You can’t teach size.
Imagine your favorite team having an organizational player possessing NBA size, strong skating skills for a big man, a rocket shot from the blue line, and even a non-objectionable smell. Bruins’ fans across the land might smugly point to their own behemoth Zdeno Chara, and yet they’d be wrong — hearty helpings of Czech Republic favorites sauerkraut soup, hovězí and Omáčka have eliminated the “non-objectionable smell” portion of the above description. Nevertheless, the Bruins have the luxury of a very unique physical specimen very rarely seen in the NHL — until now.
The San Jose Sharks drafted defenseman Taylor Doherty in the 2nd round (57th overall) of the 2009 entry draft. Doherty has to stoop to walk through the door to the adjacent small enclave the nurse takes him to in order to measure his height. He stands 6’8″ in his stocking feet, with his weight listed in the 230-235 pound range, certainly the largest man in his draft class.
The 2009 class has already produced current NHL’ers John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchesne, Evander Kane, Marcus Johansson, Ryan O’Reilly and a host of other players, some with serious pedigrees that have yet to fully take hold at the highest level. Outside of the top ten (or so) draftees, however, it was not considered a particularly strong draft class by most pundits at the time. The early returns have been relatively inconclusive two years later, other than the obvious breakout players. Yet still in the pipeline are numerous high-ceiling prospects such as Doherty, metaphorically nearly ready to knock on the door.
Doherty started his professional career just after the Kingston Frontenacs’ five-game playoff ouster at the hands of the Oshawa Generals three months ago, appearing in three AHL games for Worcester. Thus, comparisons to the trophy-laden Chara are more than a little premature. Having been blessed with a super-sized frame, that’s the name he will hear the most as he progresses along the developmental curve. Another man-mountain NHL player, Hal Gill, has had a long, successful career as a shutdown defenseman, yet scores about as often as Urkel did on Family Matters; also, Gill might lose to the dancing, inane, sing-song “dinosaur” Barney in a fistfight. Given Doherty’s aggressive profile, Chara is the better aspirational choice.
Doherty is composed and says the right things. When asked about the events that have recently transpired in his short career (culminating in his AHL appearances), he replied: “Everything I have done in the last two years has been amazing for me. I started my junior career, then being drafted, playing in a few Hockey Canada events, being taken by the Sharks and developing into a Sharks player and playing in the AHL. This past April with Worcester, that was a great experience, it made me a better player”. Regarding being named Frontenacs’ captain, he said: “Whenever someone is named captain, it is a huge honor. It was humbling to be named captain by Doug Gilmour and felt that I could do the job to the best of my ability. I try to be a leader on and off the ice and do things to help all the younger guys out”.
Further Doherty thoughts, specific to a 2009 game against Kitchener, are found here:
Where it counts the most, Doherty has produced. In ’09-’10, he tallied 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points, the highest numbers amongst Kingston blue liners and fourth overall on the team. His 114 PIM’s were second on the club. In ’10-’11 he improved to 53 points (14 goals), once again tops amongst the team’s defensemen, along with 86 PIM’s. Doherty matured in his fourth season with Kingston, learning when and where to take necessary penalties. The knock on Doherty is a typical one for players with size: despite the PIM’s, he could do a better job using his size and strength, and although he will drop the gloves occasionally, he hasn’t been noted for his fighting skills.
It is easy to forget that Doherty is just 20 years old, with his resume of four years in the Juniors, his AHL appearance, and invitations to Team Canada’s development camp. Furthermore, he possesses very good wheels for a big man, causing physicians throughout Canada to calculate the force his hits can deliver as a function of his size, strength and speed. If that size and speed can be duly corralled, he has the potential to be a very special NHL defenseman within a few short years.
Most pundits have Doherty ranked as San Jose’s top defensive prospect, although Nick Petrecki, Matt Pelech and Matt Irwin are further along from a developmental standpoint. None appear to to have the sheer upside potential of Doherty. With the trade for Brent Burns and the signing of Jim Vandermeer, the odds of Doherty even having a cup of coffee at the highest level are remote for this upcoming NHL season. The chances of him making a measurably contribution, however, rise exponentially in ’13-’14, as both Doug Murray’s and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic’s current contracts are set to expire.
To partially quote Doc Brown from Back to the Future, “If we can somehow harness this lightning …” That’s the huge task for the huge man in the next few years. Since I know you still enjoy that classic movie even after all these years, here’s the scene:
Keep an eye on Doherty. He may be a very big steal from the 2009 draft before it’s all said and done.