Coburn makes easy transition to AHL

By Holly Gunning

Braydon Coburn, Atlanta’s first round pick in 2003, joined affiliate Chicago Wolves on an amateur tryout contract after his junior season with the WHL Portland Winter Hawks was complete. The 6’5, 220 lb. defenseman posted career high 44 points in 60 games with Portland, and moved naturally into a spot on the Wolves blueline in mid-April.

Coburn is now part of a stifling defensive corps made up of Jay Bouwmeester, Travis Roche, Joe Corvo, Brian Sipotz and Tim Wedderburn. The unit has given up just 19 goals in 12 playoff games this season, the fewest of any active team. The Wolves have not allowed more than three goals in a game this postseason.

Coburn told Hockey’s Future he has been pleased with the opportunity he’s gotten as a rookie.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve played 5-on-5 a lot, I haven’t played a lot of special teams or anything like that, which is kind of expected because they’ve got their guys they’ve got to go with,” he said. “We’ve been pretty successful with the special teams so far in the playoffs. I’ve been trying to get the most out of the ice time and show the coaches that I can play when I get out there.”

Wolves Head Coach John Anderson has indeed been giving the 20-year-old a good amount of ice time, usually alongside veteran Joe Corvo, 27, who spent last season with the Los Angeles Kings.

“Joe is a great player and he’s so intense out there,” Coburn said of his partner. “He’s been really helping me out a lot and we have pretty good chemistry out there too. Joe just supports me a lot, has a lot of trust in me and that’s great for a defense partner. I think that’s what makes our combination really good.”

Coburn joined the team for three regular season games and has played in every playoff game, posting one assist and is +2. The adjustment from junior was without problems for the smooth-skating blueliner.

“Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable out there right now,” he said. “I’m playing with some great players and that’s really helped me adjust a little bit. I’m just trying to make sure I play my game and not do too much.”

With Chicago in the conference finals, this is as far as Coburn has advanced in playoffs since he was 15, and he joked that it felt great to still be playing while his buddies were all home working summer jobs. While many of the Wolves players are sporting bleach blonde playoff Mohawks, Coburn sports the more traditional playoff beard.

“Actually, it’s pretty funny,” he explained. “We did Mohawks in juniors, so I had a Mohawk until Game 7, went we lost out. I thought ‘man, I better cut this Mohawk off, they probably won’t like it very much in Chicago’ (laughs). I buzzed my head and then I get here and all of a sudden all the guys here got Mohawks!”

Beyond keeping a lower profile for lack of Mohawk, Coburn feels there is less pressure on him right now than in Portland, as he isn’t being leaned on as much to carry the load.

“Here, I’m just trying to make sure I stay calm out there and there’s so many great players out there that [there’s not that] pressure,” he said. “Everyone chips in and contributes and does their own job.”

And beyond less pressure, in some ways, playing in the AHL is easier than junior from a skill perspective.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he agreed. “Guys find the holes. Making passes is a lot easier and guys are in the right spots, and that’s really helped my adjustment a lot.”

Certainly playing in front of fellow Thrashers prospect Kari Lehtonen makes it easier on a rookie defenseman as well. The 21-year-old Finn is 8-2 in the playoff run, with a 1.59 goals against average and a .942 save percentage.

“Kari’s a great goalie,” Coburn raved. “He’s very confident back there and he’s very smart with the puck. In juniors, a lot of the goalies just set the puck up behind, but Kari seems to be really smart. He makes some great plays with the puck and obviously his natural ability to stop the puck is unbelievable.”

Coburn has kept his nose very clean in the AHL, though he did spend a good deal of time in the box on during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, when referee Wes McCauley gave every skater on the ice an unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I think he just wanted to send a message to the guys,” Coburn reasoned.

Having already played over 80 games this season, the youngster is showing no signs of tiring down the stretch. It was another busy year for the Calgary native, winning gold in the World Junior Championships for Team Canada, spending a great deal of time in the community, and he also took a college course at Portland State University in the fall semester. He would have liked to have taken more, but could only fit in finance because of his demanding schedule.

Ready to take on more, if Coburn’s transition from the AHL to the NHL is as smooth as the one he just made, the Atlanta Thrashers can rest much easier.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.