With Dion Phaneuf attracting most of the media attention after the Flames/Leafs trade on Sunday, I thought it might be nice to take a quick look at prospect Keith Aulie, who also joins the Maple Leafs organization.
Aulie’s size (6’6”, 208lbs) and strength are items number one and two when projecting his NHL future; he’s a mammoth defenceman who relishes a shutdown role and won’t ever be judged by his offensive contributions. He knows it too, and patterns his game after his favourite player, Calgary Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr:
“I always kind of liked the way he played. If there’s one guy that’s similar to the way I play, I think that he’s that guy. He plays solid, plays from his own end, hits hard, can shoot, can pass and is a good leader.”
That self-assessment was something that Aulie’s junior coach, Kelly McCrimmon agreed with:
“He’s not an overly physical player, but he’s very strong and he certainly puts priority on being a shut-down defenseman. He’s in his fourth year with our team and I think he has steadily improved. Last season he became one of our assistant captains and this year he is our captain. I think he has taken huge steps over the last two years. He has really become one of the top defenseman in the league. He’s so big with great reach and he’s a very intelligent player that skates well.”
Aulie is probably best known for his work at last year’s World Juniors, where he teamed up with Tyler Myers to from an intimidating shutdown pairing; both players finished the tournament with a plus-5 rating in six games. Aulie’s also somewhat famous for saving his father’s life after his tractor fell through the ice rink he was clearing; Aulie reached in and bodily hauled his father out of the cab, throwing him clear of the ice. He was subsequently honoured with a Red Cross Rescuer Award for his actions.
This season, Aulie made the jump from junior to professional hockey, with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. Here’s how Aulie’s plus/minus per game (an imperfect indicator, but often all we have for minor league defensive defencemen) compares to other regular blue-liners on the team:
- Josh Meyers: 0.33
- Gord Baldwin: 0.28
- Matt Pelech: 0.18
- Keith Aulie: 0.02
- John Negrin: 0.00
- Brad Cole: -0.07
- Keith Seabrook: -0.12
Just finishing on the positive side of the ledger is an accomplishment for most first-year defencemen, so Aulie seems on track. As rocky as the development curve can be for young defenceman, Aulie’s frame gives him an added advantage when it comes to handling older players. Right now he’s a very good prospect who just needs some minor league seasoning before he can seriously challenge for an NHL job.