Thursday, September 18, 2008
I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it's better to proceed with caution. No sense in setting oulandish expectations for a player who was undrafted through his NHL eligibility and has played one NHL game, and didn't record a point in that game. But using Brandon Bochenski as a cautionary tale to Jesse Winchester isn't really fair to 'Winnie' (as Jason Spezza affectionately calls him).
The comparisons have come up since head coach Craig Hartsburg announced he'd give Winchester a chance to play with Spezza and Dany Heatley on the Sens' top line (at least in training camp). I first saw them in the comments section of this very blog, and they've popped up in articles from the Canadian Press and the National Post (with the same article in the Ottawa Citizen). Headlines and leads include 'Welcome to the big line, kid!' (the Citizen), despite the fact that Winchester (born Oct. 4, 1983) is less than four months younger than Spezza (Jun 13, 1983) and about two-and-a-half years younger than Heatley (Jan. 21, 1981). Looking at the journey that Winchester took to the NHL, and comparing it to that of Bochenski, there are plenty of differences.
Both had college hockey careers, that is true. But Bochenski was drafted at 18, in his first year of eligibility, while Winchester was passed over in every year of his eligibility. After a few years at the University of North Dakota, Bochenski had one solid season with the Binghamton Senators, scoring 70 points in 75 games. He walked onto the Sens roster the next season, lighting it up in the pre-season (11 points in 7 games), but faded in the regular season. Looking back, he did do pretty well with the Sens, and even better with the B-Sens (46P in 33GP), but was dumped midway through the season in a regrettable trade for Tyler Arnason. Working against Bochenski is his one-dimensional style: the Sportsnet scouting report on him is that despite his ability to score points, his defensive shortcomings are glaring. Some players are good enough to make up for defensive shortcomings with offensive output, but Bochenski is no Wayne Gretzky.
Winchester took a much different path to the NHL. He spent four years working on his game with Colgate, and his final season he was captain. His numbers and role on the team improved steadily, and his awareness--or 'hockey smarts'--at both ends of the ice are quoted by Spezza, Hartsburg, and GM Bryan Murray as one of his best attributes. He's also got almost 25 pounds on Bochenski, and is less averse to physical play. He's shown maturity and responsibility, not just in committing to finish his program in college, but in demonstrating leadership with the Raiders. People also seem to be forgetting that Winchester practiced with Spezza and Heatley at least once last season, and if he were to dress more games while Daniel Alfredsson was injured would almost certainly have played on the top line. (In his one game, he played on a line with Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette on the Sens' second line.
Maybe this is just a hunch I have. But, in my opinion, signs are pointing to Winchester having a successful career with the Senators, and certainly more success than Brandon Bochenski had in his short time here.
(CLARIFICATION: I'm just realizing my title might be misconstrued to mean that Winchester is the next Bochenski. Anyone who read the article understands that is not at all what I meant; I am using those angled brackets in their truest sense, suggesting that Winchester will be GREATER THAN Bochenski was. Just for the record.)