For a coach who can be comically redundant about taking one game at a time, Randy Carlyle took a huge look forward Wednesday when asked about keeping 19-year-old Luca Sbisa in the NHL this season.
“He’s not afraid to do things with (the puck),” Carlyle said of Sbisa. ”The one thing you notice about the best defensemen who play the game … when they have the puck, they’re never under pressure. They can be very calm when they have the puck, and they want it more, and they do usually have it a lot in the game.
“Those are the types of players who seem to have the ability to extend their careers a long time, and play huge minutes and make contributions.”
Suffice it to say that coaches and management in Anaheim think Sbisa can be one of those players. Maybe 20 years from now, puckheads will be talking about the year a young Sbisa and a gray-haired Scott Niedermayer skated together on the same blue line, and Carlyle wasn’t ready to un-make history.
More likely, he thought the two could bring the Ducks closer to the Stanley Cup this season. They have been paired together often in the preseason, and Niedermayer is the obvious teammate to give Sbisa the “tutoring” Carlyle thinks Sbisa needs to round out his game.
“We wanted (Sbisa) to utilize his strengths,” the coach said, ”but we felt he was overzealous in his approach to skating the puck and putting himself in bad situations, to tone it down, and that we would expect him to join the rush to make it a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 but after that, just play defense and move the puck.”
Niedermayer is the team captain and has been in mentoring-type roles with a young defensive partner before, such as last year with Brett Festerling. But since Niedermayer arrived in Anaheim, there were always other veteran defensemen around — Sean O’Donnell, Chris Pronger, Bret Hedican, Mathieu Schneider — to share the mantle of experience.
This year, Niedermayer is the only defenseman on the roster older than 30.
“Hopefully by now I’ve learned one or two things, I guess, that a 19-year-old might not know,” Niedermayer said. ”That’s definitely fair that I should be aware of what he’s up to, and try and offer some advice and a good example for him, probably as much as anything.”
Niedermayer could retire when the year is over, giving the Ducks added incentive to allow Sbisa to develop in the NHL. Carlyle said that returning Sbisa to his juniors team in Lethbridge, Alberta was a possibility, “but I think in this situation for him, he is above what we would deem a normal junior-age hockey player. He’s a 19-year-old competing for a position in the National Hockey League and he doesn’t look out of place.”
Sbisa said he was not entirely confident in his own ability to make the opening-day roster because of the more experienced players around him. But one-by-one, the Ducks shed Steve McCarthy (traded to Atlanta), Jassen Cullimore (released), Brett Festerling and Brian Salcido (sent to the AHL).
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Sbisa said. ”I think every young guy in the league dreams for that, dreams to play with a veteran guy, and I got the chance to play with a future Hall of Famer. A lot of guys want to be in my spot right now. I have to make the best out of it.”
Brendan Mikkelson was the last defenseman cut on Wednesday. After showing flashes of offense and physicality in camp, the smooth-skating 22-year-old was sent to AHL San Antonio rather than staying in Anaheim as a sixth or seventh defenseman.
“(We) felt that (for) a young player, that would be his best situation right now,” Carlyle said. “The player’s shown great strides. He had a very strong camp compared to what he had last year. Going to the American Hockey League and playing versus sitting here and playing sporadically, is a much better option at this point.”