Kell learns defence on the fly

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

You won't see Trevor Kell firing pucks high at the heads of goalies Adam Dennis and Steve Mason in practice this week.

The veteran London Knight forward took a month-long crash course in playing defence. He isn't keen on learning the tricks of the goaltending trade, too.

"I'm a better defenceman than I am a goaltender," the 19-year-old Thunder Bay native said with a grin.

The Chicago Blackhawks prospect knows he'll have plenty of time to brush up on his blue-line play as the London coaching staff has decided to keep him at the back end for the rest of the Knights' playoff run.

Even if injured veteran Frank Rediker returns in the upcoming second round against Owen Sound or Windsor, Kell will be kept busy on his backward skating.

"The way he played the last five games of the season and the first four games of the playoffs, we made our decision based on that," London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "We have the depth at forward that we can afford to keep him back there . . . He's doing a great job for us and gives us some depth at our back end."

Even when reading the stats pages, Kell is starting to think like a defenceman. As a forward, he always measured his worth in goals and assists, but he's pretty proud to have led London blue-liners with a plus-five rating in his team's four-game sweep of Sault Ste. Marie in the first round.

"I remember looking at the stats and getting mad because they missed one of my pluses," he said.

"I didn't get any points, but I've been getting a lot of third assists by starting the play out of our end. Pass the puck up to the forwards and they score. If they ever count three assists (instead of two) on goals, I'd have 10 points right now."

At five-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Kell isn't the biggest guy, but he has experience and the foot speed to get to the puck quickly. That has been the hallmark of his recent success.

"Basically, the most difficult part of playing defence is learning how to be patient and hold on to the puck a little longer," he said. "It's different than crashing and banging -- when you hit someone, you're not trying to overpower them like you do as a forward. As a defenceman, you just want to contain them."

Though the pace of play in the postseason has increased, Kell hasn't been caught flat-footed and rarely has turned the puck over.

"I've seen a lot of defencemen turned into forwards, but I haven't seen too many forwards dropping back on defence," he said.

"It could happen more often. The way the game is played now, it's good to have somebody with some speed who can go back there. Playing two or three years in the league helps. It would be tough to put a 16- or 17-year-old back there."

Rediker, 21, has been impressed with Kell's transition and is hoping he gets good news on his elbow ligament injury today and can rejoin his mates in game action soon.

"If the doctor says I can go Friday, I'll go Friday," Rediker said. "It's tough because it's my left (arm) and that's the hand I use to put pressure on the stick. The doctor has said if I was a baseball pitcher, I would need surgery right away, but because it's hockey, it's different.

"It's just frustrating because it has been injury after injury for me."

Top coach named tomorrow

London head coach Dale Hunter is up against Brampton's Stan Butler, Guelph's Dave Barr, Peterborough's Dick Todd, Belleville's George Burnett and Kitchener's Peter DeBoer for the Matt Leyden Trophy, which will be awarded tomorrow to the league's top bench boss after voting by team representatives is complete.

Hunter has won the award the last two seasons and is trying to become the first OHL coach to make it three in a row. Barr and Butler are the only coaches among the nominees who haven't had their names on the trophy.

KNIGHTWATCH

London's second-round playoff scenarios:

- If the Plymouth Whalers beat the Windsor Spitfires tonight, the Knights will face the sixth-seeded Owen Sound Attack in a Western Conference semifinal.

- If Windsor wins, the Knights will face the Spitfires in the semifinal.


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