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Season Preview Part Two: The Defensemen

So the Winterhawks’ season is just a few weeks away and you decide to go online and look for info about some of the new guys. You see the Hawks used a first round Import Draft pick on Swedish defenseman Anton Cederholm and figure you ought to find out some info about the guy.

You head over to YouTube, type his name into the search engine, and the first video that comes up is footage of him at the Canucks’ summer development camp earlier this year.

In it he’s taking a 10-pound medicine ball and swinging it from side to side against a wall. This goes on for about 20 seconds until he puts the ball down and casually walks away. It’s an impressive display to be sure, but the reveal comes a second later: he destroyed the ball.

Cederholm is a massive young man, but he’s no plodder. Consider the fate of the poor Spokane Chief who didn’t see him coming in the team’s first exhibition game Friday, and as a result was nearly sent into orbit when Cederholm crushed him with a completely legal bodycheck.

The fifth round pick of the Canucks is one of the new faces on a largely revamped blueline. He was one of two NHL draft picks the Winterhawks added this summer along with 20-year-old Garrett Haar, a puck-moving defenseman with a booming slapshot.

Haar, a Washington Capitals draft pick in 2011, left Western Michigan University after two seasons to join the WHL for his final season of eligibility. The Hawks acquired his rights from the Medicine Hat Tigers to help bring a veteran presence to what will be a largely revamped blueline.

The Hawks enter this season with big changes on the back end. Troy Rutkowski, last year’s captain and the franchise leader in games played, has graduated. Tyler Wotherspoon, one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league, has a professional contract and will almost certainly spend the season in the pro ranks with the Abbotsford Heat. And Seth Jones, picked fourth overall by the Nashville Predators, should open the season in the NHL, and has a good chance to stick as a 19-year-old.

If the Hawks were to get Jones back it would be a boon in the team’s attempt to repeat, but the acquisitions of Cederholm and Haar help mitigate those losses.

Of course, the key component to the group is Derrick Pouliot, who will be the group’s leader barring him bucking the odds and making the Pittsburgh Penguins as a 19-year-old.

Should he return, Pouliot could lose time to playing for Team Canada at the World Juniors or an early-season stint with the Penguins, which would hurt his chances at leading WHL defensemen in scoring. But last season he was one of just two WHL blueliners to play in at least 40 games and average a point per game with 45 points in 44 games, a pace he kept up in the postseason with 20 points in 21 games, which led the league.

Pouliot leads the team’s transition game and quarterbacks the first power play unit, where the Hawks have been extremely successful in recent seasons. Should he return, it’s no stretch to say he’d be one of, if not the best, defensemen in the league.

Another key returnee is Josh Hanson. The reliable rearguard has played all 72 games in two straight seasons, and should see increased minutes this season. Shaun MacPherson joined the team midseason last year, and acquitted himself well enough to earn a regular shift throughout the team’s championship run. Also back is Layne Viveiros for his third season with the Hawks.

In addition to that group, the team has several other defensemen looking for minutes this season.

Key among them is 16-year-old Keoni Texeira. The California native joins the team full-time this season, and has an offensive pedigree that includes 82 points in 67 games as a bantam two seasons ago, which prompted the Hawks to take him in the second round of the 2012 Bantam Draft. He moved to the Los Angeles Junior Kings major midget team last year and led all blueliners on his team with 24 points in 32 games.

Zach Paterson is a 17-year-old looking to make a mark as a rookie this season, while Jordan Davies and Justin Greer are also in camp battling for roster spots.

The blueline features a terrific mix of veterans and rookies, offensive dynamos and defensive specialists. It’s a group that may not have the star power of last year, but any opposing team hoping to see a significant dropoff this season looks to be disappointed.

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