Mobile D-men on display at holiday showcases
By Jeff Cox
Boston Bruins fans have witnessed firsthand this season the importance of an elite, mobile defenseman who can move pucks north.
Charlie McAvoy, a former Boston University standout and a 2016 B’s first-round pick, has exploded onto the scene and made an immediate impact for the Bruins with his skating ability and stick skills.
Gone are the days that defensemen need to be big. Now, NHL organizations are looking for blueliners who can retrieve pucks, break pucks out, transition quickly from defense to offense, and activate as the fourth forward.
NHL scouts attending the various holiday tournaments across New England were treated to several defensemen who fit that very description.
Kimball Union Academy, the defending Elite 8 tournament champion, won the Flood-Marr Tournament thanks to two very strong pairings on the back end. The leader of that group is Northeastern commit Jordan Harris, who likely will be the first defenseman from prep hockey selected in this June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Harris’s elite skating ability allows KUA to have the puck in its possession the majority of the time when he’s on the ice. He also can defend with his feet and by recovering to get on the right side of the puck.
In addition to Harris, KUA’s first pairing on the blue line includes Holy Cross commit Bryce Dolan, the team’s captain. Dolan, a fierce competitor, skates well and plays with a chip on his shoulder.
The second pairing has two newcomers, Christian Felton and Devan Newhook. Both are uncommitted, but don’t expect Felton to remain on the open market for long. Ranked by NHL Central Scouting, the Medina, Ohio, native is a terrific skater who likes to join the rush. Several college programs are watching him closely.
"Our depth," said Harris of what makes his team so dangerous. "We can match up against anyone. We play well together as a team."
KUA wasn’t the only team at the Flood-Marr to have an impact defenseman. Salisbury, which tied KUA in the round-robin portion but lost the tiebreaker, has another potential 2018 NHL draft pick in Peter Diliberatore. The Quinnipiac commit is putting up a point per game. His feet are very good, allowing him to have a lethal shot from the point.
Captain Nick Hale, a Holy Cross commit, and Luke Krys both bring necessary skill-sets to the table. Hale is undersized, but he keeps things simple and moves the puck up ice. Krys lacks an offensive touch, but he has good size, retrieves pucks and is mobile.
Westminster has been one of the pleasant surprises of the first month of the season, in large part due to the terrific play of Malik Alishlalov. The Russian import is a UConn commit who is eligible for the 2019 NHL draft. He’s a terrific skater, plays physical and likes to join the rush.
A few miles away, Rivers captured the St. Sebastian’s Tournament with an overtime victory over the host school in the championship game. The Red Wings allowed just four goals over the three games.
"We have really good ‘D.’ They can all really skate. Our game plan is to move it up as quick as we can and get the ‘D’ up into the play," said Rivers coach Shawn McEachern, a BU alum and former NHL star.
The headliners on the Rivers blue line are BU recruit Cade Webber, who is one of the top 2001-born defensemen in the country, and Brown recruit Tony Andreozzi. However, McEachern doesn’t hesitate to put out any of his defenders in any situation.
"Everyone brings something to the table. The guys really stepped up," said McEachern, who made a point to also mention John Corrigan, Pat Lawn, Ryan Rahbany and Tommy Benjes.
Rivers lost to KUA in the Elite 8 championship game last March, and despite a bevy of offseason departures, seems primed to contend again. The Red Wings don’t have the name recognition of some other top teams in the region, but they play well as a unit.
"We just worry about our team. We have 24 guys who enjoy playing together. They support each other. They work extremely hard. The game plan is to not get outworked. It says a lot about the character of our team," McEachern said.
Just remember...odds are much better that your bender will be swilling bud light in the lockerrooms in Marlboro than having a career in hockey. Been there.....