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Somerby Improving One Step At A Time

by Travis Betts / New York Islanders
The Islanders selected 6'5 defenseman Doyle Somerby in the fifth round (125th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh (Photo: Getty Images)

At 6’5, 232-pounds, Islanders prospect Doyle Somerby is already used to being the biggest player on the ice. But the Marblehead, MA native’s smooth-skating, puck-moving game hardly relies on his size.

Following the 2012 NHL Draft, when most draftees headed back to their Canadian junior, college or European teams, the Islanders fifth round (125th overall) selection still had one year left at Kimball Union Academy, a prep school in Meriden, NH. By drafting the 18-year-old in the fifth round (125th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft, the Islanders made a commitment to invest long-term in him. Part of Somerby’s grooming process will include increasingly tougher competition at Boston University, where he is committed to after his time at KUA, and then the minor leagues over the next few years.

At KUA, Somerby towers over most of his competition. As he progresses toward professional hockey over the next few years, his opponents will gradually close that size gap, but more than likely, Somerby will always be the biggest player on the ice. His challenge as he transitions through the ranks will be learning to take advantage of that size, a lesson the coaches at Islanders Prospect Camp began instilling in him last June.

“Last summer they gave me a lot of things I needed to work on,” Somerby said. “That camp really brings out your weaknesses. I grew up playing forward, so I’m still adjusting to being a shut-down defenseman and learning how to close guys off in the corners, and using my body to my advantage.”

The body can – and should – be one of the blueliner’s biggest advantages. Somerby weighed in at 232 pounds in June, but says he has added five or six pounds from his elevated off-ice training regimen.

As far as weaknesses, the most common concerns with players of Somerby’s size usually relate to their ability to move around the ice. But Eric Cairns, a member of the Islanders Player Development staff, says Somerby’s skill in that area is ahead of the curve.

“His skating and mobility is really, really good for a huge young man,” Cairns said. “He pretty much can do whatever he wants to do with the puck because he’s got some really good hockey sense and he passes the puck like a pro already.”

The key then, for Somerby, is how he will use his free-moving mega frame to handle play against larger, more skilled opponents. His size should overtake his skating and puck-moving as his most valuable asset in college and beyond.

“Obviously a bigger defenseman has to be tougher to play against, and that’s where the physicality becomes a crucial element,” Cairns said.

Cairns knows a thing or two about playing the big man’s game. A 6’6 defenseman who played 10 NHL seasons, Cairns can offer Somerby perspective on the challenges and techniques that the biggest players on the ice need to be effective.

“We’re looking for him to show physicality, because he’s bigger and stronger than everybody else. I don’t want to see him lose battles in front of his net.” - Eric Cairns, Islanders Player Development

“As a big man, you have to use your long reach and keep a low stick, take away your opponent’s time and space and engage your man in the corners in your own end,” Cairns said. “Doyle has good footwork. There’s no way that his man should ever get between him and the goalie.”

One thing that likely won’t change from KUA to BU is that Somerby will still be virtually unmatched in stature. It’s how Somerby starts to take advantage of his frame that Cairns will be tracking.

“We’re looking for him to show physicality, because he’s bigger and stronger than everybody else,” Cairns said. “I don’t want to see him lose battles in front of his net.”

Kirk Luedeke, a scout for the Red Line Report who has covered hockey prospects for the New England Hockey Journal for more than 12 years, echoed Cairns’ sentiments about the physical game. At the prep level, Somerby doesn’t face many players near his size, but he will be physically challenged against higher levels of competition.

“I think he’s going to have to pick up the physical element of his game a little bit,” Luedeke said. “He’s got to get a little more nasty out there, and take the body with a little more assertion and force. He needs to be willing to use that size and strength that he’s going to continue to develop to clear the front of his net or really take guys and be relentless along the boards.”

Somerby played for St. Mary’s High School in Lynn, MA, when he was in 8th and 9th grade before enrolling at Kimball Union, a boarding school about 130 miles up the road from Lynn. It is not uncommon for KUA to play several games during a weekend tournament, but sometimes there are big gaps between dates in the schedule. College hockey entails more overnight road trips than what he is used to, but the transition to the college lifestyle should be a small one. He’s already made many of the life adjustments that students face when they enter college.

“I had to get used to living away from home when I was 15,” Somerby said. “It was a little bit different having to do school work on my own and having to push myself to go to the weight room on my own, but there are a lot of kids who are getting ready to go to the college level with me too, so that really helped. We push each other.”

Luedeke says another adjustment for Somerby moving forward will be the shorter reaction time and greater mental quickness he’ll need on the ice to succeed in college.

“He won’t have the time he’s used to in order to process, see the ice, survey and make decisions,” Luedeke said. “He’s going to be confronted with first, second and third lines in college that are much more skilled than he’s used to. Regardless of who he’s going up against, he’s going to find that the forecheckers are on him so much faster in college.”

The Terriers coaching staff should be able to help him take that next step. Head Coach Jack Parker has three national championships and 860 career wins under his belt, while rounding a number of BU alum into NHL players over the years. Their current roster features nine players drafted by NHL teams. The prestige associated with Boston University is what made the school so appealing to Somerby as a child, and more recently when he was deciding which school to choose.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Somerby said of committing to Boston University. “When they came into the picture, it was an easy decision, and now it’s just gearing up every night, thinking about next year and how exciting it’s going to be to take the ice for the first time in a Terriers sweater. I really can’t wait.”

When talking about his potential NHL future, the defenseman takes a mature approach. While Islanders prospects like Brock Nelson and Matt Donovan made the successful early jump from college to the pros, Somerby knows he has lessons to learn on and off the ice, and is OK with the reality that professional hockey could be as many as four years away, after he finishes his degree.

“I’m fine with that,” Somerby said. “I know BU develops people really well. I’ll just try to go there and work as hard as I can and hope for the best.”

If Somerby does, then after his NHL-ready physique gets battle-tested against higher competition, his most valuable asset will become his opponent’s biggest problem.

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