With the constant flow in today's NHL, defensemen need to be able to jump into the play. They can't be tentative. Plus, a defender must possess the acumen to recognize offensive opportunities and take full advantage. That requires the mobility to help lead an attack and still have the wheels to get back into position and not get caught up ice.
Such rare commodities usually are drafted or secured through free agency. Only under special circumstances are they made available via the trade route. But that's exactly what happened for the Canucks just prior to the start of the 2009-10 season.
The San Jose Sharks, anticipating a deal for a scorer to ride shotgun with Joe Thornton, created some salary cap room by parting with defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich in a deal with the Canucks for prospects Daniel Rahimi and Patrick White on Aug. 28.
On Sept. 12, the Sharks traded for Dany Heatley.
"I was surprised a little at the start, but I am really excited to come here to a great hockey club and a great city," said Ehrhoff, who has added the offense the Canucks were seeking with 9 goals and 14 assists in 47 games. He also is a plus-19. "I was aware of the rumors and that's why the trade never came to me as such a surprise. I figured the Sharks had to make a move to create some cap space. So I knew it was a possibility that (a trade) could happen. But I am very excited to be a part of this team. I am happy to be part of a great hockey community. Vancouver has passionate fans."
Ehrhoff now will have an unexpected cheering section during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Playing for Germany for the third time in Olympic competition, Vancouver's hockey fans will root their adopted son along.
Drafted by San Jose in the fourth round of the 2001 Entry Draft (No. 106), the young Ehrhoff resembled a thoroughbred with unbridled raw talent. He was nurtured within the Sharks' system, first with their AHL affiliate in Cleveland and then earning his way on the San Jose blue line by virtue of his speed, booming shot and improved defensive play.
Ehrhoff played 341 regular-season games with the Sharks, totaling 25 goals and 107 assists. In 38 Stanley Cup Playoff games, he added 15 points (2-13-15), and last season led the team in average ice time during the playoffs (24:47). He finished the 2008-09 season with career highs in assists (34) and points (42), and tied for 23rd among NHL defensemen in points.
While offense always has been his calling card, Ehrhoff won the respect of his San Jose teammates and coaches by doing the dirty work -- blocking shots and playing through injuries. Ehrhoff has brought those same qualities to Vancouver.
"He has performed as advertised and has been very consistent for us all year both offensively and defensively," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa
said. "I played against Christian for a number of years, going all the way back to the minors during the lockout season (2004-05). I have always known that he is a good skater with a good shot and moves the puck very well. He also has an excellent work ethic."
The 27-year-old native of Moers, Germany, a town near the city of Dusseldorf, Ehrhoff is on pace to establish new personal offensive marks as he leads the attack from the Canucks' back end.
"Like any player coming into a new environment it took a little while during training camp for Christian to get to know his teammates," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "We had a lot of talks with him regarding our expectations and the offensive element that he brings as far as carrying the puck out of the defensive zone on breakouts. But I'd have to say that after the first couple of weeks of training camp he has been one of our most consistent defensemen at both ends of the rink. He has been playing real well and has been a real positive addition to our team."
"I think my strengths are my skating, my shot and I am a two-way defenseman so I can play in both offensive and defensive situations," Ehrhoff said. "I want to work on all aspects of my game. I don't want to be satisfied with where I am so I am trying to work on all aspects and become a better player".
"I thought he was good before in San Jose," teammate Mikael Samuelsson said. "He was a good defenseman and that's why he is here. Christian is playing good every game. He is a solid all-round player, a really good skater and puts a lot of pucks to the net. He is a steady defenseman."
Ehrhoff was well-schooled in the San Jose system, where he learned the game is not just about being fast, but also about playing with pace. He is moving his game to the next level in Vancouver.
"Yes he is," said teammate Ryan Johnson. "Christian skates so well, moves the puck and has a great shot. He has so many different assets to his game that make him such an effective player. He has been a huge contributor for us and we are going to need him to continue that so we can become the team we want to be."
"Sometimes stats are a little overrated," said Ehrhoff, dismissing his plus-19 mark. "You can be on the ice when somebody scores and other times you can play great for two games and you still get stuck with a minus. I don't think that is a good indicator of how well somebody is playing."
A more meaningful stat relates to the effectiveness of the Canucks' special teams, where Ehrhoff plays a significant role every game.
"Special teams are so important in this League," defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "If you look at teams that do well on the penalty kill and power play, you see that they have a great record. That's something that we are continually working on. We are playing some very good teams coming up (in the schedule), and it will be a good challenge for us to see if we have made that next step as a hockey team."
The statistic that matters most to Ehrhoff is the position of the team in the Western Conference standings, where a cluster of teams likely will battle it out right down to the wire for the final postseason spots.
"This is a real tough conference," Vigneault said. "You've got to take it one game at a time and put your best game on the ice. That's what we are going to try to do until the end of the year. It's that simple."