Zach Bogosian makes a lot of money and, as such, people expect a lot. But perhaps the former first-round pick is more suited to a simpler game while leaving the flash to others.

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Opinion

Zach Bogosian makes a lot of money and, as such, people expect a lot. But perhaps the former first-round pick is more suited to a simpler game while leaving the flash to others.

Everything about Bogosian's skill set -- powerful skater with a big shot -- screams offensive defenceman. When he broke into the league and scored 10 goals in his rookie season, he seemed headed for a career of big offensive numbers.

Zach Bogosian doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as a defensive defenceman. Or an offensive defenceman, for that matter.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Zach Bogosian doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as a defensive defenceman. Or an offensive defenceman, for that matter.

Injuries, however, have impeded his development and a breakout statistical season has been elusive. Two years ago, during the lockout-shortened season, he played 33 games and last year, just 55.

Staying healthy and proving more durable are keys for Bogosian as he heads into what has to be viewed as a critical season in his career.

The 24-year-old has already seen action in parts of seven NHL seasons and is in the second year of a seven-year, $36-million contract. Bogosian, who had three goals and eight assists last season, got engaged this past summer and has never been shy about his love of Winnipeg.

People want him to succeed. Bogosian is easy for fans to love. He's committed and accountable. He is a throwback in many ways and still plays the game with the physical edge Canadian hockey fans love to see in their team's players.

Bogosian is a key figure in the Jets' plans for this season. Coach Paul Maurice has paired him with Toby Enstrom on the club's top defensive set.

The debate on Bogosian has begun in earnest. Is he a pillar the Jets can build around? Or is he injury prone and not worthy of the contract GM Kevin Cheveldayoff gave him?

For his part, the 6-3, 215-pound Bogosian says he's comfortable with who he is as a player and believes he can help the Jets become a more competent team.

"I see a two-way defenceman. I think I can bring some offence from the point and play well defensively as well. I have confidence in myself," said Bogosian, seconds after walking off the ice last and a good 30 minutes after most of his teammates had finished up Tuesday. "It's been a little bit of an up and down ride over the last few years. I still believe in myself and I have lot of confidence going into this year."

Bogosian is known for being a gym rat and Maurice says the player has done everything the organization has asked of him off the ice to try and improve his game.

"This guy is a machine. I think we changed how he trained a little bit this summer. He is just a big, powerful man and a lot of his injuries are muscle strains. This guy's not carrying any extra fat, he's not leaving any effort in the workout room at all," said Maurice. "Zach pushes hard. So the questions we ask, and not just about Zach, but it's any guy that has a frequency of those injuries, is how can we change the way he trains a little bit to keep him healthier and keep him fresher. It was back spasms at the end of last year that kept him out. He's had to deal with some of those muscular things, so the flexibility program and all those things, we're looking at them very hard, very closely."

Fans see the contract, although keep in mind Bogosian will make $4 million this season, which is hardly big money in today's NHL, and want point production. But Maurice says that's not how he'll gauge Bogosian's season.

"Being a plus player in terms of points generated for and against. We track shots from certain areas, so what you generate on the ice and more importantly what you give up. He's a big, strong man, he closes the gap well and finishes hard," said Maurice. "He's got a role here and we're not going to judge his season by his offensive statistics. But in terms of him affecting the course of a game and us winning or losing, it's him keeping their guys off the board."

Bogosian doesn't bristle when a question he doesn't like comes his way. But he doesn't acquiesce to someone else's point if he doesn't agree. When asked if he wouldn't be better off letting the game come to him more often rather than trying to force it, Bogosian says he's not ready to be pigeon-holed as a defensive defenceman.

"I believe I can get up in the rush and help out that way. I want to be a complete player. That's not to be saying I'm going to be an offensive defenceman. I think I can be a two-way player," said Bogosian, who had five goals and 25 assists in his best statistical season three campaigns ago. "I don't want to get labelled as just a shut-down defenceman. I believe I can do both things."

Bogosian is asked if he needs to have a bounce-back year this season and he wrinkles his nose just a bit.

"A bounce-back year? With everything out there in the world nowadays with Twitter and everything else there's a million opinions. I know what I can do. I know what I can bring to the table," said Bogosian. "But I'm not looking at it like, 'Oh boy, I need to do this.' I need to compete every game and work hard and do all the right things to take care of myself. That's how you line yourself up to have a successful season."

Bogosian can't be faulted for effort or desire. He wants to be the best. He wants to win. And he has talent.

This is an important season for Bogosian but it's not make or break. He's a 24-year-old defenceman with lots of room to grow. He's evolving and his career needs time to breathe.

Perhaps the expectations of both Bogosian and Jets fans will have to be tempered just a bit.

Maybe a No. 2 role on the defence corps will prove a little ambitious.

But if he can stay healthy and get comfortable with a game that best suits him and the Jets, all will be fine.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless