NHL teams are always searching for that elite offensive defenseman that puts up huge numbers, or the physical, shut-down blue-liner who plays big minutes.
It can also be just as profitable for a franchise to have a defenseman who can do a lot of different things well and the Tampa Bay Lightning could have that kind of player in Dylan Blujus.
Blujus, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, progressed well last season in the Ontario Hockey League and he will have a chance to earn a spot on Team USA for the 2014 World Junior Championships in the next few months.
Blujus was selected by the Lightning in the secon-round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“Defensively, he’s always in very good position,” Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray said. “More and more, we’re trying to encourage him to be more physical and take people to the boards with a little more pop.
“Clearly, when he’s got the puck on his stick it’s a big strength for him. He makes a good first pass to transition the offense and he follows the rush. He’s very good at getting his shot through. He can change the angle against a guy coming out to block the puck and get it to the net which creates scoring chances.”
Blujus, a 6-foot-3, 191-pound right shot from Buffalo, New York has played three seasons for the Brampton Battalion. He posted nine goals and 54 assists during 134 games the previous two regular seasons for the Battalion, who will move to North Bay for the 2013-14 campaign.
The Battalion finished second in their division, but Blujus said they let it slip away in the first round of the playoffs against Sudbury. It was disappointing, but Blujus had two goals and two assists in five playoff contests.
“Throughout the year, I tried to contribute in different areas defensively and on the penalty kill,” Blujus said. “I thought I had a pretty positive season.
“I don’t want to be known as a defenseman that can just play one side of the ice. I like being versatile player. I’m not flashy, but I’m going to get my shots through and I’m going to make things happen on the power play and see the ice well.”
Murray said the scouting staff always thought of him a combination defenseman, a player with good size who skates well and is smart with his gap control. Blujus showed that ability at his second Lightning Development Camp last week.
I don’t want to be known as a defenseman that can just play one side of the ice. I like being versatile player. I’m not flashy, but I’m going to get my shots through and I’m going to make things happen on the power play and see the ice well. - Dylan Blujus
“If you’re good stick-on-puck and stick-to-stick, you don’t have to consistently be taking people out and being physical with them,” Murray said. “You will deflect passes, and they won’t come down your side often because there’s no space.”
Blujus said he thought he had a chance to be called in to try out for Team USA’s World Juniors team for the last tournament when it won the Gold Medal. This year, he wasn’t thinking about it when the phone call came to become one of 44 players at the National Evaluation Camp, August 3-10 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The 19-year-old will be among 16 defensemen at the camp trying to upgrade their status in the program. Other players could possibly be called in later, but seven or eight players from this group will likely be picked for next World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden from December 26 through January 5.
“I’m happy to have the opportunity,” Blujus said. “If I go in there and play my game, play to my potential, I’ll have a really good chance.”
Blujus will be joined by the Lightning’s 2013 second-round pick, winger Adam Erne, at the camp. Blujus looks to get off to a strong start.
“For Dylan, it’s very important to make an impression to get through that first cut,” Murray said. “It’s natural to stick with the players that have been in the National Development team program for the U.S., but they keep an open mind for players like [Blujus] who went to major junior.
“He has to come in and, in a limited time, show them that he is at the same level or above all the guys that came through the Under-17 and Under-18 teams and then they will follow him during the OHL season. It’s a good camp for him to get on the radar.”
Regardless of what happens next month, Blujus is in the Lightning’s future plans joining a deep group of mobile young defensemen. He visited Tampa in April after his junior season to work with another top defense prospect Slater Koekkoek and skating consultant Barb Underhill.
Blujus, who turns 20 in January, is also primed for what could be his final season in juniors. The Battalion struggled with attendance in Brampton and the move to North Bay should be exciting with more fans in the seats.
“It’ll be a bit different there,” Blujus said. “I just hope to have a good year and make the jump afterward. But mainly I want our team to be successful and go far in the playoffs.”