Zach Bogosian is emerging as a standout talent in only his second year in the NHL. Despite the fact that he is only 19 years old, Bogosian has quickly become a leader on the Atlanta blueline. With little fanfare, he was designated alternate captain by coach John Anderson and has recently been logging 24-25 minutes a game while playing a regular shift, as well as serving time on the power play and penalty killing units. Not bad at all for a teenager whose favorite video game is NHL 08.
It is tough enough to earn playing time as a forward, but defensemen have it even harder because of the steep learning curve necessary to deal with world-class forwards like Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Columbus forward Rick Nash, just to name a few. Ovechkin and Nash are capable of turning veteran defensemen inside out, so most second-year players can easily be overwhelmed watching players of that caliber cradle the puck on their stick and head down their side of the ice with a full head of steam.
Bogosian was different from the start. During his first NHL rookie training camp, held in Duluth, Georgia, Zach displayed an unusual confidence and self-assuredness that few rookies possess. When the season began, he was in the Thrashers' lineup. “If not for a broken leg, who knows how he would have fared,” said former teammate Ken Klee.
Not one to shy away from the rough going, Bogosian even dropped his gloves to fight NHL heavyweight Donald Brashear.
Bogosian and his team have so far this season come out pretty well in their matchups with teams like the Capitals and Blue Jackets. In a recent game against Washington, Zach showed a glimpse of his shooting ability, blasting a laser-like shot past goaltender Jose Theodore.
A welcome dimension in Bogosian’s play has been his offensive productivity. After 17 games this season, he leads all NHL defensemen with eight goals; his 2008 rookie year total was nine. Based on his current productivity, he is on track to score 30-plus goals this season. “I think my strengths are skating and my (physical) strength. I like to play defense, but I do like to play offense, too,” Bogosian said.
He did not mention his blazing slap shot, which is drawing rave reviews by the opposition. In games against Washington and Edmonton, his shot released and hit the netting behind the goaltenders before they could blink.
Prior to being drafted as a first-round pick by the Thrashers, Bogosian was a highly touted junior starring for the Peterborough Petes in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). While in juniors, he distinguished himself as both an offensive and defensive standout.
Zach ranked second among OHL defenseman with 50 assists in his final season. He was also a leading contender for the prestigious Red Tilson Memorial Trophy as the league’s outstanding player and was selected in the top two to three by OHL coaches as the best defensive defenseman, offensive defenseman, hardest worker, and smartest player.
Prior to being drafted, Bogosian was constantly compared to Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. The comparisons were inevitable, since both were highly-rated juniors with outstanding offensive abilities. So far this year, Doughty has impressed with stellar play, but has not mimicked the goal-scoring prowess of Bogosian.
Doughty has produced four goals and 17 points in 22 games. Still, some have mentioned Doughty as an early season Norris Trophy pick due largely to the Kings' early success. The Atlanta Thrashers have also surprised quite a few experts with their performance so far this season. A large amount of their success has been the improved performance of the defense led by Bogosian, Tobias Engstrom, and Pavel Kubina.
Ironically, Bogosian and Doughty have switched profiles in the NHL. In juniors, Bogosian was more of a playmaker, while Doughty had a reputation as more of a scorer. So far this season, Bogosian has only two assists to go with his league-high eight goals.
Both sophomores are performing above expectation and stack up well versus other NHL all-star defenseman in their second season. Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, whose No. 4 Bogosian has worn since he was a youngster, scored 13 goals in his second year before setting every conceivable defenseman scoring standard known to man. Orr, now president of The Orr Hockey Group, represents Bogosian as his player agent. Bogosian has been a Bobby Orr fan since he was a child, so he is probably not at all surprised by his own success. Soon we won’t be either.