"I know just coaching against him in New Jersey, every time we played him, he was a very effective player. We’d go through tapes, and we’d say, 'Geez, he was pretty darned good against us."
-- Brent Sutter on Nigel Dawes
Over the past two seasons, while Sutter was at the helm of the New Jersey Devils, he couldn't help noticing Dawes, a whirling dervish who was stirring it up for the Devils’ Atlantic Division rivals, the New York Rangers.
Now that the two are based in Calgary, Sutter wants to see the 5-foot-9 left wing bring that high-energy potential to the table on a full-time basis.
"I know just coaching against him in New Jersey, every time we played him, he was a very effective player," Sutter, the Flames’ coach, said at Tuesday's morning skate, hours before his club’s home game against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome. "We’d go through tapes, and we’d say, ‘Geez, he was pretty darned good against us.'
"There is an understanding between Nigel and myself, because we do know each other, that he knows there's a certain way he’s expected to play, and he holds himself accountable to that.
"It’s consistency for Nigel. It’s about learning how to do it over and over again," added Sutter. "So far this season, his awareness, and his (desire) to do the right things on both sides of the puck, have been very good."
Two seasons ago, Dawes established himself as a regular NHL forward with 29 points, including 14 goals, in 61 games for the Rangers. Last winter, though, his production dipped to 10 goals, the Rangers didn’t see him working out as a top-six forward, and he was shipped to Phoenix in a four-player March deal that brought defenseman Derek Morris to the Big Apple.
But Sutter remembered Dawes’ strength, skating, playmaking ability and desire — and when the Coyotes put him on waivers, the Flames grabbed him and signed him to a contract the next day.
"I knew I could play at this level," the 24-year-old Winnipeg native said. "Once I get on the ice, that’s where I find things the most comfortable, and that’s where you’re going to find your success."
Dawes has enjoyed a decent start to the season, with an assist and four shots on goal in two games while playing with center Daymond Langkow and right wing Rene Bourque. He’s averaging 13 minutes of ice time a game, and seeing power-play duty as well.
"Bourque and Langkow are both really smart players. They can both skate real well, and they're strong on the puck," Dawes said. "When we get the puck in behind the other team's D, cycle, jump in holes and get to the net, that’s when we’ve had our success."