Beeks on the fast track

PATRICK WILLIAMS -- Special to SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- It is a major dose of 'tude that young Kevin Bieksa displayed last season in the AHL on a nightly basis, and even the more genteel, the more polished NHL life does not appear to have sweetened his surly demeanour.

That snarl does not appear to be heading back to Winnipeg any time soon, either.

Bieksa's first shift out on Monday saw him attempt to paste big Columbus left wing Nikolai Zherdev into the sideboards just inside the Vancouver blue line, the first energy burst from a wildly unpredictable Canucks team that tagged the red-hot Blue Jackets for a pair of goals in the opening 3:42 at General Motors Place before going on to smoke the visitors by a 7-4 count.

Bieksa wound down his night with a clean, nasty manhandling of Manny Malhotra behind the Vancouver net. In between, Bieksa picked up his first two-point NHL night, chipping in assists on Vancouver goals number six and seven.

Recalled from Manitoba on Dec. 19th to make his NHL debut Bieksa stepped right onto the Vancouver blue line to add some needed zest, Bieksa has since dressed for 23 of the Canucks' last 24 outings. That NHL debut against Los Angeles saw Bieksa skate 10:45. Since that first game and heading into Monday's game, Bieksa's ice time in any one game has not dipped below 13:03, and he had averaged a healthy 16:28 per outing.

Playing the right side of a very sturdy pairing with incumbent Mattias Ohlund, Bieksa has more than held his own. Along the way, he has picked up a robust 42 penalty minutes in his 23 games. Such a number would hardly raise an eyebrow in the more rambunctious AHL, but in the NHL it qualifies as something of a pile of penalties.

All in all, rather impressive for a 24-year-old who was a fourth-round pick back in 2001 and chose the less direct path to the NHL, the NCAA university route. Bieksa, a native of Grimsby, Ont., opted not to go the OHL route after being selected by Mississauga. Instead, he spent four years at Bowling Green, a solid enough destination but hardly a surefire pathway to the NHL or, for that matter, even the AHL.

But Bieksa, who began last season just hoping to stick around the AHL, instead stepped in last season when the AHL was as strong as it had been in decades, earned a job with a very good Manitoba team and promptly made himself into a top AHL-level defenceman. By the time the 2004-05 season wrapped up, Bieksa was on the AHL All-Rookie team and had put up a robust 192 penalty minutes in playing all 80 regular-season games and another 14 playoff games.

A solid crew surrounded Bieksa, including now-Canucks defenceman Nolan Baumgartner, current Anaheim defender Joe DiPenta and solid Kent Huskins. Throw in Alex Auld and Wade Flaherty in net, plus then-Manitoba head coach Randy Caryle behind the bench, and Bieksa landed in a good situation.

"Not so much them talking me," Bieksa replied when asked about that influence, "but watching them and learning the way they approached the game."

Jumping into the AHL feet-first also helped during a season in which AHL talent was sky-high.

"It helped a lot of guys," Bieksa said. "You're seeing with a lot of guys making the jump this year that it was a good league last year with the talent that was there. It was definitely good for me to get to play at that high of a level in my first year pro."


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