How do you know when a hockey defenseman is doing his job? When you don’t notice him at all.
When a defenseman gets caught flat-footed, yielding a breakaway, you notice. When a defenseman gets spun around and lost in his own zone, neglecting to block a passing lane, you notice. When a defenseman fails to keep an easy pass in his offensive zone and has to backpedal like a madman to cover his gaffe, you definitely notice.
Ever notice any of these from Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin? Exactly.
Tyutin is hands-down one of the most under-appreciated defenseman in the NHL. Many were left scratching their heads when Columbus gave up the flashy, speedy Nikolay Zherdev for a seemingly no-thrills blueliner in Tyutin from the New York Rangers. Who won that trade in hindsight? Tyutin anchors the first pair on a team with legitimate playoff aspirations and is playing on Russia‘s 2014 Winter Olympics squad, which has a excellent chance of claiming the coveted gold medal. Zherdev is collecting a paycheck to put up paltry numbers in the KHL. ‘Nuff said.
Columbus and Russia are both ecstatic to have the 6-foot-2, 216-pound defenseman sporting their jerseys. There are no huge gaps in the big man’s game. He is positionally sound, makes wise decisions, can work point on the power play and has an above-average slapper. His shutdown qualities, perhaps his greatest asset, are simply stellar, and he plays with the poise and calm you’d expect from a 30-year-old veteran.
While he’s not the best at any of the above, he’s great enough at them all to keep the pucks out of fellow Olympian and Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky‘s net — results that Russia will surely want replicated in Sochi.
The one minor knock you can find in his play is he doesn’t use his build to knock forwards off the pucks as much as one would like, but this is a minor grievance at best. Russia is stacked with elite, skilled forwards and perhaps the best goaltender depth. Defense is their biggest question mark and potential Achilles’ heel. If Tyutin brings the same skill set and steady hand he does to Columbus night in and night out, that will go a long way in hiding Russia’s few roster blemishes.
Quite frankly, his brand of hockey will assuage many a Russian’s nerves.
Whoever Tyutin is paired with, they’ll be happy to have him. As it stands now though, he’s projected by most to be placed on the second line with Montreal Canadiens‘ Alexei Emelin. Emelin recently got back into the Canadiens’ lineup after healing up from an injury. His defensive play as of late hasn’t been of the same caliber as Tyutin’s.
If this pair projection holds true, Tyutin’s calming presence and play could go a long way in keeping Emelin grounded and Russia competitive for gold. If they don’t jell, Tyutin will suddenly become something he’s quite unfamiliar with: being noticed. The glare from the hosts country’s spotlight will be that much more intense when everyone from the ice crew to Vladimir Putin demands a gold medal.
Ultimately though, Tyutin will be an integral contributor to whatever success Russia may face. He’s Mr. Steady, Mr. Reliable, a workhorse who can eat up big, crucial minutes. He’ll quietly but deftly squelch many opposition forwards’ intentions and stabilize a defensive corps that needs every steadying force it can find.
Russian hockey fans, like Blue Jackets supporters, will slowly fall in love with Tyutin; they just won’t notice it.