Ian McCoshen is confident that with time and repetition he can become an elite shutdown defenseman for the Florida Panthers.
The signs are already present. The left-hand shot leads Florida defensemen in hits (34) and is fifth in blocked shots (23) in 21 games.
Playing a shutdown role is something McCoshen took great pride in as a rookie with Springfield of the American Hockey League last season. He led the Thunderbirds, who finished 32-33-11, with a plus-23 rating while being matched against opposing top lines.
"Being the shutdown guy and being really good at that is something I enjoy," McCoshen said. "I feel like I can be an elite shutdown defenseman at some point in this League but I'm just trying to build to that.
"The AHL was good for me; getting used to more games and the travel was a positive experience."
McCoshen (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), 22, has quietly added something else to his arsenal: accuracy. He's fourth among NHL rookies with at least 10 games played in shooting percentage (23.1) with three goals on 13 shots while averaging 15:22 in ice time.
"It's tough because defense is the hardest position to play and usually guys don't mature and figure that role out until their mid- to late-20s," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "For us, it's about being first back and supporting on the breakouts and he's doing a better job of that. He's a guy we depend on as a second-year pro. He's playing heavy minutes against some good lines so it's a big responsibility, but he's answered the test."
Video: FLA@BUF: McCoshen fires home shot from blue line
McCoshen has been playing a bottom-six role for the Panthers (8-12-2) this season with Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad entrenched as the top pair, but Boughner has given him every opportunity to improve in tough situations.
"We've struggled to get wins this year but [Boughner] has stressed getting back to basics and what got us here to this level," McCoshen said. "For me, it's being physical and having good body and stick positioning. I need to be solid in the D-zone since that helps generate scoring chances for our forwards."
McCoshen said he's controlled his emotions a lot more in tense situations and is more comfortable in his role this season.
"I definitely would like to shoot more but you don't get as many opportunities as you do in the minors or in other situations," he said. "I'm just trying and make the most of any opportunity so any chance I get I'll put a puck on net."
The Panthers selected McCoshen in the second round (No. 31) of the 2013 NHL Draft. He said the experience he gained playing for Waterloo coach P.K. O'Handley of the United States Hockey League for three seasons was big for his development. McCoshen lived with O'Handley and his wife, Maria, as a 14-year-old in his first season.
"He believed in my ability at a time when I didn't necessarily have a lot; I was 14 and he believed I could be an elite defender," McCoshen said. "It helped my confidence."
Video: STL@FLA: McCoshen nets first NHL goal from the point
Said O'Handley: "[McCoshen] had a great shot but Ian's offense at this level was a product of him being a great defender and spending more time on the offensive blue line. It wasn't easy for him but the biggest thing in Ian is his drive. Even at 14, you could see a drive that went along with a lot of tools."
O'Handley is in his 16th season as coach and general manager of the Black Hawks.
"If I could tell any young player of another who had a plan at a young age and was able to successfully follow through with that plan, [McCoshen] would be the player," he said.
Rookies on the rise:
Andreas Borgman, D, Toronto Maple Leafs (undrafted): Borgman (6-0, 212), 22, was signed to a two-year, entry-level contract on May 16. The left-hand shot helped HV71 to the Swedish Hockey League championship with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 14 playoff games. He has six points (two goals, four assists) and 27 shots on goal for Toronto.
Vince Dunn, D, St. Louis Blues (2015, No. 56): Blues coach Mike Yeo said Dunn (6-0, 203) has been one of his most improved players since the start of training camp. Dunn, 21, has five points (two goals, three assists), a plus-7 rating and 41 shots on goal while averaging 16:49 of ice time in 24 games.
Alexander Kerfoot, C, Colorado Avalanche (2012, No. 150, New Jersey Devils): Kerfoot (5-10, 175), 23, signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Avalanche on Aug. 25 after four seasons at Harvard University. He's tied for sixth among NHL rookies with 15 points, is first in shooting percentage (29.2) among rookies having played at least 10 games and tied for third in goals (seven).