Jake Gardiner, (Fr. defenseman, Wisconsin)
-- When the Anaheim Ducks drafted this 6-2, 181-pound defenseman at No. 17 in 2008, they knew they were potentially getting a fast, puck-moving defenseman. With an emphasis on the transition game and speed since the NHL modified its rules in 2005, such defensemen have been at a premium, and the Ducks think Gardiner is well on his way to filling that role for them in the future.
Gardiner is already having an impact at Wisconsin, where he headed into weekend play with 9 assists and was tied for fourth in team scoring and fifth in rookie scoring in the WCHA.
"He's one of those outstanding skaters who has a chance to be a really good NHL defenseman," Anaheim Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations David McNabb said. "He can carry the puck out of the zone, can quarterback the power play, and has amazing speed. That's pretty much what every team is looking for in a defenseman these days, and to find a player like Jake is pretty hard."
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves agrees, but also recognizes the need for improvement in his own end and without the puck, something he sees Gardiner getting better at every game.
"The main thing with Jake is that he came here willing, and is learning, to get better defensively," Eaves said. "He has the pure skating ability of an NHLer already, but what will get him there and make him the player he can be is that he is great hockey mind and thinks the game well. He picks things up very quickly because he's always trying to learn the game."
Gardiner apparently planned on taking the defense-first approach and working it into his already solid offensive game when he arrived at Wisconsin.
"When I got here to Wisconsin I was focused on getting better defensively," Gardiner said. "I've always been comfortable with the puck, but not so much without it, so I knew I had to really bare down defensively. I've already learned a lot and the coaching staff here has been so helpful. I'm really starting to come into my own and feel more comfortable every game." Colin Wilson (Soph. defenseman, Boston University)
-- After a 35-point freshman season, and being drafted seventh by the Nashville Predators, Boston University defenseman Colin Wilson is living up to the hype and being discussed in Hobey Baker talk.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound, 19-year-old native of Greenwich, Conn., is second in Hockey East scoring with 20 points and is making the Predators look like they may have a very deep defense on their hands in the near future.
"We're very pleased with Colin's development so far and he just continues to get better." Predators Assistant GM Paul Fenton said. "He has a great combination of size and skill. He's really great at finding the open man with his passing; just amazing vision out there.
"We also like his hockey sense and passion for the game. He seems to really try to learn the game and is just a strong character kid, and that's great to see at a young age."
Boston University coach Jack Parker believes Wilson is more comfortable and is on his way to a huge season. He's also "amazed" at Wilson's passing ability.
"I think it's much easier this year for Colin because there was so much pressure with the draft and getting selected for the junior squad last season," Parker said. "There's less pressure in that sense now and he can focus more on his game here. He's done a great job of that and he looks like a first round pick, that's for sure."
Wilson knows his strength is in his passing and puck handling, but he is determined to round out his game while playing for Parker.
"I'm trying to get faster and work on strength and conditioning," he said. "I just go out there every day and try to be better. I know my foot speed can be better so I'm staying after practice a lot to work on that. I feel good about my offensive game and on the power play, so if I can improve on those other areas, I'll be in good shape. I have a great coach and team here so I'm confident I can improve." Joe Colborne, (Fr. forward, University of Denver)
-- The Boston Bruins drafted this 6-5, 195-pound forward with hopes that he could build strength off his already large frame. The Bruins, Denver and Colborne are approaching his development with patience and avoiding lofty expectations.
So far, that approach is working, as Colborne has become an important piece of the Pioneers lineup. He is tied for fourth in team scoring and rookie scoring in the WCHA with 2 goals and 9 assists and was recently named WCHA Co-rookie Of The Week with 4 assists in 2 games last weekend.
"Well, when we drafted him, we were very impressed with his size obviously and his physical potential," Bruins Assistant General Manager Jim Benning said. "He still needs to fill out but we're talking about a kid who can be a physical and offensive presence out there on the ice.
"He's improved a lot since arriving here," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. "Sometimes expectations are high and with Joe, I think they were exceedingly high. Based upon that, people are going to look at the numbers, and maybe think he's on pace or maybe not. But I think he's progressed tremendously. He's a regular on our power play, he's on the No. 1 penalty kill, and you can see that he is doing his best to round out his game.
"With the strength and speed at this level it can take freshmen a long time to adjust, but I think he's done just fine. He has great reach but doesn't have the strength yet that he will have through working with our strength and conditioning program and natural physical development. Those are areas where he's learning and will continue to learn how to make up for it."
Colborne agreed with his coach's observations and seems to know what he needs to do to reach the next level.
"This has been a great step up from the junior level I was playing in before," Colborne said. "It's a big learning curve, but I'm starting to feel comfortable with the speed and strength of the game. I just try to keep on learning as much as I can, stick with the conditioning program and do my best on the ice." Daultin Leveille (Fr. forward, Mich. St.)
-- Leveille's work ethic is admired by one and all. Now factor in his speed and scoring touch -- 5 goals and 2 assists this season -- and his game figures to improve. He will reach the NHL because of his work ethic and hustle.
"I think the most appealing thing with Daultin when we drafted him was his speed and you could already see he had NHL skating skills," Atlanta Director of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Dan Murr said. "But the most important thing I've noticed is how hard he competes every shift. You combine that with his natural skating skills and that's a good sign."
Michigan State coach Rick Comley couldn't be more impressed with the way Leveille has performed.
"He's been great for us in all situations and that's been huge because we were missing some experience up front," Comley said. "He has been thrown right into the fire and maybe at first he was a bit overwhelmed because of the size of the game at this level, but he's worked hard and developed into an important part of this team. He's really adjusted his game and that has been results of his hard work every game and practice."
"I'm getting a great education and learning how to gear my game for the pro level, so I'm pretty happy right now," Leveille said. "The college game is very similar to the NHL, so this is a great chance for me to prepare for that, while also going to school."
Author: James Murphy | NHL.com Correspondent