When considering the development of NHL players, we often overlook the influence of environment. Consider Todd Bertuzzi, who developed a penchant for selfish play and an aversion to backchecking under Marc Crawford in Vancouver, nearly falling out of the league because he’s couldn’t divest himself of these habits afterwards. Thankfully, Bertuzzi landed in Detroit, and has fully taken to Mike Babcock’s two-way system.

Babcock’s ability to get through to him shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s an inevitability–everybody breaks in Detroit. Babcock’s system is so transformative that former Red Wings are highly sought. Mikael Samuelsson is one such player whose time in Detroit increased his free agent value. Players that come through Jacques Lemaire’s system (former Canuck Willie Mitchell) or Barry Trotz’s system (Dan Hamhuis) see a similar effect.

It stands to reason, however, that if a player can develop the right habits in the right system, the wrong system can ingrain the wrong habits. One such environment appears to be that of the Florida Panthers, the team from whom the Canucks acquired Victor Oreskovich.

When the Keith Ballard trade came down, Mike Gillis insisted that Victor Oreskovich was more than just a throw-in. Word was the Canucks had high hopes for him, even skating him on a line with Daniel Sedin and Brendan Morrison in the preseason in order to gauge his skill level. The Canucks were clearly looking for a big right-winger to add some size to their bottom six, and Oreskovich seemed to have the inside track (because, you know, he was big, and, you know, he played right wing).

Instead, when training camp ended, Oreskovich was swiftly shuttled to Manitoba, where he’s played 31 games for the Moose this season. Two-year Moose veteran Guillaume Desbiens won the fourth-line muscle role in his stead, and it didn’t quite compute. Oreskovich had more NHL experience, better speed, and more upside. And yet the Canucks went with Desbiens. Why?

In my opinion: habits. Though Oreskovich had been a regular NHLer in Florida, the Canucks didn’t trust the Panthers’ development. I wonder if they simply felt it necessary to start from scratch.

Desbiens, on the other hand, might not have been as sexy, but he was already a product of the Canucks’ system. The coaching staff knew that he would step into the lineup and play a proper two-way game, backchecking and forechecking with equal aplomb. After the previous year’s fourth line had become a defensive liability, the Canucks weren’t taking any chances with a new year’s personnel and Oreskovich, despite all his upside, was still a product of the Florida Panthers’ system–a system known for producing incomplete guys.

Ask the Calgary Flames about the baggage Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester brought with them from Florida. Bouwmeester, for instance, looked to be an elite NHL defender, but has struggled playing for a competitive team, and is only just now coming into his own as a top-pairing guy. Even Keith Ballard has taken longer than expected to adjust his play.

Heck, there are already rumblings that the Panthers have derailed the development of prized prospect Erik Gudbranson, and he hasn’t played a game in a Panthers’ uniform yet.

If the top-tier guys struggled to adapt to new environments, it seems a foregone conclusion that guys like Oreskovich would too. The previous year, he had been the worst defensive player on one of the league’s worst defensive teams, a star adherent of the Florida Panthers’ cult of poor defensive play.

I would argue that the Canucks knew he would require a thorough deprogramming before even being considered for the big club. Effectively, they bought low–extremely low–counting on their minor-league coaching staff to clean him up, break him of these poor defensive habits and, hopefully, produce a diamond in the rough.

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4 comments

  1. Gabrielle
    February 19, 2011

    Maybe it's better for Grabner to be on the island then. Panthers must have a pretty crappy system to give up a guy like Grabs.

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  2. B.O'B.
    February 19, 2011

    A compelling hypothesis Mr. Mooney and, as is often the case with theories of that ilk I can't quite determine if it's right on the money or total horse-feathers. Of one thing I am certain: this is an excellent piece of writing and the PiTB crew continues to blog dahelloutda Canuckosphere. Keep it BULIS!

    P.S. When I saw the header I thought you were going to tell me VO quit hockey for two years because he joined the Hare Krishnas…LOL!

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  3. Qris
    February 19, 2011

    Related — the Caps' struggles when Boudreau tried to bring "defense" and "backchecking" into the system.

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  4. Harrison Mooney
    February 20, 2011

    Good point, Qris. Boudreau's problems are self-made. He wants the Caps to unlearn bad habits he allowed them to develop.

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