|Brandon Dubinsky has a nice package of skills to go with a fiery disposition and a burning desire to win. He's beating opposing veterans on faceoffs at a 52-percent rate.
One of the many reasons Jack Adams
is in the Hockey Hall of Fame is his unshakeable belief in replacing veterans who were slightly past their peak with emerging youngsters. Adams, for whom the NHL's annual coaching award is named, believed winning teams need the speed that young legs bring added to the experience of veterans who have won at the highest level.
Player movement has changed a lot since Adams' time due to the players' association, collective-bargaining and free agency. Now, trades aren't the only way of moving players anymore.
The New York Rangers faced a tough decision last summer when they chose not to re-sign 35-year-old center Michael Nylander, a skilled, productive player with good leadership qualities who centered Rangers star Jaromir Jagr. The Rangers then stunned the NHL by signing the top two free-agent centers – Scott Gomez, 27, and Chris Drury, 31.
Rangers management expected either Drury or Gomez, or both, would be a good fit with Jagr, a five-time NHL scoring champion. But it became apparent during training camp that neither Drury nor Gomez, despite their considerable skills, was a natural match for Jagr. And it still was apparent after a dozen games. That's when coach Tom Renney inserted rookie center Brandon Dubinsky between Jagr and Marcel Hossa. Since then, the Rangers have gone 4-1 and moved into second place in the Atlantic Division.
They beat the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night when Hossa scored the winning goal in a shootout. So, the line is contributing.
Meanwhile, Gomez has looked good centering Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery, while Drury has found a home between Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha.
Dubinsky, a 21-year-old native of Anchorage, Alaska, has a nice package of skills to go with a fiery disposition and a burning desire to win. He's beating opposing veterans on faceoffs at a 52-percent rate. He is a very good skater and a fine stickhandler. He's not averse to playing keep away against you and he makes good passes.
At the pre-season Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., Dubinsky was the leader of his young team and helped them to the championship. At his bench, he probably smashed a half-dozen sticks at the end of shifts that didn't please him. During his four-year junior career with the Portland Winter Hawks, Dubinsky was considered the league's most irritating opponent. But off the ice, he's a thoughtful, engaging young man.
Renney was asked about his five-game experiment with a rookie centering a future Hall of Fame player and about Dubinsky's internal fire.
"His development has been good. I saw him at our development camp a few years ago in Calgary, while he was still in juniors. He has matured from a mental and physical perspective," Renney said. "He has always had tremendous confidence in himself. There are tough areas of the rink that are hard to play in and he's never been shy about that. He's a pro-active player who completely believes in what he's able to do.
"We've been able to provide him that opportunity and the proper encouragement to carry on. We need to keep working with him to identify those parts of his game that's he's able to improve upon. He's still a young player in this league and while I know it looks sexy right now, we have to be very smart about his growth and make sure we're doing it the right way so that we have a good player for the long run."
Dubinsky has only nine penalty minutes in 17 games this year, so he seems to have an understanding about harnessing his fury and directing it toward production.
"He certainly had it in junior," Renney agreed. "But I like that fire. I'd rather have to settle a guy down than inspire him to go and be that kind of player. We like the starting point with Brandon's desire to compete and the abrasiveness he can play with and his willingness to take on anybody in any physical manner in the game. He's a humble kid who is working hard and he understands that every single day up here is a day earned. That's a great way to start your career."
"I think it's mostly working for me," Dubinsky said. "I have to learn to channel my energy and aggression and, sometimes, that anger. It's hockey, it's a rough sport and sometimes I'm going to get angry. I just have to put it in the right direction. I'm in no position here to be costing my team with penalties and putting the other team on the power play. I'm trying to play every shift with the same intensity and do that in practice."
Dubinsky's teammates have taken notice. While the hockey media and some teams like to designate first, second, third and fourth lines on a team, the Rangers have three attacking lines and a very good checking unit centered by Blair Betts between Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr. Shanahan, who has 632 goals in his career, benefits from playing with Gomez. Veteran Drury is bringing two young pros along in a manner that most "third-line" centers couldn't.
|Jaromir Jagr likes what he's seeing but urged caution when talking about a rookie with 23 NHL games under his belt.
"Brandon has been a great fit for Jagr," Shanahan said. "He's a responsible player in his own end and he's big and strong. He plays Jaromir's style, that puck possession and puck control."
"We just wanted to switch a few things up and create some more offense so we mixed the lines up a little bit. So far, so good," Dubinsky said. "Playing with guys like Jaromir Jagr and Marcel Hossa, I want to get them the puck, get in deep on the forecheck and try to get the puck back, hold on to it to dish it off to them and make plays."
Jagr likes what he's seeing, but he urged caution when talking about a rookie with 23 NHL games under his belt.
"I think we have a long way to go and we have to score a little more, but I like playing with him. He's strong on the puck. We still have to get more production from us. Brandon is very good one-on-one. He can hold the puck. He skates very well and that let's him control the puck."
Dubinsky, in turn, feels like he's going to hockey graduate school when Jagr spends off-ice time talking about coordinating their play.
"We talk a lot. Jaromir has been awesome with me, just the little things. The man is a special player, different from 95 percent of the players in this League in the way he approaches the game," Dubinsky said. "There have been a few things that I wasn't used to and he helped me through it. We've been together for a few games now and things are going well."
Marcel often is thought of as "the other Hossa," and comparisons are unfair. Atlanta Thrashers star Marian Hossa has a different kind of body, different skating strides – in short, a whole different game. Marcel hasn't made a big impact in 200 games with Montreal and the Rangers, but Jagr and Dubinsky have good things to say about what he adds to their line: The ability to pound the opponent and get them the puck. Hossa flattened 6-foot-8 Hal Gill Saturday and there aren't a lot of NHL players who would even try that.
"Marcel is a very strong man and very strong on his skates, so he can do that," Dubinsky said.