Watching Calgary Flames rookie Dion Phaneuf playing against the Flyers last week, one couldn't help but notice that this kid has all the tools.
He's quick, he can move the puck, he has a terrific shot on the point, and, best of all, this 20-year-old can hit. He plays with an edge.
"You know what I see in this kid?" marveled Flyers West Coast scout Dean Lombardi. "He wants the puck every time he is on the ice. I have never seen a guy on defense like that in my life. And you know I drafted some pretty good defensemen in San Jose."
Heading into the weekend, the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Phaneuf ranked among the NHL rookie leaders in five categories: goals (6), power-play goals (5), power-play assists (6), power-play points (11) and game-winning goals (3).
Phaneuf was one of several outstanding first-round picks (ninth overall) in a 2003 draft class that included Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Thomas Vanek, Dustin Brown and Brent Seabrook. That draft was one of the deepest in league history.
The rookie's biggest adjustment, he said during a conference call, has been "the skill of the guys and the speed of the game." But Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock doesn't think Phaneuf has had trouble with it.
"He seems to be like a lot of players in the league where there is no adjustment phase," Hitchcock said. "He's like Carter and Richards and (Sidney) Crosby and Bergeron. They just look like good players. You can't tell the 20-year-olds from the 30-year-olds right now, and that is amazing to me."
It's a given that teammate Robyn Regehr will play for Team Canada at the Olympics. What about Phaneuf?
"To tell you the truth, we haven't talked about it any," Phaneuf said. "First and foremost, both of us are concentrated on playing here and doing our job here."
Phaneuf got to play head to head against Pittsburgh's Crosby. His impressions?
"Sid is a very skilled player," Phaneuf said. "That's no secret. And he's done a great job at the start of the year here, putting up some very good numbers. ... The top players on every team are very skilled. You have to be aware of everyone that you're playing against."
n Pounding sand
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally challenged Dick Pound to come clean with whatever evidence he has that supports his contention that one-third of the league's players are taking performance-enhancing drugs. Pound is chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The story broke in the Toronto Sun last week. "We've sent a letter to Mr. Pound demanding to know on what he based his inflammatory statements," Bettman told the newspaper. "Everything he says is anecdotal. We deserve specifics, not hearsay and innuendos."
Do you really think NHL players are on steroids?
"Hockey is not that type of sport," the Flyers' Derian Hatcher said. "If he is talking about players taking cold medicine as a performance-enhancing drug like cough syrup, then maybe. But steroids? There is no way. No way. Look around (our dressing) room. You don't need steroids in hockey. Sure, the odd player takes it. I would bet no way close to 30 percent take steroids. I highly doubted that they tested anyone. He might have been talking about Sudafed, stuff you take very day which you can't take at the Olympics."