Columbus, OH –
By Rick Gethin
With a season winding down and major changes anticipated, there are many players who are hoping they’ve made the right impression to warrant a contract in the offseason. I’ll focus on two of them, defenseman Grant Clitsome and forward Derek MacKenzie.
Defenseman Grant Clitsome has played just 29 games since being called up from the AHL Springfield Falcons. But, he has made an impression that makes you wonder “what if” he had been here all year. In those 29 games he has tallied 4-14-18 and garnered a +/- of +1. He, in fact, did better in fewer games with Columbus than he did with Springfield. In 32 games with the Falcons, he was 5-9-14.
He plays a solid two-way game, but really shines on the power play. He seems to have a knack for getting his shot through to the net from the point. “It’s definitely something you work on,” said Clitsome, referring to his accuracy of getting shots on net. “I’ve always worked on my shot for as long as I can remember. I was alwys told since I was young, that hockey players work on their shot all of the time. I took advantage of that (advice) and set up the net in my driveway. Every summer I would shoot pucks at it.”
“For me, it’s a big part of my game. I want to be able to work on it as much as I can. The ‘getting it to the net’ part is about being aware on the ice and reacting. It’s defintely something you have to work on. You have to be comfortable shooting around things (people), too.”
The off season always brings uncertainty to a player, and Clitsome is no different. He will be a Group 6 UFA this summer and knows that his play this season is tantamount to a new contract. Although GM Scott Howson has not had any talks with players who have expiring contracts, I would think that Clitsome has played his way into a new deal from the Blue Jackets front office.
He likes Columbus and has loyalty to the organization that has played him in major minutes this year. “I hope so,” he said about staying with Columbus. “Who knows what the off season will bring? I just go out and play as hard as I can. I’ve also tried to take advantage of all of my opportunities this year. I’ve been fortunate to be up here for almost half of the season. Hopefully they (Howson, et. al.) think I belong up here. We’ll see what happens.”
Forward Derek MacKenzie has been a stablizing force, no matter where he plays in the line-up. He’s shown great energy centering the 4th line, but also has filled in admirably on the top line with Rick Nash and Jake Voracek on his wings. In 61 games this season with Columbus, he’s 9-13-22 and owning a team-leading +/- of +15 (+10 greater than any other player on the roster).
He has one year remaining on a two-way contract before becoming a UFA. His play this season should earn him aserious look to stay in Columbus next season. He brings experience and leadership to this club, in a very understated way. He also happens to be one of the most humble players I’ve ever met.
“You know, honestly, I really don’t know,” said MacKenzie (see what I mean about being humble?) “I feel like there were times when we were in the thick of things (playoff race), where I felt more confident about my role on the team. But now, I really have no idea what chances will come (in the off season). There are only so many roster spots, so I really don’t know.”
“I do feel like I can play at the NHL level. I do feel like I can contribute and be a full-time NHL guy. For me personally, whether it was elevating my game or gaining confidence, I have to thank the coaching staff for the opportunity. I think the biggest thing is that I fit into his (head coach Scott Arniel) style of play. I think other coaches I’ve played for had a different structure (system) that didn’t allow me to get into the forecheck or use my quickness. His style (Arniel) has really worked out good for me.”
Whatever direction that GM Scott Howson wants to go in, and the writing is on the wall regarding changes, Clitsome and MacKenzie have proven themselves to be bright spots in yet another frustrating season for the boys in Union Blue. Their play on the ice and their work ethic make them more attractive to the staff moving forward.
This summer will bring change, of that, there is no doubt. Both of these players have earned the right to be a part of thisclub as the final pieces are sought to make them a playoff contender. Neither of them are “flashy” players. But, they bring that hard Canadian work ethic that successful clubs are built on.