As the Traverse City Prospect Tournament gets underway tonight, four members of the Blue Jackets squad are looking to complete the championship “three-peat.”
One of those players is defenseman Blake Siebenaler, who is not only gearing up for the tournament but also for his first year playing professional hockey within the Blue Jackets organization.
“It’s a big year for me coming up,” Siebenaler told BlueJackets.com. “I’m just trying to go out there and play my game and have fun at the same time. I try not to worry too much about (competing for an NHL spot), and the more I do that, the better I play.”
Siebenaler, a third-round pick (No. 77 overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft, is a skilled offensive defenseman who is coming off a three-year run with the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL. He was the second-highest scoring defenseman on the team in his last two season.
“I’m a defenseman who likes to play offense,” Siebenaler said. “I like that little flair to my game. I like to join the rush, I like to backcheck too, I like to play physical.”
But what’s as interesting as Siebenaler’s play is how he found himself in that role.
The Toledo native was a forward until he arrived at a hockey camp where the team was struggling to find defensemen.
“Someone said we need an extra ‘D,’ and I was like, I’ll go do it,” Siebenaler said. “I ended up having a good week and some guys from the (Cleveland) Barons scouted me and said ‘listen, you’re going to play defense from now on.”
The 20-year-old credits his Barons coaches with helping him understand the defensive side of the game – and he believes that his early experience on the offensive side of the puck adds to his defensive play now.
“I have that (offensive) sense in the back of my mind and I can make more offensive reads,” Siebenaler said. “And for the past couple years I’ve really been working on my defensive game trying to balance it out. I’ve turned a bit more into a defensive defenseman who can contribute offensively, too.”
His point production ticked upward in his first two seasons with Niagara, which were only his third and fourth years playing defense. During the 2014 regular season, Siebenaler put up 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 68 games, and the following year, that output increased to 12 goals and 25 assists in 66 games.
Though Siebenaler’s offensive production dipped a bit last season, he played through a broken hand, and has continued to focus on strengthening his play without the puck.
“The past three years have been pretty big for me to learn all that and obviously keep my offensive up side too,” Siebenaler said.
As Siebenaler heads into his third Blue Jackets training camp, this is perhaps his best opportunity yet to show the development of his skill to the organization’s front office and coaching staff.
Siebenaler has spent the last three weeks in Columbus working out and preparing for the upcoming season. An added bonus has been seeing his younger brother Collin, who currently plays with the Blue Jackets U18 squad, both on and off the ice during that time.
But there are specific goals that Siebenaler is focused on and the first is getting to hoist that trophy once again at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City.
“We all want to win,” Siebenaler said. “And for the guys who’ve gone the past two years and won, it would be huge if we took it home a third time.”
After the tournament concludes, it’s back to Columbus for training camp and focusing on the next objective of reaching the NHL. He’s been told to be ready for a demanding camp, and the focus on bolstering the defense in Columbus has served as motivation to be prepared.
“I’m both nervous and excited,” Siebenaler said. “To play in the NHL is my goal, and it’s not the easiest thing to do.”