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In Zherdev we trust?

Friday, September 14, 2007
Don't worry. Unlike Jay Mariotti on Around the Horn, I can honestly admit when I am flip-flopping. In this case, I'd like to say I'm just about thoroughly flopped more than flipped, but that all hinges on whether or not this experiment that Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock have cooked up with "enigmatic" Russian (did any one besides me notice the excessive use of "enigmatic" last season?) Nikolai Zherdev.

Reported on this morning in The Columbus Dispatch, and even prior to that touched on by fellow blogger Bethany at Bethany's Hockey Rants, the newest news to come out of Blue Jackets' camp is the attempt to put Zherdev at the center position.

Apparently the first day of this experiment was today, when the team that Zherdev has been assigned to for training camp took to the ice this morning. Sadly, by the time I had arrived from classes down at the arena to scope things out, the other team -- consisting of other Jackets' staples such as Freddy Norrena, Mike Peca, and Sergei Fedorov among others -- were already on the ice and doing their own thing.

Still, I was able to gleam at least a smidgeon of first-hand coverage from browsing the HFBoards. Take it away, Willien:

"I heard they were basically unstoppable and scored 10+ goals. It is different in practice than in games, but apparently there was nobody who could play with them."

Of course, take this with a grain of salt, as this was merely the very first day of training camp. And while even though, from what I saw, the kiddie gloves were off when it came to running drills, it's still not yet been seen if this combination of Zherdev, along with David Vyborny and Rick Nash on the wings can work when put to the test in pre-season games, or even regular season games.

Michael Arace, ever the insightful Dispatch writer, brought up an interesting point in the Dispatch article:

"After poring over Zherdev tape this summer, the thought occurred to Hitchcock: Why relegate Zherdev to the wall as a winger and restrict his space? Howson had the same thought. Why not try Zherdev at center? Give him the middle, where he's comfortable. It seems he can handle the defensive responsibilities of the position."

If both Hitch and Howson had the exact same thought, then there has to be more to this.

From my own perspective, though? Well, it's definitely worth a shot. Let's look at this line on a player-by-player basis ...

Rick Nash: Hitchcock has been attempting to mold Nash in to something of a rough, tough, and hard-hitting power forward since the first day he arrived. While Nasher certainly has his own type of finesse, and he can definitely run people over like a freight train if he puts the effort in to it, this gives Nash the ability to play that power forward role that Hitch is looking for out of him. With Zherdev handling a majority of the ice and able to use his creativity with that center area all to himself, Nash can get to work causing a ruckus in the slot and also in front of the goalie. Some goals might not be the prettiest, but all that matters are the goals, and not how they look.

Nikolai Zherdev: With all of center ice at his disposal, Zherdev can use all of that pent up energy of his without feeling stymied by where he is on the ice as a winger, such as being crammed up between the boards and an opposing player, or two. Zherdev, prior to his poor results last year, was known for some unique creativity. Need I remind anyone about Nikki's ol' toe-drag? No? Yeah, I didn't think so.

But in any event, as Hitch points out in the Arace article, Zherdev has shown flashes of proper responsibility in the defensive zone, as well as hustling back to defend when he has to. By giving him the center position, he's being given that extra bit of responsibility, and Zherdev should be both grateful and appreciating of that kind of trust.

David Vyborny: The team's leading point getter the past two seasons, Vyborny is just about the perfect set-up man. Put him alongside both Zherdev and Nash, and he'll be able to take advantage of either a hovering Nikki, or a scrumming Ricky, wherever they happen to be in the offensive zone. He never wastes time in moving the puck around, and he knows what to do with it.

Additionally, with both Zherdev and Nash on the same line, he will not have to worry about feeling pressured in to trying to tally goals to make up for any overall team shortcomings in the point production department. Remember that Vyborny has always been someone who will pass first, and seems to shoot only if he absolutely knows he can score. This isn't to say that Vyborny no longer has to try slipping the biscuit in to the net ... but now he can focus on setting up two players in their respective comfort zones within the offensive zone.

And that's all I got. Mind you, this is all just my personal analysis and speculation. And until I see these three on the ice tomorrow morning (I'll be heading down to scope things out again, as I'm just too excited not to watch training camp this season), I only have hearsay to work off of.

Until Sunday, folks!

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  • At 5:47 PM, Blogger AngelBaby said…

    CBJ will do dick all this year like previous years. Cheer for a real team.

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About Me: A mid-20s male who feels much too old even before he's 30. Has a degree in Sport Management and after branching out and trying a few other things in the job market, has finally decided to go back to his first love of hockey and hope he can break in with a team, big or small, somehow.
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