Huselius a Hitch with coach

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

You wouldn't think much would change going from Mike Keenan's doghouse to the home of head coach Ken Hitchcock.

It's been a refreshing change for winger Kristian Huselius, though.

After signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets this summer for four years and almost US$20 million, Huselius joined Hitchcock and a team that seemed to be structured much the way the Calgary Flames are with a bench boss that preaches defence first.

"He demands a lot. Every coach does that, and that's good. He just wants you to play hard and compete," said Huselius, who had to skip last night's game against his former Flames after a blocked shot the night before left him too sore to suit up.

"But he lets you play. If you work hard and compete, he lets you play, and that's something you really want to have."

That's something that the 29-year-old Swede didn't have in Calgary, where he was forced to the sidelines at times because of the way he played without the puck.

He doesn't have much to offer in the corners -- rarely throws an intentional bodycheck -- and will never be mistaken for a defensive forward.

Hitchcock knows all that and doesn't care.

"He fits in great," said Hitchcock. "I look at those players differently, having had the fortunate time with (Brett) Hull and guys like that.

"I don't look at what they do without the puck. I look at what they do with the puck. If they're strong with the puck, then they're very effective players.

"When he's been really effective is when he's been hard to knock off the puck. He's been very good in doing that."

With five goals and 10 points in 14 games so far this season, Huselius has done what Hitchcock expected. Where he'd like to see more consistency is on the powerplay -- which is where a guy like him typically stands out.

"He tries things that he sees that maybe we don't see," Hitchcock said of some low-percentage plays the winger has tried.

"Things for me that are really ... I don't want to call them risky, but they're 50-50s. We'd like to maintain possession a little bit more.

"But five-on-five and four-on-four, he's been terrific for us."

Huselius has three goals on the powerplay and is shooting more often than he did in Calgary, but his minus-4 rating stands out as one of the worst on the team.

"The big thing is those types of players are the same," said Hitchcock. "As long as they compete on the puck and with the puck when they've got it, then you can live with everything else."

Keenan couldn't. General manager Darryl Sutter couldn't. And so Huselius was as good as gone well before July 1 when the free agency period started and he received calls from the Blue Jackets.

None came from Calgary, though.

"No, we pretty much knew what direction I wanted," said Huselius. "And what they wanted."

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NOTABLES

G Curtis McElhinney appeared in five games last year, posting a 2.00 GAA and a .902 save percentage. Last night was his second NHL start. He lost the first 3-0 in St. Louis last November ... LW Todd Bertuzzi's helper in the second period leaves him seven points shy of 600 for his career ... Blue Jackets G Pascal Leclaire (thumb) is close to returning, but there could be a goaltending controversy brewing in Ohio with Steve Mason winning his first three NHL games this week. Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock said he would address the situation Monday. They might try to move Leclaire or backup Fredrik Norrena if they feel the 20-year-old Mason is worth keeping around.


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