Friday, July 24, 2015

Winterhawks Add Defenseman Jack Dougherty

The Nashville Predators signed 1996 born Defenseman and 2014 2nd round pick (51st overall) to an Entry Level Contract today, meaning that per NCAA rules, he was no longer eligible to return to his team: the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA. As part of the statement they released today, Nashville also announced that Dougherty is expected to play the 2015/16 season for the WHL team that owned his rights which happens to be Portland, who added him to their protected list a couple seasons ago.

Dougherty is from St. Paul, Minnesota and is a product of the St. Thomas Academy, where he helped win back back to back Class A Minnesota State titles from 2011-13. Then in 2013/14 he played for the USNTDP U-18 Team and notched 6 goals and 16 assists for 22 points in 55 games. He also helped the U.S. win gold at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He then played a lot of minutes as a Freshman for the University of Wisconsin, which had one of it's worst seasons in it's entire history. Dougherty was an awful minus 25 and notched only 9 points in 33 games. 

It did not appear that Wisconsin was going to be much better this season and this was probably one of the reasons that Nashville signed him and had him come over to the WHL and play for a team that's at least made the Western Conference final for 5 straight seasons. Not only is consistently losing bad for a player's development; only getting to see them play 33 games a season, really does not allow for you to properly assess his skill level. Also, NCAA rules do not allow prospects to attend rookie camp so now he will be able to get all kinds of tutelage from the Predators coaching and be informed about what he needs to improve on this coming season.

Dougherty played for the U.S. internationally and like Dominic Turgeon was invited to World Juniors Evaluation Camp, but also did not make the team. Dougherty was invited back this season and if he has a solid camp at Lake Placid, he should make a U.S. team that goes in as one of the favorites to medal. Oddly enough at Lake Placid Camp, all four Winterhawks hopefuls will be playing for the Blue Team. If fellow D-man Caleb Jones and Dougherty establish some chemistry, we may be looking at a top 4 pairing for the 2015/16 Hawks.

Now getting to what Dougherty brings to the Winterhawks: taken straight from Future Considerations: "Dougherty is an intelligent defenseman who tries to blend strong positioning while trying to inflict a physical dimension on his opponent. He isn't the fleetest of foot, but does get where he needs to go. He also makes a strong first pass and has solid offensive instincts."

At 6'2" and 190 lbs it's easy to see why Dougherty is a strong physical D-man. The fact that he's apparently great at positioning himself in his own zone, should mean that he will transition well to the WHL style and ice surface. From the little I've seen of him, I don't think he's that slow and I really doubt the stacked U.S. World Junior team would even think about making room for him if he was that slow, especially when playing on the larger International ice surface. The "strong first pass" aspect is essential to Coach Jamie Kompon's system as they will need a great outlet pass to establish possession in the opponent's zone. Portland's Blake Heinrich is a very solid outlet passer and if Dougherty can bring this from the right side of the defense, Portland could set up a lot of odd man chances this coming season.

But the biggest thing that Dougherty has the potential of  bringing is a great right handed shot. While Mathew Dumba briefly brought a howitzer of a right handed point shot, Portland has not entered a season with a dynamic right handed shot form the blue line since Troy Rutkowski played his over-age season in 2012/13.  Since then D-men like Derrick Pouliot (in 2013/14) and Layne Viveiros (in 14/15) have been forced to play right D on Portland's top pairings. While both did an admirable job (Pouliot was named CHL D-man of the year for Christ's sake), this was not their natural position and at times it was exposed. Not only does Dougherty bring a solid shot form the point, he's a natural right D, who reportedly is great at positioning,

In the clip below, Dougherty moves over from the right side to the left, takes a pass on his backhand, moves to an opening towards the slot and seamlessly lifts a wrist shot over the Goalie's blocker side. This shows a lot of comfort with moving the puck and it looks like he would be a natural fit on the power play.

With the addition of Dougherty it appears that Portland's defense is going to enter the 15/16 campaign in much better shape then it did last season and Dougherty could help replenish some of the multitude of goals that Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo and Miles Koules took with them when they left. 

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