Defenceman a pleasant surprise

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

Surprise. It's the word most often associated with the play of defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who is enjoying a productive rookie season with the Manitoba Moose.

Bieksa, a fifth round choice (151st overall) of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2001 NHL entry draft, wasn't even a lock to make the team going into training camp but he's proven to be a vital cog.

With nine goals and 31 points in 67 games this season, Bieksa leads all Moose defenceman in scoring and is on the verge of tying a franchise record for most points (32) by a rookie defenceman, set by Kirill Koltsov last season.

"Maybe not really too surprised, you always want to be confident in what you can do," said Bieksa, who spent four seasons at Bowling Green University before a four-game stint in Winnipeg last April. "I haven't really done anything too special. I'm happy with what I've been able to do offensively, but I still think I can do better."

Bieksa, who has also impressed with his pugilistic ability, recorded two assists in two games at the end of last season and said that gave his confidence a big boost.

"Absolutely, it helped me out this year but I can still improve a lot more," said Bieksa, who is second on the Moose and leads all rookies with an impressive plus-21 plus/minus rating. "I wasn't guaranteed anything when I came here (for camp), I don't even know if they had me slotted in or not. I had to come in and work for every opportunity I got.

"I've continued to keep battling for more minutes, it's been an ongoing thing all season."

Canucks assistant general manager Steve Tambellini saw Bieksa several times during his collegiate career and always held him in high regard.

"Am I surprised? The things that he had before, the competitiveness, he still has," Tambellini said during a recent visit to Winnipeg. "The acceleration of development from Bowling Green to here, yes that has surprised me as far as how quickly he's been able to bridge that gap. He shows a lot of poise and maturity."

Moose head coach Randy Carlyle has shown an abundance of trust in Bieksa and uses him extensively.

"The only thing that surprises me about Kevin is his ability to maintain that intensity level," said Carlyle, who doesn't typically shower rookies with compliments. "That's all part of his make up. He's earned the opportunity to play in some key situations for us. That's a feather in his cap for a first-year player."

MOOSE TRACKS: Both Newfoundlanders are expected to miss the two-game set with the Baby Leafs. Moose sniper Jason King continues to deal with the effects of post-concussion syndrome, while Maple Leafs winger Harold Druken was left off the playoff roster because of a shoulder injury. Josh Green continues to deal with a flu virus, leaving open the possibility that Jason Jaffray, who is not on the playoff roster, could suit up against the Baby Leafs under emergency conditions. Jaffray had a goal and an assist under similar circumstances last week against the Houston Aeros.


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