In a "new NHL" that creates most offensive opportunities for lightning-quick forwards, a defenseman who poses a scoring threat is increasingly rare. Fortunately for the Blue Jackets, Ron Hainsey is blossoming into that kind of player, setting new career milestones with every game he plays.
"I'm just trying to get shots through to the net," Hainsey said of his success with a shrug and smile.
Hainsey, in his second full season with Columbus, has put pucks in the right places all year. He has gone 6-18-24 in 55 games, numbers that eclipse his career totals coming into 2006-07 - an impressive statistic considering there are still 25 games still to be played. The stat line also currently leads all CBJ defensemen.
The Bolton, Conn., native has missed only two games this season, because of a shoulder injury, and is tied for fourth on the team in games played with fellow defenseman Anders Eriksson. Forwards Jason Chimera, Manny Malhotra and David Vyborny are the only Blue Jackets to play in every game. Hainsey’s averaging just over 23 minutes of ice time per game, making him second on the team in playing time to defenseman and captain Adam Foote.
"Guys get hurt," Hainsey said. "It's gonna happen. You have to be lucky to stay healthy and battle through any little stuff."
The consistent Hainsey hasn't let his game taper off, especially with the Jackets battling through injuries. He scored two points on Sunday versus the Chicago Blackhawks with 1-1-2 including a power-play goal. He fired in his sixth goal of the season past Nikolai Khabibulin on a slap shot from the point over the shoulder of the Chicago netminder.
Hainsey said good things happen on the power play when forwards and defensemen execute good fundamentals, such as good passing and "crashing" the net.
As a team, the Jackets have greatly improved on the power play, thanks in part to Hainsey. Of his six goals, five have come on the power play. Columbus is 53-of-323 (16.1 percent) on the season and slightly better than that since Ken Hitchcock began coaching the team Nov. 24.
"Our forwards are doing a much better job, especially in the last 25-30 games, of getting to the net, creating a lot of traffic and going to the net for rebounds," Hainsey said. He added much of the credit goes to his teammates and head coach Ken Hitchcock.
"'Hitch' has really encouraged the 'D,' when there's an opportunity, to jump in the play and kind of be the fourth forward on the attack," he said.
The Blue Jackets claimed Hainsey off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens Nov. 29, 2005, hoping that the scraggly-haired defenseman would develop into a stalwart on the blueline. In 55 games last year, Hainsey went a modest 2-15-17 with 43 PIM but has surged this year to lead the defensemen in scoring.
At every level the 25-year-old has established himself as a defenseman with a scoring stick. While in college at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Hainsey cracked the top five in the NCAA in scoring. Joining forward Dan Fritsche as one of two Americans on the CBJ roster, Hainsey has some international experience, too, playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships in 2001. He got his first tastes of the NHL in 2002-03 and 2003-04 by playing parts of two seasons with Montreal, whom the Blue Jackets host at 6 p.m. Sunday.
"Every game you play, you learn something else. I'd only played about 30 games when I got [to Columbus], so you learn stuff, especially playing with veteran guys.
"Win or lose, and it's up to me and all the young guys to keep learning and take what we learn and apply it."