When Hockey’s Future first spoke with Karl Alzner last year at the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge game in Chilliwack, BC, the starry-eyed defenseman was philosophical when asked to comment the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
"I feel like I’m still climbing in the ranks," he laughed. "I’ll keep clawing away at it."
Claw away at it he did indeed. Fast-forward 11 months and the Burnaby, BC native has been well rewarded for his efforts. During the off-season, the Washington Capitals chose him in the first round, 5th overall.
"It was a dream come true, as it is for everyone who gets drafted," Alzner explained. "The organization really welcomed all the players they picked up. They brought us down to the prospects camp and we met all the staff and the owner and viewed the facility. It was a great experience just to see all that."
On the ice, the experience with the Caps was one the 6’2, 210-pounder will not soon forget. When Hockey’s Future caught up to with Alzner early in October before a WHL game in Kelowna, it was instantly apparent the past year has seen the articulate team leader mature. He is becoming a spokesman of sorts for the Hitmen and has seen his profile grow as a NHL first-round pick. Alzner is as composed with microphones held in front of him as he is handling pucks and opposing forwards. He’s also finding himself answering more questions from his teammates these days.
"Just to check out the level of play there [in Washington]," Alzner sighed. "I think I was able to bring back a lot of things from the NHL experience to the team here. It’s been a benefit for me and I think it’s helping the team here a bit, too. I find it’s a bit different now because everyone’s coming up to me for advice or they have questions and are looking to me for the answers.
"I don’t mind helping out. I always wanted to know what the older guys were doing and I tried to find out how they felt out on the ice. I try to let the guys here know what I’m thinking so maybe it’ll help make things a little bit easier on them."
For drafted juniors in the WHL, expectations are automatically heightened, as is their general activity level. For Alzner this season, the Calgary Hitmen are pegged to be one of the top squads in the entire country. He’s also in possession of a gold medal earned at the 2007 WJC where he was a member of Team Canada. A second stint with Team Canada at the 2008 WJC is a definite possibility for Alzner and there are also the obligatory glitter games he’ll attend.
Inevitably, a busy schedule has evolved for Alzner, who is grateful for each and every opportunity the game is bringing his way. Prior to the Caps training camp, Alzner played in the eight-game Super Series against a Russian junior team. He enjoys the camaraderie associated with participating in these special events.
"The Super Series was just a blast," Alzner grinned. "The guys we had were unbelievable and I’ve made new friends along the way. Every time you meet them on the ice, you give a guy a little nod and it can help keep some guys at ease. That’s experience we’re fortunate to have.
"Personally, it was a great pre-camp preparation before going into Washington and then back to Calgary. It was important to get into game situations. Sometimes you don’t play any games at your pro camp. I only played one, but the Super Series really helped me for that and it was probably better for me than the summer camp might normally be."
The Super Series may have served another significant purpose for the entire Canadian group.
"The guys are so tight-knit," Alzner said. "Come Christmas time it’s going to be a tough group to break up because everyone is going be like best friends from day one."
While the international hockey opportunities have entered the mix, including a couple of upcoming exhibition games in November in the 2008 ADT Canada/Russia Challenge, Alzner has an important role to play in Calgary this season. The roster is stacked with drafted prospects like Ryan White, T.J. Galiardi, Alex Plante, Carson MacMillan, Paul Postma, Keith Seabrook and Brett Sonne. Indeed, expectations are high for the veteran club that has gotten off to a quick start so far.
"If you look down our lineup at the scoring, it’s pretty spread out right now," Alzner said. "There’s a couple guys with quite a few points but everybody has some. Everybody’s helping out and that’s what you need.
"You can’t just have a couple guys win you a championship. A guy like Brett Sonne is really stepping up this year, and Eric Frere hasn’t always done a lot of scoring, but he has a couple goals and probably six points so far. Our goaltenders have been playing really good. Our defensemen are doing what we’re supposed to be doing and our young guys are stepping up.
"It’s been an all around team effort. Our coaches are coaching to win and it’s something we’ve been carrying from game to game."
The quotable Karl Alzner
On playing defense behind an explosive forward group:
"I think really we just have to get the puck into the hands of our forwards as quickly as we can and let them do what we can. We have some guys with a lot of speed and really good hands who can shoot the puck. We want give them the best outlet passes we can and then on the blueline get as many shots through to the net as we can. Everything gets created off a rebound or from a shot from the point."
On his strengths & weaknesses:
"My backward skating and positional play in the d-zone especially and recognizing what forwards are going to do. Anticipation. I like to block shots, I’m huge on that because I really want to keep shots on goal down and minimize chances. I’m working on getting better at finding the lanes on the offensive blueline, my top speed and my quickness — of course everyone always wants to get better at that. I’m trying to play more physical hockey because everyone talks about that being an important aspect as a defenseman. I’ve always been kind of a ‘get in there and separate men from the puck’ type of player, I watch how Scott Neidermeyer does that. I have to add that to my game."
On playing last season as a highly-touted prospect:
"It’s always nice to see where you’re ranked among the other guys and then there’s the motivation to kind of prove to guys that you should maybe be higher. It helped me, I like to be kind of an underdog and I’ve always thought it can sometimes be easier to come from behind rather than stay on top. After the rankings came out, I knew I would just have to continue to prove that I can be up there with the best of them."
On the new standard of rules enforcement:
"The last few years I’ve kind of been a guy who has always tried to play a bit sneaky, you know, get in a quick tug or a quick hook to be able to get at the puck. But I got nabbed at the beginning of last season a few times and I have had to adapt. If a guy’s coming in one-on-two, you know he’s going to dump the puck because he knows you can’t touch him, so as soon as he dumps it you have to get back. You really have to keep your feet moving and skate quicker and work harder. I think the rules are so much better for the game. It shows that the guys who are willing to work harder are going to be successful, rather than the guys that just stood around and blocked guys off from the in front of the net. I think it’s been great for the game."
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.