Karl Taylor has never brought back as many as five players on one defense from one year to the next as an ECHL coach. “Hopefully they’re the five good ones,” he joked.
Back are Shawn Germain, Dan Knapp, David Walker, Chad Starling and Andrew Martens. Gone are Darren McMillan (IHL), P.J. Atherton (Europe) and Colten Teubert (WHL). In their place are newcomers Cameron Cepek, Brian Kilburg and Mike Egener. Their average height: 6-foot-3. Though it’s possible that one or two would get cut before the regular-season opener, Taylor said he’s open to keeping all eight on the roster.
He explains why, and describes what he sees in the group as a whole …
“Defensemen are the hardest things to find during the season. We think it’s an advantage to have five guys back. If you watch ’em do skill drills every day, when we have the ‘D’ on for their session, the guys who were here last year do it really well and the new guys don’t have a clue. So it’s really interesting to see how far the guys from last year have come, the progression, working on those things I think are important. We’ve got to get the new guys up to speed, but having (the returning five) be able to demonstrate it helps a ton.
“If they’re the three best D, they’ll get the most ice time. I don’t care if you’ve played for me, the best players play. We don’t do anything very complicated. As far as integrating into the system, it’s pretty straightforward. We just try to out-execute people, outwork people and be more determined for longer periods of time. Hopefully that’ll carry us.
“I can find a forward before I find a defenseman, it’s much easier during the season. So we’ll see what happens. And if two guys don’t play well enough, we’ll cut ’em. Just because there’s only eight doesn’t mean they’re not playing for a job.”
(On getting offense outside of Andrew Martens…) “David Walker had six goals last year. We feel that Marty is an offensive defenseman, obviously. We feel that David can do some of that as well. We also believe that Dan Knapp can do some of that for us, he was second-tier for us last year, (scoring) 19 points. In the second half we used him less on the power play. We also believe that Mike Egener can do some of that. Cameron Cepek had 50 points last year in the Western (Hockey) League, so he can do that for us as well.
“We don’t have two pure offensive guys, we’ve got a bunch of guys for us that can do it. For that, Shawn Germain was one of our leading goal-scorers in the playoffs last year. He’s come a long with his offensive play – not that that’s what he is or who he is – but we’ve added to his game and he can do a little bit. I’ve used forwards back there as well.”
(On how his emphasis on aggressiveness translates to the defense …): “I want them to be more aggressive in the defensive zone. Pressuring people instead of giving up the time we did last year on possession; we let teams skate around on the outside and cycle pucks against us. We felt very comfortable with that. It helped and it worked. We didn’t give up a lot. We want to be more aggressive because our size is a lot bigger on the blue line as well. We want to pound people and make ’em get punished down low and be a tough team to play against.
“You can be aggressive, and you can be hard to play against, and you can be an aggressive offensive team and also play good defense. It’s hard to do, and it’s tiring, but you can do both.”