Friday, October 31, 2008

October Player of the Month

With honourable mentions to Jason Spezza and Alex Auld, who brought their A-games to most matches this past month, my consideration for the best Senator in the month of October goes to recently acquired blueliner Filip Kuba. Traded to Ottawa along with fellow defenseman Alexandre Picard and San Jose's first round pick in exchange for young rearguard Andrej Meszaros, Kuba was regarded as a warm body and not much more. He was accepted as a competent blueliner, who could play a handful of minutes and not embarrass himself, but there the expectations ended. However, Kuba has established himself as Ottawa's most consistent and versatile defenseman ten games into the young season.

Kuba has averaged just a second short of 25:00 per night, in the range of players like Nik Lidstrom and Chris Pronger (and Meszaros). He leads Ottawa by a significant margin, playing almost 3 minutes more per night than the next closest Senator, Chris Phillips. His 6:13 powerplay time per game is good for fourth in the NHL. Kuba eats up minutes like a #1 defenseman, and doesn't show cracks in his game, poor decisionmaking, lazy shifts or third period lethargy as a result of his heavy workload.

He has suprisingly established himself as an effective powerplay quarterback. Though he does not have the notable tools of the elite defensemen of the game - inspired creativity, a cannon shot or pin-point accurate passing, his displays a knack for making the simple, effective plays which breed results. Rather than looking to unload a laser from the point, he lobs low, heavy shots on net which can be deflected or kicked out by the goalie to create rebounds. Unlike previous Senators defensemen (namely Joe Corvo and Meszaros), he doesn't look to be the star of the power play but rather a tool at the disposal of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. So far, it's been succesful - Kuba recorded 11 points, all assists, in the first seven games of the NHL season to break an NHL record set by Brad Park in 1982. He currently leads the NHL is assists and points for a blueliner, and is within 2 points from 5th in the Art Ross race.

It hasn't been all roses, of course. Kuba has received crticism for his lack of physicality, despite his ample stature - he has recorded just 3 hits through ten games. However, he has shown a commitment to making sacrifices elsewhere - his 22 blocked shots are good for 3rd on the team. Kuba is also at fault for some of the defensive struggles of the Senators so far his season, however he has been far and away the most effective defenseman at clearing the zone, distributing the puck to the forwards, and has been the least exposed by the opposition. Through ten games, he carries a +3 rating, one of only five players presently on the team with a positive rating (defenseman Brian Lee is a +1 but is currently in the AHL).

Still, on a team that is struggling to find consistency at both ends of the rink, Filip Kuba has been one of few reliable shining lights. While he is not flashy or awe-inspiring, he plays a simple effective game, eats up minutes without wearing down, and sets a good example for the younger players on the team. For that, Filip Kuba earns my player of the month honours.

Honour mentions to Jason Spezza, Alex Auld and Shean Donovan, who performed admirably this month and whose efforts should not go unnoticed.