The following is the third in a series following 18-year-old Dustin Kohn, a defenseman for the WHL Calgary Hitmen. Kohn is eligible for the next Entry Draft, and Hockey’s Future is chronicling the Edmonton, Alberta native 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. Part 1 can be read here, and Part 2 can be read here.
The National Hockey League season has been cancelled, and now the 2005 NHL Entry Draft has fallen victim to the lockout as well. The 2005 draft class will miss its opportunity to be the center of media attention for a weekend, but they will still eventually be divided up between the NHL teams. It’s enough to keep Calgary Hitmen defenseman Dustin Kohn and his comrades on their toes.
It’s ironic that in a year in which there will be no draft event, teams will be more prepared than ever, as executives have had more time to watch and interview draft-eligible prospects.
“I’ve had a couple of interviews,” Kohn cautiously revealed with a smile. “I’m not sure I should say who, though.”
“We’ve talked to scouts about his situation,” explained Hitmen Co-Head Coach Dean Evanson, “and how he’s improved every game and he’s gotten better as the year’s gone by.”
It’s entirely possible that the interest in the Edmonton product has increased after a strong performance at the 2005 CHL Top Prospects Game, held in Vancouver, British Columbia on January 19th. Kohn, skating as a member of Team Cherry, certainly relished the opportunity to play in such a high profile game.
“It was definitely exciting,” Kohn said. “It was almost hard to take it all in because you find yourself in practice and it’s like watching television when Don Cherry talks.”
Skating for Don Cherry was certainly an experience for the puck-rushing defenseman. The invaluable information and advice that Cherry had for Kohn certainly wasn’t wasted either, especially coming from such a respected hockey mind as Cherry.
“He told me a lot of times just to take your spot and skate,” explained Kohn of the advice handed to him from ‘Grapes,’ “and that there’s nothing wrong with just firing the puck up off the glass and out.”
“I don’t think he likes me quite as much as Bobby (Orr), though,” Kohn added with a laugh.
It was a smile similar to that he displayed after the Top Prospects Game, after all the pressure was over. It was also a similar laugh to the one Kohn shared with goaltender Jean-Philippe Levasseur, when after a failed rush by Team Davidson forward Kendall McArdle, a miscue between Kohn and Levasseur resulted in an unassisted goal credited to McArdle.
“I wasn’t sure it was in,” began Kohn, who attempted to describe the goal. “I wasn’t sure if (Kendall) McArdle knew it was in either. (Devin) Setoguchi was on the ice too, and I’m not sure if anyone was sure it was in. They had a two-on-one, coming out of the corner, and (McArdle) centered it and I stopped it and didn’t really tip it, just directed it towards (Levasseur). He went to cover it, but with the edge of his glove, knocked it backwards.”
Not one to take the game too seriously, Kohn added that he was able to shrug off the blunder and laugh about it with his teammates after celebrating the win.
“It’s definitely something we laughed about after we got the win,” explained Kohn. “If it was in the third period and the game was closer, it would’ve been a concern, but it was something that didn’t really phase me.”
Aside from the miscue, Kohn felt as though he played a strong game, displaying both his ability to add to the rush and quarterback a power play, but also strength and solid defensive zone coverage as well. The main thing that the Hitmen blueliner wanted to display out on the ice wasn’t a skill, though.
“I wanted to show I was competitive and that I like to be out there on the ice,” explained Kohn. “I think that’s the biggest thing, showing everyone I’m competitive. I think they like to see guys compete hard out there. There are guys that can skate, pass, hit, shoot the puck hard and everything, but I think the biggest thing they want to see is you compete hard.”
And as Kohn is learning the ropes of how to not only play the game on the ice, he’s being introduced to the business of sport off the ice as well. While Kohn is being put through the paces of team interviews and being heavily watched by NHL franchises, the business end of life as a hockey player hit him full force when former defense partner and close friend Andy Rogers was dealt at the trade deadline to the Prince George Cougars, in a deal that saw the Hitmen acquire a legitimate starting goaltender in Justin Pogge.
“It’s tough to see a guy like Rog (Andy Rogers) go,” explained Kohn. “I was close friends with him, still am. It’s tough to see him go, but it’s part of the game. It came as a shock. No one was really expecting it. The deadline had passed, we thought, so we weren’t sure. It was just shocking.”
Although it came as a surprise to Kohn, life went on for himself and his Calgary Hitmen squad. With the WHL’s regular season now complete, Kohn will turn his attention to leading the Calgary Hitmen deep in the playoffs. Obviously a key cog in the Hitmen’s playoff run, Kohn will be relied on to supply offense from Calgary’s back end, something he did in abundance this year, finishing with 35 assists and 43 points, fourth on the club and 13th in the league among defensemen in scoring.
“He’s provided us with some offense from the back end,” remarked Evason on his top scoring defenseman. “His decision making has been real good and he’s learned how to not only play the offensive game but the defensive game as well. His plus/minus was one of the best on the team, and that’ll set him up well for the future.”
Kohn, who was continuously atop the Hitmen’s plus/minus board for the majority of the season finished with an impressive +18, second only to sniper Ryan Getzlaf for the team lead.
The statistics earned him a nod as Calgary’s Top Defenseman for the 2004-05 season, but Kohn believes that while he may have exceeded expectations this year, his club still has a ways to go.
“We definitely were ranked high,” said Kohn on being ranked third in the CHL heading into the season. “I don’t know if we’ve exceeded expectations of some people. If I had to guess, I don’t think we have yet. The last little while, we’ve started to play better, we’ve began to start to establish an identity.”
Identity is the key characteristic that the Calgary Hitmen have been lacking all season. A year riddled with inconsistency, Kohn and his teammates are hoping the playoffs can serve as salvation for the club. Drawing Lethbridge, the Hitmen are in deep early in the postseason.
“Whoever we play is going to be a battle,” said Kohn before learning the Hurricanes will be their first round opponents. “Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Red Deer, it’s going to be a battle no matter who we end up playing. We’re going to have to get by all these teams eventually if we want to do something.”
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.