Rookie blue-liner proving to be a big surprise
Jalen Chatfield had plenty to chat about Monday.
There was his strong showing in Calgary and Edmonton last week — two goals and three assists by the undrafted defenceman in the National Hockey League pre-season outings — and a belief within the Vancouver Canucks organization that they may have something special in the late-blooming blue-liner.
Chatfield is also a huge National Football League fan. And because the 21-year-old native of Ypsilanti, Mich. is the product of biracial parents — his father is white, his mother is black — his take on anthem protests by NFL players was another talking point following a practice at Rogers Arena.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that NFL owners should respond in the following manner to players who kneel, sit or ignore the anthem: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired.”
It created a firestorm of response from the NFL, its players and supporters of the right to protest, and it obviously resonated with Chatfield.
“I’ve been seeing that (protests) because I watch a lot of football,” said Chatfield. “It’s just their (players’) opinion and the way they express themselves. And for me, they have the right to protest. Personally, I’m neutral in the situation and they can do whatever they want.
“I’ve been living in Canada the last few years and it’s pretty good living here. I see a lot of stuff going on in this world and, at the end of the day, we’ve got to be united as one.”
Pretty good stuff from a guy who has had his own challenges to carve out a hockey career.
Passed over in the OHL and NHL drafts only heightened Chatfield’s resolve to silence his critics and make some noise with a game that features strong skating, a two-way awareness and offensive potential.
With the Canucks’ back end looking virtually set with the pairings of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher and Michael Del Zotto and Erik Gudbranson, getting another pre-season start Thursday or Saturday before being dispatched to the Utica Comets would only further Chatfield’s learning curve.
“It’s been a fun camp and I’ve been catching up on the pace,” said Chatfield. “I’ve been learning a lot and I’m just trying to play my game and battle hard. I’m trying to show them something every time I’m on the ice and I’m just going to keep doing that.”
A cheeky backhand goal to the far side off a pinch against the Flames is what excites the Canucks. Production from the back end has been on the wane and there may be potential in Chatfield. He never lit it up in Windsor — eight goals last season with the Memorial Cup-champion Spitfires — but his game is only starting to come around after he was overlooked by so many teams.
“It’s just part of life,” said the six-foot, 188-pound Chatfield. “Some get the easier path and some take the longer road and I’ve always been taking the longer one.
“But it has made me who I am today. I think I can play a two-way game and just as hard defensively as I play offensively. I went through a lot of adversity in my hockey career and I’ve just stuck with my game plan.”
Part of the plan was to enjoy sports and not get jaded early by the pressure to become somebody special. His dad played basketball and his sister played soccer, but just playing outside was all Chatfield ever wanted to do. It included biking, rollerblading, skateboarding and baseball.
“That really helped my athleticism,” he said. “And I watched a lot of hockey. I watch how a guy might play a 1-on-1 and I don’t really focus on any player. I just focus on being a pro. Here, I watch Tanev a lot and try to do some things he does in practice.”
Canucks general manager Jim Benning believed Chatfield was worth signing to a three-year, entry-level deal in March because of his natural ability.
“I thought he was excellent in both (Alberta) games,” said Benning. “He’s very mobile and he’s competitive in the puck battles. But it’s his ability to skate the puck up ice and jump up and get his shot through. Of the guys we had in those games, he was a bit of a surprise.
“Sometimes players develop later and he has the skating and competitiveness to make himself into a player. And he doesn’t give up. What stood out for us is he just loves playing the game and he’s serious, but it always looks like he’s having fun with it and that contagious.”
OVERTIME — Brock Boeser skated with Henrik and Daniel Sedin on Monday and with four goals in his three pre-season outings, there’s a chance the right-winger could get a look with the twins on Thursday against Calgary at Rogers Arena. “It was my first time practising with them and honestly it’s an honour to play on their wing and make the most of it,” said Boeser. “This whole camp is to make the most of it and this is a big one to contribute and gain some chemistry with them.” Bo Horvat (shoulder) is expected to skate Wednesday after being injured by a Drew Doughty hit Thursday. Cole Cassels (upper body injury) and Ryan White (concussion) remain sidelined while winger Reid Boucher was placed on waivers Monday.