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McCoshen Polishing Possession Skills

by Jameson Olive JamesonCoop /

SUNRISE, Fla. - A defense-first mentality never goes out of style.

As the NHL continues to trend towards a more up-tempo game, highlighted by the emergence of smaller, fleet-footed blueliners, McCoshen, who stands 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, isn't afraid to admit that playing staunch defense is still the first thing on his mind every time he steps onto the ice for the AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds.

"I'm just trying to develop the defensive side of my game because that's probably what'll translate more to being in the NHL," said McCoshen, a second-round pick (31st overall) of the Florida Panthers in the 2013 NHL Draft. "I'm trying to be a guy who's really hard to play against, a shutdown guy that's going to play against opponent's top lines. That's a really valuable skill to have and not everyone can do that.  

"Having the confidence and belief in yourself to do that kind of translates to the offensive side, too, because if you're playing well defensively then you have the urge to make more plays and you have that confidence to shoot pucks and be more creative in the offensive zone."

In an era where puck possession is paramount, defensemen must be able to shutdown opposing offenses, but also have the ability to quickly move the play ahead once the puck changes hands. In the end, the goal is to utilize turnovers as a means of entering the opponent's zone with numbers and speed, a transition that typically starts on the stick of a defenseman. 

"The key to any good defenseman, especially nowadays, is transition and moving up with the play," McCoshen said. "It's about getting the puck to your forwards and trying to make plays when you can. The NHL is moving to a faster pace, so it's all about being a part of that transition." 

Although his play style may not fit the mold of a traditional offensive defenseman, the Panthers have reason to believe that McCoshen has the potential to become an exceptional puck-mover - a term that Florida's Assistant General Manager Eric Joyce says has become misconstrued during the rapid rise of analytics in professional hockey.

"I think the term (puck mover) is ill-defined," says Joyce, who also serves as General Manager of the Thunderbirds. "It just means defensemen that are capable of doing three things. The first is retrieving pucks really well, which means getting back and getting after pucks, and you have to be a really good skater to do that. The second is to be able to make a good first pass. Lastly, it's the ability to make the first guy miss if that first pass isn't available, which requires both skating and sense."

When looking over his three-point checklist, Joyce sees McCoshen as a player that already possesses many of the necessary skills to become an effective puck mover at the game's highest level, likening the 21-year-old rearguard's development to that of current Panthers rookie defenseman Mike Matheson.

"I think Ian's progressing really well," Joyce said. "He reminds me a lot of the progression of Mike Matheson, to be honest. They're different players, but each guy needed to season his game a little bit in the minor leagues in order to get ready to ultimately take the step to the NHL.

"He is a very good skater and he obviously takes up a lot of space, but it's his confidence in making that first play, whether it's a first pass or making that first guy miss, like he used to do at Boston College. But again, he was playing against guys that were his age or maybe even a few years younger while he was in college."

Having shared the blue line for two seasons at Boston College, McCoshen still speaks to Matheson often, using his former collegiate teammate as a mentor, as he looks to carve a similar career path into Florida's lineup.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: TFW your friend is doing an interview but you still wanna mess with him. ��(cc: @mmatheson19 @ijmccoshen3)

"It's sometimes hard to be patient down there," said Matheson, who played 59 AHL games before earning a full-time role with the Panthers this season. "I know how he feels because I felt the exact same way last season. That's mostly what we've spoken about, just about different things that he's encountered throughout the year and how to work through all of that. 

"I just try to offer anything I was able to learn last year to help him get through it. The main focus is just to really block that part out and not really think of when a call-up would happen or what you have to do or what you can't do to get that call. That stuff was the biggest thing I've learned. The less you think of it, the better it is for you. You end up enjoying yourself a lot more."

As a left-handed shot, Joyce envisions McCoshen as someone who could someday serve as a nice compliment to one of Florida's right-handed blueliners, such as Jason Demers or Aaron Ekblad, but also notes that the organization has no plans to rush his development.

"I think every prospect develops on his own timeline," Joyce said. 

In the meantime, McCoshen is working hard every day to grow his game from the blue line out, focusing far more on what he needs to do improve rather than where he is playing on any given night.
"The patience part is definitely something you're not used to," said McCoshen, who has scored two goals and five total points in 40 games with Springfield and is second among Thunderbirds defensemen by plus/minus . "Everyone is a good player, so they just want their opportunity and their chance right away. I'm not sure exactly when it's going to happen, so you've got to have that belief in yourself to push yourself everyday and make sure that you're that one guy that's above everyone else at the end of the day."

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