Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday: Young Defenceman

Only once in the last 4 draft classes has a defenceman not been taking either first or second overall. So it stands to reason that there are some blue chip blueliners in the NHL right now. But not all of them have come in the top 2, 5 or even 10 on draft day. Here are are the 5 best young blueliners in my opinion.

5. Michael Del Zotto-New York Rangers
The 19 year old has shot out of the gate in New York with 2 goals 3 assists in 5 games, putting him a tie for 3rd in scoring among defenceman. The 20th pick in the 2008 draft has exploded up the depth chart in New York and is getting regular power play time on the first unit, often times with forward Ales Kotalik manning the left side. Del Zotto has one power play goal and has set up Kotalik twice by faking a shot and feeding a one timer. He leads all Ranger d-men in points and is only playing 15 minutes a night.

4. Alex Goligoski-Pittsburgh Penguins
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft, Goligoski's route to the NHL may have taken a little longer than Pittsburgh expected, but now that he's arrived full time he's making his mark. In his second full season, Goligoski has 4 points in 6 games and a plus 5 rating so far this season. Goligoski's strong play last year (20 points, +5, 45 games) allowed the Penguins to deal Ryan Whitney and he hasn't made them regret their decision. The 24 year old was drafted out of high school, then spent a year with Sioux City of the USHL. After 3 years with the Minnesota Golden Gophers he played one full season with Wilkes-Barre. Last year he split time between the big club and the AHL, but looks to be a full time Penguin now.

3. Erik Johnson-St. Louis Blues
Johnson might have drifted from peoples minds after missing all of last year due to a knee injury suffered in a golf cart incident, but he's back with the Blues and reminding people why St. Louis took him first overall in 2006. He has size at 6.04 and 234 pounds, skates extremely smooth despite tearing his ACL and MCL last year, and has terrific instincts. As a rookie he played 18 minutes a night on a Blues team that missed the playoffs. St. Louis is one of the "it" teams this year, a club on the rise that made the playoffs without the services of Johnson last year and could do some real damage with him. He's likely not even 100 per cent recovered and is just in his sophomore season, but Johnson will anchor the Blues, and maybe team USA's blueline for years to come.
2. Viktor Hedman-Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa's blueline was atrocious last year, this season it's a reason the Lightning are tied for first with Washington in the Southeast division. Tampa's blueline is an overall +3 and Matthias Ohlund and Hedman have 4 points each. There were a lot of people (not me, but Guy Flaming was one of them) who thought Hedman should have been drafted first overall, now he's making his case. The 6.06 Swede has done everything for Tampa. His 4 assists are tied for the team lead, he's +2, has 8 penalty minutes and is playing 25:40 per game, putting him top ten in the NHL among all defenceman, not just rookies.

1. Drew Doughty-L.A. Kings
When Canada's Olympic summer orientation list came out and Drew Doughty was on it, most thought he was token young player invite. He started dispelling the theory that week, and has continued to prove he belongs so far this season. Doughty scored a beauty Tuesday night against the Islanders, and is second among blueline scorers with 2 goals and 4 assists in 5 games. The Kings like the Blues and Lightning are much improved this year with 8 points to lead the Pacific Division, and have won 4 straight. Just like with St. Louis and Tampa Bay, a young blueliner is a big reason why. Doughty led all defenceman in shots with 126 and was tied for points with 27 last year. He wasn't a finalist for the Calder trophy last year, but it won't be long before his name starts surfacing for the Norris.

As for tonight's show, we'll be joined by Tampa Bay prospect Dustin Tokarski. The goaltender has started his pro career with Norfolk, this after winning a Memorial Cup and WJC title during his junior career. Our ICU Video Focus of the Week will be the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Memorial Cup hosts recently stopped in Edmonton and skated away with a 4-1 win so we'll speak with some key players and head coach Kelly McCrimmon. The NCAA season is underway and we'll continue our season previews with Hockey East, which produced the Frozen Four champion last year. Finally, we welcome the first of many scouts to the program as Mark Seidel from North American Scouting will be our guest. 7-9 PM MST on the TEAM 1260 in Edmonton or online http://www.thepipelineshow.com/. Have a question for us or one of our guests? Drop us a line pipeup@theteam1260.com.

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