There’s a saying in hockey, “you have to build from the net out.”
So, after you have your goaltender in place, you need to build your defense. And the more high-end talent you have on the blue line, the easier your goalie’s job is going to be.
But in today’s NHL, it’s not enough to just be a solid defensive defenseman; you also need to be able to move the puck and create offense.
Many coaches have taken to designing systems that call for the defense to join the rush and add an extra layer to the team’s offensive attack.
And for the Islanders, rookie defenseman Devon Toews is exactly the type of blue-liner the team can build around.
Drafted in the fourth-round (108th overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Toews made his NHL debut for the Islanders on December 23, 2018, against the Dallas Stars in Texas; and the rookie didn’t disappoint.
In 18 minutes and five seconds of ice time, Toews recorded a plus-one rating, three shots on goal and a blocked shot, while generally impressing those in attendance.
“I was very impressed with how he played today,” goalie Robin Lehner said to Newsday’s, Andrew Gross. “He didn’t look nervous or anything. He played his game. He was fast. He was making his plays.”
“He played with a lot of poise,” added coach Barry Trotz, when he spoke to Gross. “His skating allows for some separation. He makes good plays with the puck and he closes on people because of the skating. He was not intimidated when he was out there against top guys. That shows me he has a lot of confidence in his ability.”
Going into the Isles’ game versus the Lightning at Barclays Center on January 13, 2019, Toews had played in nine games, recording three points (G-2, A-1) and a plus-six rating, while averaging 17:40 of ice time.
And in the Isles’ 5-1 win over Tampa Bay, Toews tallied a goal, a plus-one rating, one takeaway and one blocked shot in 17:36 of ice time. (All of which was at even-strength).
On Toews’ goal, he was set-up at the point, fired his shot through traffic and past a screened Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Isles’ third marker of the first period. In doing so, Toews showcased his knack for being in the right place at the right time and being decisive enough with the puck to get off the perfect shot.
“The puck just came up the wall and I had a little step on the guy coming to it,” explained Toews. “I just put it towards the net. We focus on getting pucks towards the net and I think it was a little bit screened and a little fortunate type of offense.”
That goal, which tied him for the team-lead amongst defensemen, essentially salted away the game before the Lightning ever had a chance to get going.
“I think it’s huge for our team to play against one of the top teams in the league right now,” continued Toews. “It’s good to contribute and to be able to get two points.”
“It’s just like anything else,” said Coach Barry Trotz, “you want to get excited about young players or players who can bring a different element. And we did that with (Adam) Pelech and (Ryan) Pulock. We gave them real hard minutes early and found where that comfort level was. And I think we’ve learned from that experience. So it’s fun to bring up (Toews) slowly and see his game maturing.”
And as Toews’ game matures, he’s going to see his ice time increase, which will inevitably lead to more standout plays from the young defenseman.
For the Islanders, they know patience is a must, but they’re are understandably excited all the same.