Mike Santorelli of the Winnipeg Jets and Davis Drewiske of the Canadiens battle for the puck during a game at the Bell Centre on April 4.
Photograph by: Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images
MONTREAL — In an era in which elite hockey prospects are on the ice 12 months a year, Davis Drewiske took an unconventional path to the National Hockey League.
The newest addition to the Canadiens organization started playing hockey at age 6, but didn’t concentrate on the game until he was 18.
“I played football, hockey and baseball all through high school,” said the 28-year-old Drewiske, who grew up in Wisconsin. “I was a centre-fielder in baseball and a middle linebacker in football and I enjoyed playing all three sports. I think there was some crossover value in playing different sports and I was always excited about starting fresh in a new season.”
Drewiske said hockey was his favourite sport, but he didn’t devote full time to the game until after he graduated from high school.
“I was a late bloomer,” said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound defenceman. “Maybe, because I played other sports, I got behind a little, but I don’t think I would have changed how I did it.
“I was drafted by Des Moines in the USHL and I thought hockey offered me the best chance to play at the next level. I played one season in the USHL. We didn’t have a very good team — we lost in the first round of the playoffs — but I learned a lot and made some good friends there.”
The USHL led to a four-year stay at the University of Wisconsin, where Drewiske established a reputation as a solid, stay-at-home defencemen. He played alongside future NHL players Jamie McBain, Jack Skille, Joe Pavelski, Brian Elliott and Blake Geoffrion. In his senior year, Drewiske was captain of a team that featured Ryan McDonagh and Kyle Turris.
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves once said Drewiske’s greatest asset was “the six inches between his ears” but the big defenceman said there’s more to the game than intelligence.
“You have to be prepared and you have to avoid over-analyzing because everything happens so quickly in this game,” Drewiske said.
Drewiske was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings at last week’s NHL trade deadline with the idea of adding a physical defenceman as insurance until Raphael Diaz returns from a concussion. Drewiske was given an opportunity to play a larger role after Alexei Emelin suffered torn knee ligaments last Saturday in a collision with Boston’s Milan Lucic.
“It’s a bad break for him,” Drewiske said of Emelin. “I was really impressed by him. He plays hard, he’s a physical guy. All the best for him, but now I have to slide in and play my game.”
Drewiske said his game starts with positioning, but he wants to use his size to be tough in the corners. “I want to be tough to play against.”
Drewiske has impressed the Canadiens’ coaching staff and his teammates with his ability to move the puck. He makes crisp passes and you wonder why it appeared he had reached a dead end in the Kings’ organization.
“Sometimes, it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” goaltender Carey Price said. “He’s playing well for us.”
Drewiske signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Kings as an undrafted free agent after finishing his career at Wisconsin. He spent most of his rookie pro season in the American Hockey League, but also played 17 games with the Kings. He spent the entire 2008-09 season in Los Angeles, scoring a goal and adding seven assists in 42 games. The Kings rewarded him with a three-year, one-way contract with a cap hit of $616,667 a season.
Drewiske played 38 games in 2010-11, but was used sparingly last season when the Kings won the Stanley Cup.
“When I was out of the lineup in L.A., the hardest part is reminding yourself that you’re good enough to play,” said Drewiske, who was limited to nine regular-season games last season. “There were some really good defensive defencemen ahead of me in Matt Greene, Rod Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, and they were healthy. They were great guys to learn from them.”
Drewiske’s stint with the Kings produced some fringe benefits. While he didn’t see any action in the playoffs last season, he received a Stanley Cup ring, his name is engraved on the Cup and he had a chance to meet U.S. President Barack Obama when the Kings visited the White House.
“The Kings petitioned the NHL to have my name on the Cup,” Drewiske said. “It was a great gesture on their part.”
Drewiske has played in a variety of situations in his four games with the Canadiens and played what might have been a career-high 23:09 the night Emelin was injured.
“Some people said it was the most I ever played, but I had some games in my first year in L.A. late in the season when we were out of the playoffs and they gave the kid a shot,” he said.
“I think in some ways, playing 20-plus minutes ... I don’t want to say it’s easier, but sometimes when you’re playing 14-15 minutes, it’s hard to get a rhythm going. But no matter how much you’re playing, when your number is called you have to be ready.”
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