Professional hockey is a battle. It's a battle on the ice to get possession of the puck, to find open space, to score goals, to win. It's also a battle off the ice as players are competing for a spot in the lineup that they hope gets them to or keeps them in the NHL.
So when defenseman Duncan Siemens' first professional season got stalled midway through because of a knee injury, the Colorado Avalanche prospect did all he could to hit the ice at full steam when he made his return.
“I think that obviously whenever a hockey player is out, it sucks being out, but you've got to use that time," Siemens said. "Especially at the pro level, there are guys that want your position every day. You’re always fighting for your job so when you’re out, you’ve got to be able to learn and keep up with what’s going on out there because when you get back, you’ve got to be able to perform right away.”
Sitting high above the ice at Quicken Loans Arena, Siemens watched his Lake Erie teammates do battle below in attempt to pick up wins and try to impress the Monsters and Avalanche management for a possible call up. The Sherwood Park, Alberta native might not have been down there helping and learning by doing, but he was still working, studying and becoming a student of the game.
"I think that I was able to use that time to visually learn rather than be right out there," Siemens said. "You can sit out and learn a lot from a hockey game. I tried to do that while I was out and use that time as effective as possible.”
When he did return, Siemens did his best to become a force on the ice. He finished with 45 penalty minutes in 46 games and a minus-1 rating, not bad numbers for a rear guard getting his first real taste of the American Hockey League.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and at 203 pounds, without skates on, Siemens knows he may not be counted on to provide loads of offense from the blue line, but instead be a solid defensive-minded defenseman. He's worked hard on becoming that type of defender the past couple years by concentrating on his strength and power in the offseason.
"I think that obviously when you get to the pro game you are pushing around men so it’s a whole lot different than pushing around 18-19 year-old boys [in junior]," he said. "I think that you need a lot more power and a lot more strength to be able to do that and play physically effectively. So that’s been my main focus, just getting stronger and more powerful, as well as obviously continuing to improve on my cardiovascular game. I’m a guy that wants to be relied upon to play minutes.”
He showed that he wouldn't be pushed around this year during the Avalanche's second day of training camp when he got into it with Colorado's gritty seven-year NHL veteran Cody McLeod and dropped the gloves for a fight during a scrimmage. Officials jumped in before any fists were thrown, but it was a statement that Siemens wasn't going to back down to anyone, no matter how much NHL experience they might have.
Selected as the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, it might seem that Siemens has been with the organization forever and is behind in his development. He's more on schedule than people think, as he was one of the youngest players chosen in his draft class as a then 17-year-old.
With a Sept. 7 birthday, he was six days younger than Nathan MacKinnon—who was one of the youngest players in the 2013 draft—when selected by the Avs and went on to play two more junior seasons with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League before turning pro.
Siemens said he understands that every player develops differently and the type of player that he wants to be tends to take the longest to make the jump to the NHL.
"My route to here has been a lot different than a lot of guys in my draft year, but every guy is going to produce differently," Siemens said. "I think the style of game that I play and what it is going to take for me to be a permanent NHL player, it is going to take a lot of maturity and a lot of time to develop on the defensive side of the game, with how critical it is to my success."
Now healthy, a full season in the AHL might be what it takes for him to get that spot in the Avalanche lineup.