Much has been written about Luke Gazdic, both by those who love his tough-guy image and by those who bemoan the employment of players such as Gazdic in today’s NHL. So, to be clear…
Still, at 24, and in just his second season in the NHL, Gazdic is hardly an old dog with old tricks. He should not yet have reached his ceiling as a young NHL’er learning the ways of the force. He is very much in his formative years, ripe for Dallas Eakins to do his Yoda bit on.
Also, recognize that Gazdic is a bright individual. His is not the Slapshot-esque lout that littered the WHA in the 70’s. Based on the opinions of others and (albeit a small sample) the time that I’ve spent with the guy, he is thoughtful, intelligent and possesses the capacity to learn.
Third, Gazdic moves his feet well. There are a lot of “tough guys” in the NHL seriously challenged to keep up with the pace set by “real’ NHL players. Gazdic is not one of them. Not particularly quick, he can nevertheless get up a head of steam, and keep pace with mere mortals.
Fourth, as a member of the Texas Stars, Gazdic wore an “A” on his jersey. He has leadership qualities. By all accounts, teammates in the Oilers dressing room hold him in high regard as a quality teammate on a club in need of such things.
Funny, with most prospects, if we hear that they are young, impressionable, up-standing young men who skate reasonably well, then we assume they have a decent NHL career in front of them…
OK, his fists. I am a skill guy. But I have witnessed and experienced the value of a guy like Gazdic as a deterrent. Would Sam Gagner still be an Oiler had Gazdic been in the lineup before Sam’s ugly injury? Possibly. But more importantly, having a physical presence backing you up contributes a real confidence on the bench.
When someone says a physical guylike Gazdic “creates room”, they are not merely referring to “physical space”. It gives creative souls such as Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov the mental room to create, one of the ingredients vital to the success of these young guns.
Does Gazdic need to be able to play? Well sure, and if he masters no other skill in the off-season than to park his ass on the hashes, and bank that puck out over the blue-line, again and again and again, great.
Translation: If he can clear his own zone, and create “space” for the gifted players, Gazdic will have earned a solid reputation and a permanent spot on this squad.
If not, then he quite simply is not one of the droids we’re looking for.