Young 'N' the restless

STEVE MacFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Adrian Aucoin isn't sure exactly what category he fits in. The veteran NHL blueliner was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent this summer, presumably to serve as a mentor to some of the youngsters.

Things aren't working out exactly as planned.

"Some of our defencemen here in the first couple of games have been just outstanding," said Aucoin yesterday while waiting for his team's plane to jet to Calgary for tonight's pre-season match at the Saddledome (7 p.m., FAN 960).

"The young forwards, too.

"I remember when I first came into the league, it seemed like the older guys were always head and shoulders above the young guys. Now, those young guys are right with all the old guys and they're doing a great job. It's been pretty impressive. Hopefully, I can help them out as much as I can but, to be honest, a lot of them don't seem like they need too much help."

Former Medicine Hat Tiger Cam Barker, the Blackhawks' top pick in 2004, and former Lethbridge Hurricane Brent Seabrook, their first-rounder in 2003, have really stood out, says Aucoin.

"Obviously our scouting has been really strong here because, like I said, some of these young guys who've never really played an NHL game have been really good," he said.

Aucoin can certainly lead by example on the ice.

Before the lockout, the Ottawa product enjoyed the best of his 10 NHL seasons in 2003-04. He had a career-high 44 points and a plus-29 rating -- good for seventh best in the league -- to earn his first all-star game appearance.

The 32-year-old was awarded a $4-million-plus contract through arbitration with the New York Islanders before the lost season and waited on pins and needles to see how the work stoppage would pan out.

"I was in the same boat as everyone else. Just waiting and hoping that it was going to get done sooner than later," said Aucoin.

"It was really tough, not having the routine like we're so used to. Basically living a different life than we're used to."

Things worked out for him in the end. Unaffected by the 24% rollback, Aucoin was given a $4-million contract by the Blackhawks in August. It was a raise that wound up being just a fraction less than what he was to receive with the Islanders through arbitration before the lockout began.

"I think there's a handful of guys that ended up being lucky in that way," said Aucoin. "Some guys who were free agents actually had to take a little bit of a hit but it just all depends on who's available and at what time. There was only a handful of defencemen in my situation so it made things a little easier for me, I guess."

Money aside, Aucoin believes the Blackhawks are a team on the rise. New GM Dale Tallon and head coach Trent Yawney brought in a total of nine free agents since the summer of 2004, including gritty wingers Martin Lapointe and Matthew Barnaby.

They also lured goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin away from the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

"All the guys they brought in ... every one has that good character on and off the ice, which is huge," said Aucoin.

As a Canadian, Aucoin is eager to play north of the border tonight against former Islanders teammates Jason Wiemer and Roman Hamrlik in front of a hockey-starved crowd.

"Two great players and two great teammates," Aucoin said. "Wiemer's one of those guys who brings it every night and wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's probably one of the best teammates I've ever had. Roman, he's deadly and he plays hard. He's smart, he's a veteran, he's been around, he knows what to do and when to do it.

"I think it'll be exciting playing where hockey's really cherished," he added. "The first couple of games were a lot of fun here but it'll be nice. Especially with the way things ended in Calgary, I think the fans are going to be pretty hungry."


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