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