Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Changes of scenery

Honest, this post started mulling around in my mind last night as I was watching the Vancouver-Edmonton game on Center Ice. I was performing the obligatory check-in on former Blue Jackets and, not knowing he was out with the flu, spent a lot of time looking for, and thinking about, Gilbert Brule.  But there ended up being more to this story.


For the recently-arrived to Columbus Blue Jackets fandom, Brule was the first-round draft choice of the CBJ in 2005, the 6th pick overall. He arrived in town with all of the hype that former Jackets boss-man Doug MacLean could muster ("another Bobby Clarke").  Sadly, things didn't work out that way.  Over 3 years in Columbus, Brule played in 146 games, had 12 goals, 20 assists and a +/- of -27.  The Edmonton Journal sums up Brule's early career nicely:
He was rushed into the league by the Columbus Blue Jackets way too soon because he was a first-round pick, and maybe there were tickets to sell and points to be made with the scouting staff. He got hurt, got frustrated, got a lot of time on the bench, then got traded for Raffi Torres -- a project (Torres) for a prospect (Brule).

As much as Dustin Penner has been a revelation, finally showing some of the same stuff he had in Anaheim with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Brule has done a bit of everything. You want goals, he has four of them. You want a guy who gets important goals, he's got two game-winners. You want to win faceoffs, he's close to 50 per cent(won 30, lost 32). You want a guy to fight, he's your man. Jannik Hansen broke three fingers on his head in the pre-season, but Brule got his licks in, too.
He looks like an NHLer--maybe for the very first time, and he's now played 164 games.
Google around, and you'll find that the words "Gilbert Brule" and "change of scenery" are almost synonymous.  The poor kid had to leave town if his career was to amount to anything, and the Jackets gained nothing by keeping him around.  The change did him good.


Anton Stralman, the newest Blue Jacket, has his own tale to tell on this front, coming from Toronto via Calgary.  It was wonderfully told in the Columbus Dispatch:

In Toronto, he was caught behind Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina last season, and then in general manager Brian Burke's demand for "truculence" and "pugnacity" when he rebuilt the Maple Leafs' roster this summer.
Stralman, a 6-foot, 193-pounder with a soft voice, is neither truculent nor pugnacious. (For that matter, neither are the 0-6-1 Leafs).
"Last year, (Toronto) wanted me to change my game a little bit," Stralman said. "They wanted me to play more intense and tougher. That's something you can't change right away."
That didn't work, so the Leafs traded him to Calgary.
Stralman landed on a Flames club loaded with defensemen who possess power-play skills: Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Mark Giordano are the top three.
With roster cuts looming at the end of training camp, the Flames decided to trade Stralman rather than risk losing him on waivers.
"I would have been in the third pairing for sure," Stralman said. "I had a good (training) camp. I think I would have been in the opening night lineup."
He's in our lineup now, and I think he likes it.

"It feels great to come here (to Columbus) and know they want me to play the way I've always played," Stralman said.
"It feels great to play for a team that believes in you and gives you an opportunity to show what you've got."

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we get word that Stefan Legein has been traded to Philadephia for defenseman Michael Ratchuck.  Legein is an interesting case; of all of the players that CBJ General Manager Scott Howson has shipped out since coming to Columbus, he hasn't pulled the trigger on one of his own draft choices.  Until now.

Legein was Howson's second round pick in the 2007 draft.  His career with the Jackets was largely unspectacular as he mostly grew into the adult pro game with the Jackets' AHL farm team in Syracuse.  Then, on August 20, 2008, the strangeness that has become Legein's pro career began:
I don't even know how to categorize this one.  A young player burning out?  A once top-of-the-heap kid realizing that he was now going to have to work to deserve the place he thought he owned?  Both scenarios are very reasonable as I think we all can agree that the near-professionalization of young athletes leaves them with precious little time to, well, be kids.  No time for that with travel teams, 5AM practices, etc.

But Legein got his taste of the Real World and realized it wasn't for him.  So he traded the anchovies, mushrooms and green peppers and came back to Syracuse.
By all accounts, Legein's play in the 2009 Blue Jackets training camp was strong.  He made it to the second to last round of preseason cuts, hanging with the big club until September 28.  In six games in Syracuse, he has 2 goals and an assist.  I haven't heard anything -- ummm, odd -- out of Syracuse since his return to professional hockey.  Yet, borrowing a Rachael Maddow phrase, there's the taste that lingers.

Scott Howson summed up today's trade with Puck-Rakers:
[Howson] agreed that Legein could benefit from a fresh start in a new organization.
"Stef never asked to be trade, to his credit," Howson said this morning in Calgary. "But I think he felt somewhat ... leery of how his teammates and the organization felt about him because of what he did.
"This is something that he probably feels will be good for him."
Changes of scenery often do, Stefan.  Just ask Gilbert Brule and Anton Stralman.

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