Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chipchura and the Invisible Ceiling

Kyle Chipchura has been a revelation so far this season for the Canadiens. He has come to Montreal and delivered on exactly what was promised us: intelligence, poise and leadership.

There are still rookie growing pains, but is this the player we will be seeing for years and years to come? Or, will he develop into more once he has 80 games under his belt? 400?

If you listen to Pat Hickey on the Habs Inside/Out Puckcast, then you'd hear that Kyle is a great player, and indeed a revelation. But, alas, Chipchura has a ceiling that will limit his progress through the team and the league. Apparently, he only has third line talent. Sorry Kyle, enjoy the next 20 years doing what you do.

I disagree.

And, I really take issue with people, like Hickey, who want to rush to judgment on players based on a portion of one season in the league.

Let's start at the root of my gripe: Kyle has been unfairly pigeon-holed as a defensive forward.

It's easy to see why. It's what we were told to assuage our fears when he was selected 18th overall in 2004. He was, afterall taken ahead of Wojtek Wolski, who looked like becoming a big scorer in the OHL even then.

So Timmins tell us about his leadership and his all-around play. What do we hear? Future checking line forward, future captain. And we thought, for a first round defensive forward, he'd better be a captain one day... While Timmins never set limits on Chipchura's potential, why did the media?

His next year in junior, he was among league leaders in scoring before his achilles tendon was severed in a practice. The next season, he led his team in scoring despite missing a significant number of games. That year we all got to see him excel in a do-or-die situation for Canada at the WJC as well.

As far as I can tell, Kyle is an intelligent hockey player with exceptional determination and commitment. Although he was labelled early on and did not go triple digits in junior scoring, I see no reason to cap his potential. In fact, he's shown a few times that he can be the type of player that rises to the occasion – a trait you can usually associate with all the great players. I might not lobby to get him on line 1 or 2 just yet, but I don't see why he couldn't be used with Michael Ryder for example to generate some offense as well as his usual responsible play. And I would not be averse to moving him up one day to centre a scoring line. If he succeeded as a checking-line forward in a scoring role, it wouldn't be the first time a line thrived with an intelligent pivot. I don't have to go beyond Canadiens alumni to come up with Brian Skrudland (Richer and Corson), Guy Carbonneau (Courtnall and McPhee) and Craig Conroy (Iginla).

Afterall, hockey intelligence of the type we see in Kyle is something you usually wait 10 years to see in a player (we're still waiting Jumbo Joe) and something that should be encouraged to succeed in all aspects of the game, not reined in before he's even begun.

Luckily there are a couple of defensive guys in charge (with multiple 20 goal seasons) who know what his potential might be...

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