Chisholm ready to make leap to NHL
‘He’s got everything it takes,’ say Moose coach Morrison
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It’s said good things come to those who wait. Declan Chisholm could be in for some dream-making fortunes one day soon.
The 23-year-old blue-liner’s knocks have turned into reverberating thumps on the Winnipeg Jets’ door this season.
Chisholm is brimming with confidence as a member of the affiliate Manitoba Moose — sitting fifth among all American Hockey League defencemen with 29 points, leading his playoff-hopeful club in assists (25) and recently earning his first AHL All-Star nod, which will take place in Laval, Que. from Feb. 5-6.
It’s been yet another year of noticeable progression for the Jets’ 2018 fifth-round pick, a year in which he’s shown to be not far from a chance with the big club.
“I feel good. Game is going in the right direction and the team is also,” Chisholm said following Moose practice at the hockey for all centre Thursday.
“Just staying consistent, constantly working on the things that I need to work on. You know, every day coming in, loving the game, working hard at what I need to do and keeping your eyes on the big picture. There’s no rush, you control what you can control and just chip away at it.”
The Moose (21-13-2) will host the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies (28-10-1) at Canada Life Centre Friday night (7 p.m. puck drop), in what will be the first of a two-game mini-series between the clubs this weekend. The rematch is Sunday at 2 p.m.
Chisholm said he feels ready to make the jump to the NHL and his play backs that up. He sits one point off the career-high 30 he set last season and has turned into one of the most reliable defenders for the Moose, skating on the top pairing and playing in all situations.
The reality for the third-year blue liner, however, is the Jets have a log jam of defenders currently filling the lineup, along with Ville Heinola occupying the “next-man-up” role, as he’s bounced between the AHL and NHL several times this season.
Chisholm is staying patient, though.
“You can tell there’s a lot of good (defencemen) in this organization and, yeah, there’s a bit of a log-jam, but again, you just control what you can control and I’ll just keep doing my thing down here and working hard down here until I get my opportunity and my shot,” he said.
Chisholm’s play has been duly noted by head coach Mark Morrison, who took several minutes to gush about his defenceman after practice.
“For me, his progression has been probably where it is that we all hoped it would be,” the bench boss said. “He brings some offence and he’s more confident all the time with the offensive side, but his defending has become much better. He’s becoming an all-around hockey player at both ends of the rink. He’s turned himself into a pro who quite often is the best player on the ice.
“He’s learned how to bring consistency to his game… It’s very visible this year he’s taken a huge step and I can’t say enough about his game.”
Morrison explained the jump he’s seen from Chisholm has been eerily reminiscent of a pair of NHL defencemen he’s worked with, one who is currently in the race to be crowned the league’s best defenceman.
“I was with Josh Morrissey and I was with Ben Chiarot and I see the same type of leap in Declan that those guys took in the American (Hockey) League,” Morrison said. “I was there when all of a sudden you could tell these guys were going to be NHL hockey players and, for me, Declan has taken that same jump where he’s showing that he’s got everything it takes.”
Leon Gawanke has played alongside Chisholm for the better part of the past two seasons. The two share a bond of being fifth-round picks (Gawanke in 2017) and have forged a strong relationship that dates back to their days at Jets’ rookie camps.
“He’s playing unreal,” Gawanke said. “I think you could see it ever since he came into the league, he was making plays, he would join the rush and obviously we have some really good chemistry going. He’s such a smart player and his ability to skate is just — I think this year he took another step and brought his game up to the next level and I was even impressed sometimes by the stuff he does.
“I think just in general, the way he’s defending too, gives us a lot of confidence — we’re not stuck in own dzone that much anymore like we used to (be). I think overall, the defensive game developed a lot and he’s helping me a lot, for sure.”
Chisholm loosely credited the COVID-19 pandemic for his impressive progression, explaining he didn’t have as much adversity as most rookies would. The half-season that forced players in and out of the lineup allowed him ample opportunity to develop alongside a talented group of defenders.
“I think that was a huge stepping stone into my confidence right now. It was pretty much a practice year and then you get last year with our really good group on learning off of all our really good defencemen all year and some veteran guys too,” Chisholm said. “All in all, just experience and confidence is at an all-time high right now.”
“I think I’m ready and I think I have some stuff to show, too. Just keep doing what I’m doing, I think I’m on the right path.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.