John Moore was taken in the first round of the NHL Draft mainly because of his excellent skating and puck-moving ability, but he’s added another element to his game this year.
After a year in which the Blue Jackets sustained several injuries up and down the lineup -- including a couple of season-enders on defense -- Moore took the lessons learned last season and is now playing a big role for Springfield.
When Marc Methot suffered a broken jaw against the Dallas Stars in February and Fedor Tyutin broke his hand weeks later, the opportunity was significant for the 22-year-old native of Winnetka, Ill. He was going to be playing top-four minutes in the National Hockey League, and the experience helped him take the next step.
Falcons head coach Brad Larsen paired Moore with Dalton Prout, one of the most physical defensemen in the Columbus system, and together they formed the club’s shutdown pair to open the year.
Despite some shuffling of the lineup along the way, Moore is comfortable in the role and is in the midst of a solid start to his third professional season.
“I got a taste of playing in that top pairing at the NHL level last year and it helped get my feet wet,” Moore told BlueJackets.com. “It’s been invaluable for me. This year, playing with Dalton and some of the other guys, I’ve had some great chemistry with them.
“There’s a lot of complementing styles and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been great to draw that match-up against the other team’s top guys and so far, we’ve had some good results.”
One of Moore’s strongest performances came against the Adirondack Phantoms on Oct. 14 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The Phantoms, loaded for bear with top prospects Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Ben Holmstrom and others, are one of the American Hockey League’s most dynamic clubs.
For one day, they were neutralized. Larsen and assistant coach Nolan Pratt stuck with the Moore-Prout pairing throughout the contest (a 4-0 win for the Falcons), and at the final buzzer, the Schenn-Couturier line did not register a point and was a combined minus-4.
“We’re playing our own game,” Moore said. “I don’t think you should be changing your game or your style based on who you’re facing. We’re playing against good players, so we have to be on top of our games.
“But defensively, we have to be consistent, and that means skating hard, maintaining a good gap and moving pucks up the ice. We’ve played to our strengths and that’s translated to success against the skilled players.”
Part of what made Moore’s pairing with Prout a natural fit is their familiarity; the two were drafted into the Columbus system a year apart and got to know each other through development camp and rookie tournaments in Traverse City, Mich.
They played together on occasion during those tournaments, and Moore said their games complement each other well.
“We’re pretty familiar with each other and our styles of play,” Moore said. “Earlier in training camp this year, we were in different groups so I didn’t get to play with him much. He’s big, strong and likes to keep it simple. He’s a big body and, playing against top players, you can’t make it easy on those guys.
“Dalton’s good at that, and he’s always making the right play and snapping the puck up the ice on first read. That’s what we’ve done well; get it out of our zone as quick as we can and into our forwards hands.”
Springfield’s quick-read breakout and speedy transition game have contributed to the club’s early-season success. At 6-1-2 through nine games, the Falcons sit atop the Northeast Division and have regularly frustrated opposing teams by spending a fraction of the game in their defensive zone.
And when playing against star players, that’s exactly what Moore wants to do.
“The best defense is a good offense, that’s the old saying, right?” he said. “When you’re in the other team’s zone, those players aren’t as effective. High-skill guys, for the most part, like to have the puck on their stick and be creating plays on offense.
“When you have them in a defensive mode, it’s that much more beneficial and it’s tiring for them, and that’s one of the things we’ve done well so far.”