The Kohn Chronicles, Part 1

By Aaron Vickers

The following is the first in a series that will take a
glimpse at the life of 17-year-old Dustin Kohn, a defenseman for the
WHL Calgary Hitmen. Kohn is eligible for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft,
and Hockey’s Future will follow the native of Edmonton, Alberta as he
copes with the pressures of playing hockey during his draft season, up
to, and including, the 2005 National Hockey League Entry Draft – whenever it is held.

Call him ‘Curious Kohn’ – his teammates have, simply because the questions do
not seem to stop.

And why shouldn’t they? Kohn has four fellow Hitmen blueliners at his disposal, all having been through the journey that Kohn himself started on September 24th, 2004. The journey, of
course, is surviving his draft year.

Having watched teammates Jeff Schultz, Andy Rogers and Brett Carson go through the experience
of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Kohn is looking for the secrets.

“We have such
a tight-knit
group of guys,” explained the 6’1, 185lb blueliner this week. “Me and (Andy) Rogers and (Brett) Carson and Schultzie (Jeff Schultz) and Yac (Darryl Yacboski), are all a
tight-knit group of guys and have no problems confiding in
each other. We can tell each other anything. It’s not uncommon for us
to be talking about the draft process because (they) went through it
already.”

Being
part of such a defensive core so close, which also includes 2007 draft
eligible Karl Alzner and
unrestricted free agent Tyler
Harder
, has been nothing but a positive experience for Kohn, who continually talks to his teammates about the draft process.

“(Kohn) is worried about it a lot, as a kid,” admitted Carson, who was
selected in the fourth round last year, by the host Hurricanes.

“I remember going through it last year, so much pressure, thinking you’ve
got to impress everyone that’s watching. I just tell him to keep working hard
and everything will turn out well.”

Andy Rogers agreed.

“He’s got a lot of questions,” Rogers conceded in a recent interview with
Hockey’s Future. “He’s a curious young guy, always wanting to know about this or that. He’s really interested about the draft.”

Kohn could let his on-ice play do all the talking for him. He leads the Hitmen
defense in scoring, with 15 points and a +13 rating in 22
games this season. Even more impressive for the sophomore, is the fact
that he currently sits seventh among Western Hockey League defensemen
in points, just four points behind rookie blueliner Andrej Meszaros, selected 16th
overall by the Vancouver Giants in the 2004 CHL Import Draft. Equally
impressive is Kohn’s plus/minus, +13, good enough for
eighth in the league. The modest Kohn is quick to pass along credit to
his great start to his teammates.

“I try to go out there and
work as hard as I can,” said Kohn, willing to give up the secret to
his success. “I’m out there working hard, and the players around me are working hard as well.
Playing
with guys like (Ryan) Getzlaf
and (Andrew) Ladd, and even
(Konstantin) Pushkarev, those points are going to come, and my defense
partner, (Darryl) Yacboski is really solid defensively, so he’s helped
my plus/minus a whole lot. They make it easy out there. It’s not a difficult task to play with those guys!”

Make no mistake about it, though. Kohn has earned every bit of his
early season success. In fact, he hardly seems like the player that
scored only nine points in 52 games as a rookie last season. A
difficult season to say the least, Kohn had to pay his dues to earn the
opportunity to become a regular in the line-up. He slipped in and out of the lineup, playing both forward and defense positions, sometimes in the same game. All things considered though,
Kohn was happy with the results from the 2003-04 season.

“It was a little bit tough, a little bit weary on the mindset sometimes,” he said. “I was happy with
the season, though. It was a good introduction to the league, and I got to view a few different
perspectives in my rookie year.”

An ambitious Kohn spent the offseason with a personal trainer,
something he vowed to do when Hockey’s Future talked to him last March.
A noticeably thicker version of the former Edmonton Knights of Columbus
star emerged.

“ I have a personal trainer I worked out with (in Edmonton); Jay McGee and
Eric Morrissette. I had a good offseason as far as that goes too. I made some good strength gains and put on a bit of weight.”

Weight wasn’t the only thing Kohn gained in the offseason as well.
Recognized as one of the better players under the age of 18 in the
country, he was invited to the Canadian U-18
Summer Development Camp, and although he was unsuccessful in making the
squad, the experience alone made an impact on the youngster.

“It was very disappointing, but not too disappointing,” conceded Kohn, who felt that he had a strong showing in camp. “I know that there are other shots down the line. There are guys
in our dressing room, and I look at a guy like Ryan Getzlaf, who
didn’t make the U-18 team when he tried out either, and look where he is now. At
the same time, me and Merks (Riley Merkley) kind of both got cut together, so we
almost made it into a joke – a fun thing I guess. I thought I played very well. I was impressed
with the way I played. I was impressed with the results. I got a few
points in the games we had there, and I thought that I had a strong showing. I
was a little surprised (at being cut), but that’s just one of the breaks,
and it made me a more modest person. It was a good
experience.”

Even though the end result was a disappointing one, Kohn has used that
experience to better himself as a hockey player — so much so that the
Calgary Hitmen coaching staff has no hesitation in putting him out on
the ice in any situation, a contrast to last season where he didn’t
skate a regular shift, and rarely found himself on the power play, and
never on the penalty kill.

“You know, I’ve got to say
I’m a little tired, and a little caught off guard,” admitted Kohn, who
has seen his ice time increase dramatically, playing on the club’s top
defensive pairing and both special teams. “But you know, I want to be
in those situations. I want to be out there penalty-killing. I want to
be out there playing the power play. I think as long as I work hard I’ll be
able to do all that.”

It could be Kohn’s desire that sets him apart from other defensemen in
his draft class — his desire for competition, always looking to improve, and always concerned about how he plays out on the ice. As he continues to play well, though, thoughts
of player rankings going into the draft can’t help but creep
into Kohn’s mind. Despite this, though, Kohn is trying to place all his
focus on the task at hand, guiding the Calgary Hitmen through a
successful 2004-05 season.

“Right now it’s not that big of deal in my mind,” discussed Kohn.
“I’m trying to downplay it to all the guys I talk to. That’s the
truth, though.
You want to not worry about (the rankings) and I’m trying as hard as I can to not
think about it. Obviously there’s going to be some hype and some pressure,
and a little bit of excitement around the ratings that come around, and the way
the media handles it, but I’m trying not to worry about it and play my
game. I don’t
really think about (the draft) on
the ice. Maybe after the game I’ll sit back and reflect on it, but
when I’m on
the ice, I try to worry about what I’m doing out there at the time.”

It’s a similar motto to what Carson, Schultz and Rogers preached last
season. ‘Take care of business on the ice, and let the on ice take care
of business off the ice.’ Still, though, with the bleachers featuring
more and more members of NHL organizations due to the current NHL
lockout, it’s difficult not to notice, admitted Kohn.

“I’m just trying to go out there, work hard, and
play, and let everything else fall into place. I’m not trying to worry
too much about it and not be nervous out there. I figure if I go out there and
work hard, good things will happen.”

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.