When the Florida Panthers drafted defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in 2002, they knew they were getting a player with size, speed, agility, and a natural gift to play the game of hockey. But it’s never easy to predict when a talented youngster will make the arduous transition to elite player. But, at only 23, and with an evident skill set and a humble demeanor, Bouwmeester has recently fallen into the all-star spotlight and become a leader among his peers.
When asked about his leadership style, Bouwmeester says, “I try to lead by example, do good things on the ice, and work hard. I don’t yell or scream or do anything extreme, I just do my best to perform on the ice.”
And he’s done just that. With a breakthrough season last year, he recorded a career high five goals and 41 assists, finishing second all-time among Cats defensemen for assists in a single season. This year, he’s shattered last year’s goal total with 10 through Mar. 19, and is more of a consistent offensive threat, without jeopardizing his play on the defensive side of the puck.
Thanks to his improved production and consistent play, Bouwmeester has become a hot topic around the league, and now when teams come to scout the Panthers, they target Bouwmeester as a man they have to stop. What effect does this have on Bouwmeester?
“It’s one of those situations that every player would like to be in,” he says. “I like being depended on and I’m always up for the challenge of playing against good players.”
Bouwmeester has more experience at the young age of 23 than one would think. By the age of 18, he’d represented Canada three times in the World Junior Championships. He also played for team Canada in 2003 and 2004 in the Men’s World Hockey Championship, helping them to the gold medal both years. To add to his experiences, Bouwmeester played in the AHL for the San Antonio Rampage and the Chicago Wolves during the NHL lockout in 04-05. His teammate on the Panthers and both AHL teams, center Stephen Weiss
, describes Bouwmeester as “an emerging leader on the team.”
In addition, he was added to the 2006 Olympic lineup in place of injured Anaheim defenseman Scott Niedermayer. Bouwmeester believes that his experiences have led him to the position he’s in today. “I’ve been around with different players and different teams. I’ve gotten more comfortable, being put in different situations and playing more.”
His experiences also groomed him to become an effective offensive defenseman. Bouwmeester is known for his skillful skating and agility, which helps him move up and down the ice quickly and effectively. One aspect that he’s not as confident in? Shootouts. When asked if he’d like to participate more in this aspect of the game, he replied “I got in one this year and it was nerve-wracking, just me and the goalie. I didn’t want to fall down…I’ll probably leave that up to the forwards.”
Maybe that’s why he plays defense.
As a young player with an impressive resume and a promising hockey career, Bouwmeester remains level headed and modest. As a child, Bouwmeester never set a goal of being an all-star in the NHL or winning the Stanley Cup.
“Things like that pop up along the way and it’s nice, but it’s not necessarily the main goal.”
As far as being an idol for young aspiring hockey players, he didn’t recognize the fact that he is becoming a star in the spotlight for young children.
“Sometimes I don’t really realize what it means to kids for them to meet me,” he says. “I just try to remember when I was younger and looked up to guys. At this stage, you don’t really get the whole grasp on it, but it’s nice to know and to do something nice for the kids.”
As far as Bouwmeester’s greatest influences and idols in his career, “My dad coached me growing up. My parents have been my biggest supporters and I definitely wouldn’t be around without them.”
Now, he also has the support and confidence of a growing fan population in South Florida and in the world of hockey. The fans are not the only ones confident in Bouwmeester. Head Coach Jacques Martin illustrates his confidence in this up and coming star, as Bouwmeester averages over 25 minutes of ice time per game, which is by far and away the most on the Cats roster. And he is sixth best in the NHL in this category. He has proven he deserves the ice time, as he has a plus/minus rating of plus-11.
In a February victory against the Montreal Canadians in Montreal, Bouwmeester won the game on a goal where he pinched in deep in the offensive zone to create a scoring opportunity to register the only goal of the game for either team.
“He’s a young man that has tremendous skill and a great skating ability,” says Martin. “When we got back from the Olympics he really elevated his game and has become one of our leaders, not only defensively, but offensively.”
There are certain aspects of Bouwmeester’s game that Coach Martin believes have contributed to him becoming more of an offensive player.
“His confidence and his ability to skate and be part of the attack are contributors. Also it is his ability to recover quickly. Because of his skating ability, he can regain his defensive position quickly even if he’s up ice.”
To add to his accomplishments this season, Bouwmeester has registered two game-winning goals, one against Tampa Bay on Oct. 13 and one exactly four months later against Montreal on Feb. 13. He also had his first multi-goal game this year in the 7-3 route of the Washington Capitals. He scored each of his goals in the first and second period, making almost half of his goals either a game winner or a highlight in his hockey career.
When you look at Bouwmeester out of uniform, you would never guess he was an up and coming all-star and leader of this hockey team. With his quiet demeanor, lanky physique, and his favorite Chicago Cubs ball cap, who would guess that this young man has the skills to perform on the ice and emerge as a leader for the Florida Panthers? Not only is he talented on the ice, he has the right frame of mind to stay focused off the ice. And as a leader on defense, his past contributions prove his future accomplishments with the Cats have no limits.