The following is the fourth and final in a series following 18-year-old Dustin Kohn, a defenseman for the WHL Calgary Hitmen. Kohn was featured in a series of preview articles leading up to the 2005 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Kohn was selected by GM Mike Milbury and the New York Islanders in the second round of the draft.
The nervous tension and anxious moments on the ice are gone for Calgary Hitmen defenseman Dustin Kohn.
Unfortunately, the draft hangover is hitting the Edmonton, Alberta native full force.
After putting up an impressive 43 points in 71 games for the Hitmen in his draft season, Kohn has registered just one goal and three assists in Calgary’s first 14 games.
“My numbers aren’t showing it as much this year as last year,” admitted Kohn. “(It’s) that draft jinx.”
Jinx or not, Kohn has struggled to duplicate his offensive statistics which, in part, earned him a selection in the second round from the New York Islanders. Instead of worrying about his offense, though, Kohn has made an effort to improve in areas he was criticized for in his draft year: his questionable defensive efforts and lack of physical play.
“It means battling defensively and really working on contributing defensively, that’s what I’ve got to do,” said Kohn. “It doesn’t matter to me if I get 20 points or 40 points as long as the team’s winning and as long as the team is doing well.”
Wearing a letter indicating he’s now an associate captain for the Hitmen has also been an important step for Kohn, not only improving his leadership but helping in his maturity as well.
“I want to come back and be a leader on this team and fill the role of a leader,” he said.
Kohn’s new attitudes have quite possibly emerged from his time spent with the New York Islanders organization in the summer. Kohn started the camp amongst rookies, but was later added to his first pro camp. He certainly received an eye opener on Long Island.
“When I first got there I was a little bit overwhelmed with everything and intimidated by the older guys,” admitted Kohn. “I hadn’t even expected to stay in the main camp and even play in some exhibition games.”
Playing two games on the road against the always tough Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, Kohn was introduced to hockey at the professional level in a hurry. Skating against perennial NHL all-stars such as Peter Forsberg and Martin Brodeur, Kohn quickly learned from his teammates how to handle himself.
“I played against guys that I grew up watching, like (Alexander) Mogilny,” a wide-eyed Kohn said smiling. “I played against Mogilny and there was one shift where he was coming down on me with the puck, and he went inside, outside, and back inside, and I was still going inside from the first time and luckily I hit him and he fell. I came off to the bench and everyone was saying good job. That guy is one of the best, most agile shifty guys out there so good job, and I’m thinking ‘oh yeah.’”
Camp was full of those little experiences, indicated Kohn. Looking over the main camp roster, the 6’1, 195lb defenseman couldn’t help but feel like he didn’t belong.
“I was looking at the roster and I looked at Garth Snow who was born in 1969 so he’s just a little bit older than me,” chuckled Kohn, who was born in 1987.
Playing with Snow and the Islanders was a learning experience for the 18-year-old. It was at camp where Kohn learned his new defense-first attitude. Thanks to a pair of teammates, Kohn feels he’s rounded out his game much more this year.
“I got to play with Brent Sopel and Brad Lukowich and those guys were just so helpful to me,” said Kohn. “They taught me a lot of things defensively and although my numbers aren’t showing it as much this year as last year, I’m playing better defensively this year and have been using those things that they’ve taught me.”
After playing in two exhibition games in the preseason, Kohn wasn’t disappointed to return to junior, though.
“Obviously you want to go into a tryout with the mindset that you’re going to make the team but it’s unrealistic to say that I was going to play there this year. I just wanted to go there and make a good first impression then get back to Calgary and get the year rolling.”
With his Calgary Hitmen off to a Central Division leading 12-4-0 record, Kohn has been all smiles. While his offensive numbers are off his pace from last season, it’s certain he likes the production in the ‘win’ column enough to not be concerned.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.