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Bouwmeester a constant contributor

by Mike G. Morreale

Can you name the player who led the NHL in most ice time per game last season?
 
The answer isn't as obvious as you may think, particularly when you consider the team he represents failed to qualify for the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He would be Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who logged a League-leading 27:28 each contest.
 
Surprised? You shouldn't be when you consider the 25-year-old defenseman has averaged 26:21 per game over the last three seasons.
 
With Bouwmeester doing yeoman's work, the Panthers were the top defensive club in the Southeast Division in 2007-08, yielding just 2.68 goals per game, No. 14 in the League.
 
With the 2008-09 season about to unfold, NHL.com takes a closer look at the Southeast Division's top defensemen in the ice-time department:
 
1. Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers -- Bouwmeester, who hasn't missed a game the last three seasons, ranked first in the NHL with a career-high 27:28 of ice time this past season after finishing eighth (26:08) in 2006-07. He had a career-best 15 goals and 37 points last season, and logged over 4 minutes each game with his team shorthanded and over 3:30 on the power-play.
 
"We have a player that was a third-overall pick for the organization (in 2002) and he's a winner, a competitor, wants to get into the playoffs and wants to win a championship," Panthers General Manager Jacques Martin said. "He has played an important role on our team over the last five seasons, logging significant ice time while contributing at both ends of the ice."
 
2. Paul Ranger, Tampa Bay Lightning -- To some, the sight of Ranger on this list may come as a bit of a surprise. The fact is, however, the 24-year-old sixth-round choice in 2002 has received a significant increase in ice time in each of his three seasons in the League. In 2007-08, he averaged 30 shifts and career-high 25:13 (No. 12 among NHL defensemen) each game. That's almost a 5 minute increase over the 2006-07 campaign, when he was out for 20:18 each game.
 
Ranger had career highs with 10 goals and 31 points and could see more power-play time this season. Ranger also had 106 hits and 118 blocked shots and was second only to former teammate Dan Boyle (traded to San Jose) in ice time.
 
"He's a player that tries to get better every day and make a difference," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "When he thinks ahead, as he does, the pass is usually right there on your tape and you're in a good situation offensively. He has all the ability to become a great player in this League. He's a good skater, strong, has a great shot and passes the puck hard."

3. Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta Thrashers -- It was quite a rookie season for the 2003 eighth-round draft pick in 2003. All Enstrom did in his first season was set a franchise record for assists by a defenseman (33), while tying the team rookie record for most points (38). He also led the team in ice time (24:28) while playing all 82 games.

Enstrom skated a career-high 33:39 in a 3-2 shootout victory over Minnesota on March 7, and he represented the Thrashers in the 2008 NHL YoungStars Game on Jan. 26 at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

"It was great to see what (Enstrom) accomplished last season," said Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen. "Nobody basically knew him and what he was capable of doing and he played awesome. From Day 1 it was just amazing to see how he improved each game. He's going to be a huge part of this organization for a long time and that's great for us."
 
4. Mike Green, Washington Capitals -- The Caps were happy to get Green's name on a four-year contract extension on July 1, as the 22-year-old is one of the League's brightest young stars along the blue line.
 
Green finished fifth among Southeast Division defenders with a career-high 23:38 of ice time in 2007-08. It was quite an increase under coach Bruce Boudreau as Green averaged just 15:29 in 2006-07.
 
Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin (65 goals) and Green became the first teammates to lead the NHL in goals and goals by a defenseman, respectively, since Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux (85) and Paul Coffey (30) in 1988-89. Green also was third in playoff scoring on the team (7 points in 7 games), behind just Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, and he was fifth among all skaters in ice time per game (26:58) during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I think the fans of Washington had a pretty good thing going on there, especially at the end of the season," Green said. "It's nice when the fans got to know us and they jumped on board with us. That always helps, knowing you have the fan support and they are behind you. That also made this decision of playing with Washington a lot easier."

5. Tom Poti, Washington Capitals
-- Poti had spent most of his NHL career as an offensive-minded defenseman, but last season he used his veteran experience and 23:38 per game to bolster the Caps' younger blueliners.

Poti was paired at even-strength with Mike Green, helping him to his breakout season. On his own, Poti contributed 27 assists and 29 points. He also was second on the team in time on the penalty kill (3:49) and second among blueliners in power-play ice time (2:39).

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.



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