D-fining season

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Dustin Kohn's emergence at a top-flight WHL defenceman has come as no surprise.

The Edmontonian played sparingly as a rookie in 2003-04, picking up three goals and nine points in 52 contests.

This year, he leads the Calgary Hitmen with 34 assists and has also lit the lamp eight times. That's nearly a five-fold increase in offensive production.

And it made the 18-year-old an easy choice as the club's defenceman of the year at last night's awards banquet.

Kohn said his numbers are a direct reflection of the added ice time he's received this season.

"The biggest thing is just having increased opportunities this year," Kohn said. "Last year, as a 16-year-old, we had six established defencemen. They were all good players for us so I didn't get much ice time."

Having a year under his belt has given the smooth-skating blueliner the poise to lug the puck up ice more often.

"I'm a lot more confident," Kohn said. "After getting to play with some of those guys last year as well as this year, it's helped a lot."

He's played an integral part in the offensive zone and on the powerplay but has arguably made the greatest strides inside his own blueline.

"I think I've improved defensively," he said. "When I came in last year, I wasn't too good at playing in our own end.

"Back in midget, I was more run and gun. I rushed the puck every time I got it.

"This is definitely not a league where you can do that.

"You have to be able to play at both ends."

Kohn has been seeing even more ice lately with the banged up Hitmen blueline short a few bodies.

Regulars Darryl Yacboski and Dylan Yeo missed the last few games, forcing GM/head coach Kelly Kisio to call up youngsters Justin Falk and Alex Plante to play alongside rookie Karl Alzner.

Kohn said it's a chance for the rookies to show what they're made of.

"It's tiring but it's a good opportunity for a lot of guys to step up," Kohn said. "Karl Alzner and the other young guys back there have been doing a great job.

"It's weird for me to be saying that because I'm only 18.

"But I sat down and thought about it and Plante is only 15 and he's doing well for how young he is.

"With all the injuries we have right now, maybe it's a chance to look at our future. We have a pretty bright future back there."

HAND OUT THE HARDWARE: Other award winners included Ryan Getzlaf (regular-season MVP), Konstantin Pushkarev (rookie of the year, 3-Stars award), Steve Covington and Brett O'Malley (Coach's Choice), Riley Merkley (most sportsmanlike), Karl Alzner (scholastic award), Brett O'Malley (humanitarian).


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