The Next Phenomenon: Jay Bouwmeester

By Trenton Allen

When you see this kid play, you know you are seeing greatness. He can
skate with the best of them, make tape-to-tape passes blindfolded, and his
vision of the ice and the play that is unfolding is unsurpassed. Who am I
talking about? Who else. Jay Bouwmeester.

This 16 year old star in the making of the Medicine Hat Tigers has just
finished his first season in the WHL. Few defensemen before have stepped in
at his age and done as much as this young man. Quarterbacked the powerplay,
got to play some shorthanded situations, and was often a catalyst on a team
that many nights was severely lacking in the offensive department.
Bouwmeester finished his season with 64 games, 13 goals, 21 assists and 34
points. The assists total would have been much higher on a team that had a
few finishers. Next year, with players such as Ryan Hollweg gaining in
experience, watch that total rise. Probably the best part of watching him
play is that you get the felling that, as good as he is, he’s capable of so
much more. When ever he gets the puck you get on the edge of your seat not
know if your going to see just another dump-in, or watch Bouwmeester make a
brilliant end-to-end rush. Probably the best thing about watching him play,
and the worst thing for all other teams in the WHL, is that you know that
he’s only scratched the surface of what he can do.

If any reporters are reading this article, here’s a little advice about
doing an interview with Jay Bouwmeester. First, wear stilts. At 6’4, 199lbs
and still growing, you’ll need them, unless you don’t want to see who you
are speaking to. Second, don’t ask Bouwmeester questions about one subject;
himself. He’ll talk for hours about the experiences he had at The World
Junior Championships in December and January. That’s no problem. Ask him
what he feels are his strengths in his game or what he feels he can bring
to his team and it’s like someone cut out his tongue. As a reporter, I know
that it can be frustrating to try to conduct an interview with someone like
that. However, as a fan of the greatest sport on the planet, it’s
refreshing to see that not only is every one wrong about how Canada is not
producing top level talent anymore (Watch for Jason Spezza to be number 1
pick in 2001 entry draft and Jay Bouwmeester in 2002), but also we are
producing talent that is humble. If you don’t think the NHL needs a little
more athletes like that then you haven’t been introduced to Brett Hull.
Hull’s a good athlete. Ask him. He’ll tell you so. Introducing this kid to
the NHL in 2002 will be like a breath of fresh air, as long as all those
millions of dollars don’t go to his head.

So interviewing Jay Bouwmeester about Jay Bouwmeester is rather a
challenge. However I did get a little out of the interview. Most
importantly, the attention he is getting hasn’t effected him yet. He says
that all the attention doesn’t bother him and he just goes out and plays
his game. That’s good news. As an avid watcher off hockey not only at the
NHL level but at junior as well, I feel that we are producing just as much
talent as is the U.S.A. or Europe, but we are constantly ruining that
talent but badgering those young players with comparisons to other greats
and expectations that are too high. I hope that as the attention
surrounding Bouwmeester intensifies, he continues to display the same pose
and determination that he has this season. He actually goes on to say that
he doesn’t wish for all the attention to stop, almost as if he likes it.
Hopefully he does like it, because he probably has another 20 years off it
ahead of him.

Bouwmeester has many natural talents at his disposal. Even before he steps
on the ice you can’t help but notice the first one: his size. 6’4 and still
growing! He could hit 6’7 easily. Imagine a 6’7 defenseman that can move
the puck like he does. Scary. Also, his vision of the ice is noticeable. He
knows where everyone -on both teams- is at all times. He is solid in his
own zone and uses his size and strength well to angle opposing forwards
into the boards in his own zone. The only complaint I have about his play
is he could use a little bit of a mean streak. But at 16 years old in the
WHL, who couldn’t? I mean he isn’t Jordin Tootoo (If your a fan of the WHL
then you’ll know Tootoo and if your not then you don’t know what your
missing). I think as time will go by, You’ll see Bouwmeester start hitting
people with a little more authority. However, I don’t see a mean streak
developing in him that will allow him to be considered a Chris Pronger or
Rob Blake. Which brings me to my next and final point.

As the 2002 entry draft gets closer, the comparisons to other greats of
the game, both past and present, will emerge. This is something I don’t
like. While it does help fans and GM’s to relate to the information being
passed on by scouts, it in no means helps most of the kids. A few can use
those comparison as motivation but most find it rather intimidating. In
the case of Bouwmeester, the comparisons already abound. How this will
affect him still has to be determined, but the haunting memories of
Alexandre Daigle are still planted firmly in my mind. No telling what he
could have done if people would have just stepped back for a minute and
thought to themselves “this kid is going to be a great player but he’s only
18 and I need to lay off of him for a while”. Maybe Daigle would have been
an all-star right now instead of a minor-league call-up. Besides,
Bouwmeester isn’t going to be the next Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, Sandis
Ozolinsh or Bobby Orr. Jay Bouwmeester is going to develop into Jay
Bouwmeester, plain and simple. Hopefully that’s enough for the hungry
Canadian eye, always looking for the next superstar to save them from this
hockey hardship everyone is crying about.

The entry draft in 2002 should be an interesting one. Normally, I’d write
about the interview that I had with Bouwmeester but, due to his rather shy
and humble nature, there really isn’t one. I think he said more words
introducing himself to me then he did during the interview. So instead I’ve
decided to talk about him through my eyes. The Jay Bouwmeester I see. And
this fan really likes what he sees.