There were 10 defensemen picked before Tyler Cuma
was selected No. 23 by the Minnesota Wild
at the 2008 Entry Draft. In terms of being a complete player, though, he may be No. 1.
Cuma, a lean 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, stops the opposition's most skilled attackers for the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League. He sees himself as a defensive defenseman who likes to take care of business in his own zone before turning to offense.
"I like to take care of my own end first, and I like to shut down the other team's top lines," Cuma said. "I know in Ottawa the coaches rely on me to do that. I'm always out there when the top two lines are out there. I know forwards don't like to be hit. I'm always in someone's face, and if you can take away a guy's time and space, he can't be doing too much out there. I like to jump in the rush also once in a while. Getting a couple of points is obviously a bonus, but as a defenseman, I look to shut down other guys."
But others, including NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire, disagree with Cuma and feel that he's an effective offensive defenseman while remaining a dependable defensive force.
"Tyler is an offensive defenseman, really adept at knowing when to pass the puck out of the zone or to put the wheels on and carry the puck out of the zone," McGuire said. "He helps the Ottawa 67's power play from the point and is really reliable. I find him to be equally adept at the defensive game as well as the offensive game, yet I find him to be more closely aligned with an offensive defenseman-type player."
It is no surprise Cuma has an excellent offensive upside to his game: He was a forward for the bulk of his career. He was advised to change positions by Peter Miller, his minor-midget coach.
"I was a forward my entire life until minor midget," Cuma said. "My very first year of playing defense was in my OHL draft year. My coach in minor hockey said that he saw more potential in me as a defenseman than a forward. So he was the one that suggested the transition, and I took it and it's paying off. I like playing defense a lot more than forward. I feel that I can contribute to the team in more ways than one. I've been playing defense now for my third year."
Cuma was second among Ottawa defensemen with 32 points in 59 games last season and was the only one to finish the season with a plus rating: He was plus-4.
While the 67's didn't have the best season in 2007-08, they were coached by Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Kilrea
, who has coached the 67's for 31 seasons. Kilrea believes Cuma is one of the better players he has seen come through Ottawa and that he will have a bright future in the NHL.
"Tyler is a very strong skater and will be an exceptional NHL player," Kilrea said. "He is one of the most dedicated players that I have ever coached. He started training immediately after (the 2006-07) season ended … to get ready for (last) season. He is very solid at both ends of the rink, including having to defend against the opposition's top players every game."
The Wild, like the 67's, have another coaching mastermind running the show in Minnesota with Jacques Lemaire
, the only coach in the franchise's eight-season history. Lemaire, who coached the New Jersey Devils
to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 1995, preaches a defense-first system and is widely considered a defensive genius.
The Wild's defense corps is set for the future with Nick Schultz
and Brent Burns
signed through the 2011-12 season. General Manager Doug Risebrough improved the blue line further by trading prospect Ryan Jones
and a second-round pick in next year's draft to the Nashville Predators
for Marek Zidlicky
, who led Predators defensemen with 43 points.
With the Wild's plethora of solid defensemen, it will be difficult for Cuma to make the roster any time soon, but once he does, he could have a tremendous impact and will learn from one of the best defensive coaches of all time.