It’s easy to point out the star on any team, but sometimes even the best defensemen can be left in the shadows of the dynamic forwards – especially now, thanks to the National Hockey League (NHL) and their implementation of 3-on-3 overtime.
Agents of change like Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the NHL are constantly on the prowl for new ways to improve the evolving sport. Implementing 3-on-3 overtime has certainly had an impact on every hockey league from peewee to major junior, causing a shift in perception of the team’s most valuable players. Before this change, no one really noticed the guys who alleviated the cardiovascular pressures of making it in the fourth and fifth periods because they’re not the ones scoring all the goals.
3-On-3 Overtime Changes Criteria for Winning Games
What if winning championships meant a little more than having one or two exceptionally talented players on the roster? Some coaches might describe a winning team as a team that knows how to play the right way, but what does playing hockey the right way actually mean? Furthermore, is the right way of playing limited to just one way of playing, as the trending phrase suggests?
Playing hockey the right way accommodates the NHL’s recent move to 3-on-3 overtime. The game has suddenly become harder. It’s fewer guys passing the puck around on the same 200-foot long ice surface. It means more skating for the players. It requires more fuel to be burned. To put it simply, it’s just more exhausting.
In order to reach this part of the game, though, everyone on both ends of the rink has to get through the first 60 minutes.
Retired NHL defensemen Jeff Brown is the Head Coach and General Manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Ottawa 67s and he has a good eye for identifying quality defensemen amongst a plethora of talented players on his roster.
And so he should.
He’s played a total of 747 NHL games between the years of 1985 and 1998 for the Quebec Nordiques, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals. Brown speaks with The Hockey Writers about one defenceman in particular; Jacob Middleton.
With a knack for assisting, Middleton is a 6-foot-3, 214-pound defenseman drafted by the Los Angeles Kings during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at No. 210 overall. To help us better understand Middleton from Brown’s unwavering perspective, he breaks down the defenceman’s style, as he prepares to play with Kings.
Sometimes looking in the mirror can really give you a reality check to what’s actually going on. Once a week, the Ottawa 67s video record their players because this is one of the ways they can see themselves perform – both in the game and during the practice. “Individually, we go over their shifts,” Brown tells The Hockey Writers. “Guys will request this most of the time. Not everyone likes to do it – maybe half.” This is just one of the tools that Brown uses to develop his players, including Middleton. “Jacob has a good pass. He’s becoming a quality defenseman,” he says. Passing is certainly not the only thing he’s good at either.
Just like the LA King’s other prospects currently playing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), Middleton is also working on his 200-foot game, as requested. “He’s the hardest-working guy on the team… he works his butt off and leads by example,” Brown continues. Perseverance will figuratively and literally get you farther in today’s game.
Star Defenseman Lingers in Shadows of Konecny & Studnicka
The Ottawa 67s traded for Middleton back during the 2012-13 season and even though Brown wasn’t with the team back then, he’s quickly becoming a fan of the rising star. “He plays in all situations: offensive, defensive, shot blocking, penalty killer, etc.,” says Brown. That’s what it means to be an ‘all-phases’ player and that’s what the NHL’s market demand is.
It’s characteristics like these that have given Middleton the opportunity to become captain. “He’s a character kid,” Brown goes on. “He wants to win.” Middleton became the team’s captain shortly after the OHL trade deadline this year, but it wasn’t a hard decision to make. “Jake was the other Assistant, so when the other two left (referring to Travis Konecny and Sam Studnicka), it was an easy decision.”
The King’s noticed Middleton before he became the team’s captain and this is the thing that makes him stand out amongst everyone else, including star forwards like Konecny and Studnicka.
Defensemen who play a 200-foot game sometimes get themselves known for their checking ability – a useful tactic for penalty killing. “He likes being physical,” says Brown. “He has a great stick. He’s like those guys in the NHL that play half the game. He’s on the power play, penalty kill… he gets lots of minutes.”
For the LA Kings, having a physical presence is very important, especially for their defensemen. One of the ways to examine physical presence is by looking at Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a measure used to categorize a player’s body fat percentage, along with total body weight.
Athletes train by following a regime that provides them with optimal performance in their specific sport. A high BMI measure can indicate high body fatness. Consequently, low BMI can indicate low body fatness. A football player’s BMI is drastically different than a hockey player and that’s because they use their body in a very different way. Let’s take a quick look at the King’s 11 prospects currently playing in the CHL:
The Kings typically like their defensemen to have higher BMI’s than their forwards – other than Jake Marchment, who’s tied for having the highest BMI of everyone. The Kings search defensemen with higher body fat percentages and they start at the major junior leagues. By looking at Middleton, he fit’s the criteria for a King’s defenseman like a glove. Generally speaking, King’s defensemen are taller and heavier then their forwards and this allows defensemen to partake in roles prone to body checking and that makes sense.
To sum it up, coaches are developing players into specific roles in order to out-reign, out-champ and out-win the competition. No longer is the one-man show a commodity sought after like it had been once before. Now, championships are won by following a style-of-play that wins turnovers the most and gains them possession of the puck more often than before.