Kuzma: Nic Dowd better for tough love from former Kings coach


Phillip Danault of the Canadiens tries to corral Canucks centre Nic Dowd on Dec. 19.

Phillip Danault of the Canadiens tries to corral Canucks centre Nic Dowd on Dec. 19.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, The Province

Players are products of their environments and Nic Dowd is better for crossing hockey paths with the polarizing Darryl Sutter.

The former Los Angeles Kings coach could be cold or warm — depending on the locale and the conversation — and Dowd was pushed to be better at both ends of the rink.

If the Vancouver Canucks depth centre can harness the confidence gained in playing and surviving under Sutter and current Kings bench boss John Stevens — before being traded here for diminutive defenceman Jordan Subban on Dec. 7 — it’s going to further his career as a dependable bottom-six forward.

Dowd played 91 games for the Kings the past three National Hockey League seasons and his best offensive effort was 22 points (6-16) last year.

However, in Sutter’s world, maintaining a presence away from the puck was of paramount of importance and was reflected in having trust in Dowd. And with ice time that ranged from 5:39 to 10:19 this season, the 27-year-old, seventh-round pick got limited experience and was deemed expendable.

He wasn’t going to play ahead of Anze Kopitar or the injured Jeff Carter or ahead of Adrian Kempe, Nick Shore of Torrey Mitchell.

So, what did he learn from Sutter?

“Responsibility, details and accountability,” Dowd said Saturday before facing his former club in his 100th career NHL game. “It wasn’t just enough to play in the offensive zone and be successful. And it wasn’t just enough to be good in the D-zone, you had to be great.

“The mental side was challenging. He expected a lot and that set me up for anything else I could probably handle in my career. At the rink, Darryl was all business. Away form the rink, an unbelievable guy. He always asked about your family and was really caring.

“Stevens is very detailed and prepares them well and guys enjoy playing for him.”

Fast forward and it’s not surprising that Canucks coach Travis Green referenced confidence as being a hurdle for Dowd.

New team. New expectations. Struggling initially with minor penalties in his first four games and trying to find his way in the faceoff circle didn’t help Dowd.

And knowing Brandon Sutter (lower body) could return next week and that Michael Chaput has been recalled from the Utica Comets only adds to any angst for the pending unrestricted free agent.

However, Dowd won 12 of 16 draws (75 per cent) in San Jose on Dec. 21 and 12 of 22 (54.5) on Thursday against Chicago in which he logged a season high 17:21 of ice time. He has also been an effective penalty killer in a tandem with Loui Eriksson and effective in a fourth-line shutdown role.

“We’re hopefully seeing a guy who’s finding his way and getting more confidence,” Green said of Dowd, who was also pointless and had just three shots in his first eight games here. “There are simple playmaking attributes that he has that haven’t come out yet.

“He’s still learning the league. He’s up and down with his confidence and it’s important that we keep pushing him. Being around the team more, he has felt more confident and has been stronger of late.

“We’re just looking for him to keep progressing. He took some penalties with a new team but we don’t want to take away any aggressiveness.”

Dowd is no different than many players who have had to tailor their games from a top six to a bottom-six role.

In his fourth and final college season at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, the Hunstville, Alabama, native had 40 points (22-18) in 38 games. He followed that up with a Calder Cup championship with the Manchester Monarchs in 2015.

It was a five-game final series triumph over the Comets in which Dowd had 13 points (7-6) in 19 playoff games after a41 points (9-32) in 75 games.

“Playing in those kind of games is critical for your development and those tough playoffs game were something you can add to your repertoire because if you haven’t done it before, it’s challenging,” added Dowd.

“They (Kings) gave me my first opportunity and made me a much for detailed player. Coming out of college, I was a very offensive player, just like a lot of guys in the room where at other levels until they got here.

“In the NHL, you realize guys are better than you and you have to find a way to stay in the league. Everyone wants to score. Everyone wants to be the guy. That’s not the case. In order to remain in the league, you have to develop other things in your game.

“Whether a shutdown role or the faceoff dot, those are critical. Guys can base their whole careers on that and I’m excited about doing that.”



Phillip Danault of the Canadiens tries to corral Canucks centre Nic Dowd on Dec. 19.

Phillip Danault of the Canadiens tries to corral Canucks centre Nic Dowd on Dec. 19.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, The Province

Phillip Danault of the Canadiens tries to corral Canucks centre Nic Dowd on Dec. 19.
Nic Dowd fought Jets centre Adam Lowry on March 23 to catch the coach's eye.
Vancouver Canucks centre Nic Dowd (17) pushes Calgary Flames defenceman Michael Stone (26) during the second period NHL action in Vancouver, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017.
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