You would be hard pressed to find a more down to earth, friendly player than Edmonton’s prospect Doug Lynch. The native of North Vancouver is a highly touted blueliner who the Oilers are counting on to one day soon become a corner stone of their defensive corps. That might be a lot of weight for a 20-year-old to shoulder midway through his debut professional season, but to Lynch it’s all part of the job.
Drafted in 2001 with Edmonton’s second round selection (43rd overall), Lynch instantly became popular within the organization, the fans and also with media for his outgoing personality and a mature disposition uncommon to most 18-year-olds.
On the ice, Lynch plays the game far less kind and polite towards others. Over the course of his four seasons in the WHL, mostly with the Red Deer Rebels, Lynch accumulated a whopping 602 PIM including 202 two years ago.
But don’t mistake Lynch for some kind of goon or one-dimensional player. While it is true that he excels at the physical aspects of hockey, Lynch also can be quite potent offensively as well. Twice in his junior career the 6’3″ 215 lb defender toyed with the 50-point plateau, first in 2000-01 when he totalled 49 points and then again the following campaign when he notched 48 points 21 of which were goals.
Lynch has adjusted quite well to the AHL thus far in the 2003-04 season and actually leads all Toronto Roadrunners defensemen in scoring by a fair margin. That said, scouts are quick to point out that it is Lynch’s first professional season and there still is room for improvement and there is time to allow that to happen.
“I think Doug is at the point in his development, as soon as he figures out that he has to allow the game to come to him then he can play the hand that he’s been dealt on every single shift, we’ll see him in the NHL very soon,” Oiler scout Bob Mancini said in November. “He certainly can do everything he needs to do at a higher level but he has a tendency to make high risk decisions and to force things trying to hit a homerun almost every time at bat. He needs to play more of a high percentage game and I think if he learned to do that, any other criticisms you could throw at him he would overcome.”
“He’s playing really well down there and getting better all the time,” described Kevin Prendergast recently. “The one thing he does have to work on is the outside speed of the game. He’s doing an awful lot of work on that with his feet movement and Jeff Beukeboom is doing a lot of work with him.”
“Physically he can play at this level, he thinks the game really well, but if he’s going to be a defenseman in the NHL you’ve got to be able to handle that outside speed,” Prendergast summarized. “The more he plays down there the better he’ll get at it.”
Hockey’s Future was able to catch up with Doug Lynch in Toronto between home dates and just prior to the AHL Christmas break.
HF: How have you fit into the locker room of your first pro team and did it take awhile to feel comfortable?
DL: You know, I don’t think so. We’ve had a very close-knit team right from the very start and it helped that we had a summer camp for all the prospects so there were eight or nine of the players that I knew very well from that. When it came right down to it I probably knew 80% of the team and they’re all such really good guys that it took very little time for us all to gel together.
HF: Tell me how the team has fared so far this year.
DL: Good, but I’m hoping we can get a few more wins here. As a first year franchise I think we’ve got all the kinks out now with the practice rink and now the game rink as well as travel to and from the games and even figuring out what to do on game days and sleeping habits. Being a first year franchise there’s a lot of bumps like that but I think we’ve got them all taken care of and so now I’m looking forward to our next game and the second half of the season.
HF: And for yourself, it’s a pretty big jump from Junior but you seem to be adjusting pretty well.
DL: That’s all due to the fact that we have a tremendous coaching staff and with all of the veterans who you learn from by playing with everyday. The coaching staff obviously has the insight and the knowledge but its also the veteran players and talking with them everyday, talking about plays and discussing strategies, I’ve learned so much from them about playing hockey.
HF: You won the Memorial Cup back in 2001; does having that championship at the Junior level still provide you with confidence now that you’re playing pro?
DL: Absolutely. You never know, I might never win another championship again for as long as I play hockey. To win a championship is the ultimate, it’s the reason you play sports. Winning a championship that young, I didn’t take anything for granted and I can’t wait, I’m looking forward to winning another championship in the future.
HF: Tell me how difficult a month October was when you played every game on the road.
DL: (laughs) yeah! It’s one of the hardest months in hockey to travel, and I’m a western boy and I’m used to all the bus travel. Every night we were in different buildings eating different food. You’re never in your hometown, it was hard. But then again, that’s nine or ten games less that we have to play on the road coming into the playoff stretch drive so there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Might as well look at the bright side and get those road games out of the way at the start.
HF: You mentioned the similarities in travel from your days in the WHL. Now though you are playing more often and traveling farther distances.
DL: It seems like that but really it’s only eight more games over the course of the year. This level is harder; it’s more physical so it takes a little longer to get reenergized between games. I certainly am used to playing a lot of games during the year.
HF: The bus travel, I would understand you being used to that, but it seems like now there are stretches where you’ll play three games in four days and so on.
DL: There has been, and again, I attribute that to when I played in the WHL and how it’s really helped prepare me for the next level because in that league it’s the calling card. The classic three games in four nights so I’m used to that. At the same time though, this is the second best league in the world to play in and every night you have to be at the top of your game to compete with the best players here. It’s hard to play three in four but so far I think our team has adjusted really well.
HF: The team has been roughly .500 since the middle of November, I’m sure that getting back some of your better players from Edmonton has played a role in that.
DL: I think you’re totally correct. It was hard having those players leave right when I thought we were finding a groove and playing well. You get your top goaltender called up, your top defenseman, your top scorer and it makes it hard. The thing is that it allows other players to step up and I think it gave a lot of those guys confidence so now when those other guys come back, our star players, the younger guys and guys who weren’t playing as vital a role were now playing more and the whole case makes things better.
HF: You personally have been enjoying statistical success lately, is that just a matter of you getting used to the level up from junior?
DL: I think so. I attribute that more to the players that I’m playing with. I don’t do a lot out there and I just try and play my game and I’ve been playing with some tremendous players and I give them all the credit because without them I wouldn’t have been able to make the jump.
HF: Do you set goals for yourself before each season?
DL: No I don’t. I did one or two years when I was younger but I really got away from that. In Red Deer one year we had 150 more goals scored than the year before and if you’re on the first power play unit you could get thirty points just because your team is that much stronger. Statistics tell a lot but at the same time they hide a lot too. As long as we win I’m a happy camper.
HF: You’re currently fourth on the team in scoring, and by far the leading defenseman. For some reason I never really think of you as being an offensive defenseman but this isn’t anything new is it?
DL: Really, no it’s not. I had back-to-back near 50-point seasons in the WHL as a defenseman and, I know this isn’t Junior but, I’ve always put up numbers and I take pride in being very good offensively. However, my position is defense and I’m working tirelessly every day to improve my defensive play and make sure that it’s the most important part of my game because it needs to be.
HF: It’s probably because there are so many comparisons of you to Jason Smith and he’s not known as an offensive defenseman either and yet, here he is having a pretty good year offensively too.
DL: Yeah you’re totally right. I haven’t looked too much at the stats recently but I saw he was doing really well.
HF: In recent years the Oilers have been drafting numerous players who are or have been captains on their teams: Jarret Stoll, Zack Stortini, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Jean-Francois Jacques and also yourself. Obviously that kind of character is important to a winning team but can there also possibly be too much or too many leaders on one club?
DL: I don’t think so. How can you have too much character and too much heart? Usually the captains are leading the way vocally or on the ice and I take pride in stepping up when the time needs me to be. I don’t say a whole lot; I kind of speak when I think something needs to be said. I let the other guys play their game and let them get focused however they need to get focused and I just have to worry about myself and do my job up to par. I think that’s the best way to lead: by example. It shows that you are committed to the cause and you’re not just talking about it.
HF: Who are some of the guys you as a rookie are looking towards for leadership in Toronto?
DL: A guy like Rocky Thompson, who has been my defense partner all year, he’s been one of the key guys. Bobby Allen is my roommate on the road so he’s taught me about the in and outs of playing a defensive game in the AHL and being a professional off the ice. Guys like that are who I look up to and try to emulate.
HF: I’m assuming that having Jeff Beukeboom as one of the assistant coaches provides a lot of experience and guidance for you as well.
DL: Being able to ask him every day for a drop in the well of experience that he has and the success he had in the NHL is tremendous. It’s obviously a great thing for all the young guys and the older guys too.
HF: The biggest news recently is the addition of your old friend Jeff Woywitka to the organization. I imagine that was exciting for you.
DL: It sure was. You hear rumors that trades are coming about and guy’s names are being thrown around and this was actually a real surprise because no one had really mentioned Jeff or the Philadelphia Flyers. To get an ex-teammate like that was a tremendous thrill. I called him the first day I found out about it, then we went out for dinner Friday. Now I’m just going to try and help him get acclimatized to fit in as best I can and be a familiar face for him.
HF: My understanding is that you were paired together in Red Deer.
DL: We were a pair and we played together for two years. We were roommates on the road and so we were about as close as you could get. You definitely grow up with the guys you play in Junior with and it’s definitely going to be fun developing that friendship as teammates down the road.
HF: How are the two of you similar and also different?
A: Like you say, we are different. Jeff’s a really good passer because he moves the puck well. He’s does everything good, nothing is ever really fantastic but then nothing’s ever bad, and that’s what you want from a defenseman; Someone who’s low risk and that’s what he is.
HF: It’s great to have a buddy on the team but at the same time, here’s another guy you have to compete with for an NHL job!
A: Of course and I think that is part of the healthiness of being teammates in the NHL business. You don’t have any say in who the coaching staff picks or who the GM signs and who they trade for, you’ve just got to do your own job day in and day out. I’ve done everything here that I’ve been told to do by Edmonton and I’m going to continue to do so and wait for my opportunity. When they feel I’m ready, hopefully sooner than later, I’ll be ready for the call. Everybody in the business knows that stuff and sometimes you’re best friends at the rink and you’re trying to win together but at the same time you’re all competing for the same job.
HF: Is the atmosphere in the room light enough that someone has come out as the team’s practical joker?
DL: (laughs) Rocky is definitely the practical joker on our team this year.
HF: It always seems like it’s the tough guys!
DL: (laughing) Sometimes it’s in their personality because they have such a hard job.
HF: It’s either that or because no one would dare go back after them?
DL: Yeah, exactly!
HF: Give me some examples of nicknames players have down there, especially the younger guys.
A: Mine is “Lyncher” but there’s no real story to it. (Brad) Winchester is “Winnie” like Winnie the Pooh. Joe Cullen is “Cully” and Sean McAslan’s is “Smack Down”. Jeff Woywitka has a couple of nicknames that I can’t tell you about because they’re inside jokes and he’ll get mad at me but we just call him “Woyzie”.
HF: Some players seem like naturals when it comes to talking to media, like you, while other guys clearly either don’t like it or don’t want to do it. How do you feel about dealing with the media?
DL: You know what, to me it’s unbelievable because we’re paid and our job is to play hockey. I think guys get away from the fact that we are looked up to in the community whether you like it or not. I respect the guys that don’t do it or don’t feel comfortable doing it but at the same time I think it’s a part of my job and I take pride in doing it. If I can help people growing up or just doing interviews I don’t have a problem with it at all. I think the fans deserve it because they pay good money to watch us play and buy our jerseys and buy merchandise and so I think we owe it to them.
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