Young Players Step Up
Trades and injuries increase minutes for Jackets youngsters
Don't tell Derek Dorsett that the Columbus Blue Jackets season is all but done. The feisty forward from Kindersley, Saskatchewan says that as long as there isn't an X beside the Blue Jackets in the standings, they are alive.
Dorsett plans on playing out the string as hard as he can. And like many of the young Columbus players, he's getting an opportunity for extra minutes. In fact, Dorsett has had a taste of uptown life – shifts on the Jackets' top line.
"It's awesome," says Dorsett, who had a pair of helpers in 18:18 of ice in Monday's 5-3 win over Edmonton. "It's a huge confidence boost. It shows that they believe in you and they think that you're a reliable player.
"It's always good when you get a promotion, it doesn't matter what line of work you're in."
Dorsett knows it's a temporary thing. He admits he's not a first-line NHL player. But like many guys in the room right now, he's trying to prove his worth as the organization attempts to overcome this season's setback and build towards the future. Dorsett says the extra time helps expand his experience. It also breeds confidence, a crucial element in the success of any professional athlete.
Marc Methot can relate. A vocal guy who has been aching to play a bigger role, he's getting his chance, as well, pairing up with Jan Hejda lately on the top D duo. Methot has a junior national championship under his belt with the OHL's London Knights and doesn't look out of place.
He's racking up minutes and earning respect in the process.
"It's no secret the team isn't doing well," he says. "It's one of those unfortunate things. But I have to take the good from the bad. In this situation specifically, I'm playing more, I'm gaining a lot more experience and it's good for my confidence, too, especially going into next season.
"It's one of those positions where a lot of guys thrive in. Whenever you get that added responsibility on the ice, like any other player, we look forward to it and we like the challenge."
In Methot's case, he's being asked to play against the best the opposition can put out there. He did it in junior against Sidney Crosby and at the NHL level, it's helping him learn some nuances of defending at the highest level.
"I think now, I'm finally understanding my game and how I have to play," Methot says.
Because the Jackets are down in the Western standings, it may seem like the games are relatively meaningless. But that is not the case. This was a team that broke through last year and made an impact on the league. It may not have panned out in 2009-10, but the expectations are Columbus will be right back in the playoff mix again next season.
"There are some real adjustments for us," says Claude Noel. "A lot of players have been logging more minutes than normal.
"I think it's good. I think it's healthy for the players. You'd like to give them more responsibility and more minutes but at the end of the day you're still trying to win games. There is a process there where you're trying to develop and help them along, but I think it's all good for the players.
"I think it's really help for them in the summer time, help them feel good about themselves and look forward to the fall."
It's not just Blue Jacket regulars that are stepping up to fill the void, created in part by injuries, specifically to captain Rick Nash (Nash is expected to play March 19 vs. Minnesota). A prospect like 20-year-old Maksim Mayorov (soon to be 21 on March 26) is relishing the chance to show off his skills. The youngster dished out three hits in just over eight minutes of play Monday. He's thrilled to be wearing an NHL jersey right now.
"It's the best league in the world and all the best players play here," says Mayorov. "It's good for me to play against them. It's a really good chance for me, a good experience.
"I'm working hard and trying to show my best game. I really want to stay here."
Some of the Jackets are literally seeing their ice time doubled or even tripled. Inexperience and inconsistency hurt the team at times this year and the belief is all of the extra minutes logged will serve the franchise well down the road.
"We're getting a lot of stuff from guys who haven't played the biggest minutes," says Dorsett. "It's really an eye opener. Hopefully, the fans can notice the progression the guys are making.
"Once all the young guys become solid NHL players, we're going to be a hard team to beat."