Rising to his defence

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

Any other June and Shawn Lalonde could probably expect to hear his name called in the first round of the draft.

But in this, the Year Of The Defenceman, he might very well have to wait until at least Round 2.

Lalonde, from Orleans, is the highest-ranked skater from the Ottawa area at No. 32 on Central Scouting's rankings of North Americans.

Incredibly, that also makes him the 16th-rated blueliner, behind the likes of Zach Bogosian, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Michael Del Zotto and the 67's Tyler Cuma -- some of whom Lalonde played with on the U18 team.

Last year, only 11 defencemen went in the first round.

"It's motivation," Lalonde, a Belleville Bull, said at the Memorial Cup. "I see a few guys there, and they're so highly ranked, I just think wow, I can play with these guys ... You learn tips from these guys, and I think if I just work even harder, maybe one day I can be like them."

Lalonde is a good student. Before September 2006, his schooling was done in French. In Belleville, he had to quickly adapt. Now, he is smooth and comfortable when he speaks English, which is sure to be tested by Ottawa reporters this weekend no matter when he gets drafted.

"That's fine," Lalonde said with a smile. "I like media."

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 lbs., Lalonde had nine goals and 22 assists in 66 games for Belleville last season, then another nine points in 21 playoff games.

KILLS PENALTIES

Bulls coach George Burnett says Lalonde has flown "under the radar a little bit" because his totals were lower than more highly touted prospects, and that's because he was not the team's primary power-play point man.

"If you put him on some of those other teams, I think his numbers would probably be higher," said Burnett.

"But he kills penalties for our team now, which he didn't do in year one, he plays on the power play, and he's had a real sound year."

Lalonde's strength is his skating -- and who doesn't want or need a defenceman with a good strong stride?

"He's a young man that has National Hockey League skating ability," said Burnett. "There's maybe nobody in the league that skates as well as he does, or very few, at least."

Lalonde, who plays summer hockey with former Gatineau Olympiques (and future Philadelphia Flyers) star Claude Giroux, isn't sure how he learned to move so fast.

"I've just been on the outdoor rinks. I just love playing hockey, and I think that's where I developed my skating ability."

Lalonde started out as a defenceman but switched to forward, coming within one point of winning a scoring title in bantam. Burnett says Lalonde has made significant improvement on his defensive responsibilities.

"In minor midget year, my (Cumberland Barons) coach told me to go try defence, that it would be better for my draft and better for the team," said Lalonde. "I did it for the team, but obviously it was good in the end for me.

"Forward is easier. Defence, you've got to work hard in your zone. You've got to stop the 3-on-2s, the odd-man rushes. I just think you have to be stronger for those speedy little forwards."

Lalonde, who idolized Scott Niedermayer as a kid, acknowledges what a thrill it would be to hear his name called by the Senators. At the same time, he admits Ottawa wouldn't be his first choice.

"That would be awesome, playing for your hometown city, but I'm a Habs fan. I'd like to go to Montreal," said Lalonde, smiling. "But whoever picks me, I'll have no regrets and I'll be going there right away. I'll work my hardest to get to the next level. It's just going to be another great motivation."


Videos

Photos