GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes coach Dave Tippett wants to be clear about Klas Dahlbeck’s two-game absence from the lineup.
“His missing a couple games had nothing to do with how he’s playing,” Tippett said. “It’s just the process that young defensemen go through. It’s good for them to take a step back and watch a couple games. He’ll go back in (Thursday) night and he’ll be a good player.”
There is a lot to like about Dahlbeck’s game in his first full NHL season. He’s an excellent skater and his defensive positioning is sound, allowing him to take time and space away from players by closing gaps quickly or using his stick to get in passing and shooting lanes.
He is also what assistant Jim Playfair calls an “eliminator” in board battles.
“He has a defined mindset to finish checks in the corner and he has really brought a physical presence to our team,” Playfair said recently.”
The area where Dahlbeck must improve is with the puck, and he knows it.
“I was rushing decisions; rushing the play a little bit,” he said. “It’s good to catch a break and see the game from a different perspective; see what options are out there.”
Playfair has talked to Dahlbeck about creating more options for himself by taking the puck up ice between the faceoff dots, rather than skating it up along the boards where he may only have one option. The staff is also trying to make Dahlbeck more patient in his search for the right pass instead of always choosing the first option, which isn’t always the best and can sometimes result in turnovers or a lack of offensive flow through the neutral zone.
“It’s good for him to watch from up there and recognize when players have space or recognize on regroups how much time you have rather than hurrying plays,” Tippett said. “Sitting upstairs and watching the game, you see how much space you have. From up there it looks like you’ve got time; lots of time. When you stand down by the ice it looks like everything goes by pretty fast.”
The additions of Kevin Connauton and Jarred Tinordi to the blue line have added a wrinkle for Dahlbeck (two goals, five points). None of the trio can be sent to the minors without exposing them to waivers, and the Coyotes have no intention of doing that right now, so Tippett must manage ice time for all three, along with his five other defensemen.
Connauton did some good things in his first two games and Tippett said Tinordi is close to getting a look in the lineup, so something will have to give.
“It doesn’t affect me,” said Dahlbeck, who has a Corsi For percentage of just 44.41 per War On Ice. “The only thing I can focus on is my play and the things I do to prepare myself; be ready when my name is called to be in the lineup.
“Of course you want to play every game. That’s why we’re here but sometimes they see might see what’s in my best interest, too, to develop my game. It’s not that they don’t like me. We’ve got a few extra players and it might be good for me to catch a break every now and then.”
When Dahlbeck returns to the lineup against San Jose, he’ll be paired with veteran Zbynek Michalek, who has PhDs in consistency and toughness. Michalek took a puck to the face on Monday against Buffalo that required interior stitches to close a gash that runs from the bottom of his nose to his upper lips.
Michalek hopes Dahlbeck never has to learn that lesson, but he has been asked to dispense other advice.
“The thing about becoming an NHL defenseman is being consistent and that’s the hardest thing for a young guy to learn,” Michalek said. “It’s a long season with travel. Some nights you’re banged up or maybe sick and don’t feel your best but you’re still relied upon to play at your best. Those are the nights where you maybe keep it simple, do your job and don’t do anything extra — but even that’s easier said than done and he’s trying to learn it on the run.”
The most important thing Michalek hopes to give Dahlbeck is confidence.
“He’s a great player. He’s an NHL player,” Michalek said. “He’s got all the attributes, he can play against anybody in the league and he has already proved it. He just needs to believe it.”
Tippett isn’t expecting an overnight transformation. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone and Connor Murphy all went through this same process, but Dahlbeck is hoping this break will have some kind of impact impact.
“I don’t know if you will ever feel like you know everything but this is my first year and I feel like I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I’m trying to take it all in but at the same time, you can’t take 20 pieces and add them all at once. It’s one small piece at a time.”
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