by Mike Benton, Special to SJSHARKS.comPENTICTON, Canada
– He’s like any other prospect on the San Jose Sharks rookie roster, when it comes to the attributes of being driven, young and full of potential.
How does he stand out above the rest?
Checking in at 6-foot-7 doesn’t hurt.
That’s what Taylor Doherty
, in Penticton for the second straight year with the Sharks at the 2011 YoungStars Tournament, boasts as part of his calling card as a budding defenseman in the system.
Some may find it challenging to not measure him up to similar giants in National Hockey League prestige, like Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger and Tyler Myers.
Doherty might as well embrace it.
“I’ve been watching Zdeno a lot the last couple of years,” said Doherty, just minutes after stepping off the ice for a recent morning skate at the South Okanagan Events Center. “I feel we’re in similar stature. I’ve been trying to watch what he does and how he plays the game.”
Doherty’s long reach nearly matches the long limbs of the 6-foot-9 Chara, appropriate for taking away passing lanes with precision and disrupting the offensive flow of the opposition. But the fluid stride, carrying the puck up ice, is also part of the package that caught the eye of Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson.
“Taylor is surprising agile for a man his size,” said Wilson “If you look at him, he skates like a six footer.”
The Doherty and Chara comparables aren’t that far off even when it comes to numbers and attributes. Last season, Doherty’s 53 points and 39 assists achieved junior career highs. He wore the captain’s “C” on the jersey of his Kingston Frontenacs squad during a calendar year that has been bookended with visits to San Jose for rookie and development camps.
“Where his sticks are, footwork, how he plays the body and gets up as captain - he’s a real good player to watch,” said Doherty.
It’s not just Chara that Doherty can look to as a role model for leadership. His own head coach in Kingston has a Stanley Cup ring, won the Frank J. Selke trophy and will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 11.
That coach is Doug Gilmour, who gave the Kingston 'C' to Doherty last season.
It’s no surprise that Doherty has come to learn a thing or two about leadership.
“I felt I wore (the letter) to the best of my ability and it was a big honor for me to wear that,” said Doherty. “He trusts me in wearing that. He’s played me in a lot of minutes and turning me into a pretty solid player. He’s been around the game for a long time. Any questions I ever had for him, he’s comfortable in talking about. He’s a great guy to talk to.”
Like any player in the Sharks system, Doherty’s dream remains vivid in slipping on a National Hockey League jersey in a regular season or playoff setting. Like an eager apprentice, his thirst for knowledge at every Sharks rookie rendezvous continues to remain unquenched.
“This is my third time coming to a San Jose training camp and every year I feel I’m getting better and better,” said Doherty. “The big difference is that in development camp, they teach a lot of new technique and how they play here in San Jose. Once training camp comes along, you need to prove to the coaches and staff that you’re good enough to own spot on the team.
As Doherty continues to age and his skill set continues to ripen, Wilson admitted the large potential at hand.
“He’s a sponge,” said Wilson. “He’s very curious to learn and improve. Watching (Sharks scout) Bryan Marchment in particular spend some time with him, we’re going to try to fast track his growth.”
That track has already taken Doherty to the American Hockey League where three games with the Worcester Sharks last season provided the opportunity for him to suit up in the professional ranks, adjusting to the rapid-fire pace of play that has become the signature of professional hockey’s challenges.
“I came to Worcester and thought I played well,” said Doherty. “I adjusted to the pace pretty good and I did what I could do.”
“It’s pro hockey. The speed is a big difference and you’re playing with men. It’s different.”
For Doherty, any challenge is certainly no tall order.