TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. --
|Derek Dorsett advanced his NHL chances last season, improving from five goals and 11 assists in 51 games as a first-year player to 25 goals and 23 assists in 68 games.
Earlier this year, the Columbus Blue Jackets
named Scott Howson, the former Edmonton Oilers
assistant GM, as their new general manager.
Will the move be enough to turn around the fortunes of the Columbus club? Or will it take the work of a "witch doctor" to make the Blue Jackets a Central Division contender?
"He wasn't a witch doctor," said Blue Jackets prospect Derek Dorsett (500K ), a former member of the WHL champion Medicine Hat Tigers. "He's Dr. John Patterson of Waco, Texas, who has also helped Andy Roddick, Terrell Owens and Houston Rockets forward Tracy McGrady. He aligned my back and used a machine to help heal my broken hand.
"These guys here," Dorsett said, pointing to a (giggling) group that included coaches, trainers and other prospects, "don't think he helped me so they called him a witch doctor."
Do you think he helped you, Derek?
"I broke the fourth metatarsal just before the WHL playoffs and I wasn't going to be able to play," Dorsett said. "He got me back playing and we won the league championship. Yeah, I think he helped me. I don't think these guys really think he didn't help me, they just want to tease me."
"We like Derek's grit and competitiveness," said Howson. "He was undrafted in the WHL and undrafted as an 18-year-old by the NHL. We took him the seventh round when he was 19. He had a good season last year. He's a guy who plays hard all the time."
Dorsett really advanced his chances last season, improving from five goals and 11 assists in 51 games as a first-year player to 25 goals and 23 assists in 68 games. He was even better in the playoffs, despite the broken hand, scoring eight goals and adding four assists in 13 games en route to a championship. He had an eye-opening 279 penalty minutes and 53 more in the playoffs.
Dorsett is 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds, which is not quite NHL size for the role he would be expected to play, but he's blocky and looks like he'll fill out to have a solid, rugged body.
Dorsett and former Medicine Hat teammate Kris Russell (500K ), as close to a can't-miss prospect as there is, were talking to a reporter at the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., when former teammate, Michael Sauer, now a New York Rangers prospect, walked by, headed to the Rangers' dressing room for the practice that followed the Blue Jackets.
"Actually, I found out about Dr. Patterson from Michael because his brother, Kurt, who plays for the Colorado Avalanche, and his other brother, Craig, who played in the NFL, have both been treated by him," Dorsett said.
Dorsett and Russell were asked how winning a Canadian junior-hockey league championship and competing for the Memorial Cup will benefit them and the Blue Jackets.
|Kris Russell has an excellent chance to go directly from juniors to the NHL.
Obviously, teams like players with winning ways.
"When you get into the later rounds of the league playoffs, the pressure is that much greater and every experience is important in helping you with your game," Russell said.
"I think that coming from a winning organization -- and Medicine Hat had a winning tradition before we were there -- toughens you mentally and physically," Dorsett said. "The older players made it clear to us how hard we had to work to continue the winning tradition and that helped us be successful."
"Two years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks returned Cam Barker to Medicine Hat after he'd been to their training camp," said Russell, who played that season paired with Barker and last year paired with Sauer. "He has great composure on the ice and he really helped in my development."
"Cam came back from the NHL and demanded hard work every night from the rest of us," Dorsett said. "He gave us great leadership and he's a great competitor who hates to lose. As a result, we had a roomful of guys who would rather die than lose."
Russell has an excellent chance to go directly from juniors to the NHL, while Dorsett will likely need to hone his game in the American Hockey League this season. Russell’s credentials are as good as any player moving toward the NHL. He helped lead Canada to two gold medals at the World Junior Championships, was twice named the best defenseman in the WHL and twice won the Brad Horning Trophy for sportsmanlike play. The Canadian Hockey League named him, in successive years, the best sportsman and the best defenseman.
Russell is small at 5-foot-10 and 177 pounds, but he'll grow and the new rules and standard of enforcement will make things easier. He's the reigning Canadian junior defenseman of the year, so his size obviously hasn't hurt him.
"Kris is a great player," confirmed Sauer. "I got traded to Medicine Hat from Portland while Kris was at the World Juniors. It was an easy team to come to, good guys who were down-to-earth and would do anything for the team. Derek is a battler who showed what kind of player and person he is by coming back for the rest of the guys. We couldn't keep him out of the lineup. He wouldn't listen. He loves the game too much."