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Sauve steps up

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

In his fourth season with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Yann Sauve is thriving in a bigger role

The Yann Sauve bobblehead that sits on my desk is perhaps the most important stationary item I have at work.

Like a magic 8-ball only capable of answering yes, mini-Sauve comes in very handy when making crucial decisions from day-to-day.

Should I take a long lunch? Sauve nods yes.

Is taking off early smart today? Sauve nods yes.

I can’t come up with a good lead, should I talk about a bobblehead? Sauve nods yes. Twice.

Even more importantly, mini-Sauve serves as a constant reminder that the Vancouver Canucks have depth on the blueline. Yann Sauve is no longer just the guy taken after Cody Hodgson in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, he’s Vancouver’s best up and coming defensive prospect.

The 19-year-old Montreal product is currently in his fourth season with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs and just when you’d expect him to be hitting full stride, he is.

Sauve was recently named QMJHL TELUS Defensive Player of the Week for the period extending from October 19 – 25, a stretch in which the 6-foot-3, 209-pound defenceman registered one goal, four assists and a plus-8 rating in three Saint John victories. Sauve is now eighth in team scoring with 11 points (3-8-11) in 13 contests, alongside a defence-high plus-12 rating.

Saint John currently sits tied with Drummondville for top spot in the QMJHL through 18 games with a sparkling record of 13-2-0-1 and 27 points, and the play of Sauve is a big reason for the team’s success. According to the gentle giant, he’s benefiting from a heavy workout plan he undertook over the summer.

“Me and Dave Gagner worked together a lot during the summer, he helped me a lot on my puck skills and hands and I did a lot of vision stuff too and it’s all helped me control the puck better, which had been lacking in my game in past years,” said Sauve.

Sauve’s confidence and mental game are also the best they’ve ever been and it has a lot to do with the new coaching staff Saint John put in place over the summer. The team brought in Gerard Gallant as head coach and Mike Kelly as associate coach & director of hockey operations.

Gallant, former head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets who has also worked with the New York Islanders and played 11 seasons in the NHL as a member of the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning, and Kelly, a former assistant coach with the Manitoba Moose and Vancouver Canucks, sat Sauve down before the start of the season.

This being his fourth year with the team and seeing the progress he’s made, the coaches agreed it was time for Sauve to become an alternate captain.

“They said that I needed to be a big part of the leadership this year and they named me alternate captain. That gave me a lot of confidence heading into the season.

“I think I am a bit of a natural leader, so that helps too. I’m the type of guy who is always arguing my point. I was always a leader even when I was a baseball player when I was young and on my minor hockey teams I was always the one that was trying to bring the team together to go all the way.”

Whether its Sauve sporting an A, the new coaching scheme Gallant and Kelly are using or just a hot start to the season, the Sea Dogs have been the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.

In the midst of a five-game winning streak, Saint John has also put together streaks of four and three victories, while losing back-to-back games only twice thus far. In the 13 wins the Sea Dogs have picked up, they’re beat their opposition by an average of more than 2.5 goals.

“We have really been playing as a team. We had a slump where we lost two games in a row and after we came back and had a meeting and we started thinking about playing as a team and playing hard every game and don’t let them have any momentum. That’s been working well for us.”

Sauve credits Gallant and Kelly for implanting new systems that truly suit the team, especially on defence where he and fellow standout blueliners Kevin Gagne, Simon Despres and Nathan Beaulieu are now free to roam into the opposing zone.

With Sauve, Gagner, Despres and Beaulieu having accounted for 30 per cent of the team’s scoring this season (55 of 186 points), that has clearly been a beneficial move.

“They want us to be good defensively, but the past year the defence were not allowed to play the rush. This year me, Simon and other the guys can join the rush, we have the green light to do that. They won’t be mad if we join the rush. They always say that a great defence means a great offence and I think it’s a great way to think.”

Although Sauve is the big dog on defence in Saint John, another lethal canine is leading the way offensively for the Sea Dogs, and he also happens to be a Canucks prospect. Steven Anthony, chosen 187th overall in 2009, leads the team in scoring with 17 points (9-8-17) through 16 games.

“He went to the Vancouver camp and for a young player that’s always a boost of confidence,” said Sauve. “To come back and go to junior after that things are a little bit easier, but you’ve got to keep it going and Steven is doing that, he’s working hard and it’s paying off.”

Hard work is paying off for both players and not surprisingly, mini-Sauve gives a nod of approval to their play thus far.

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