The truth about character

Jason Strudwick
June 27 2013 11:18AM

With the draft coming up on Sunday there has been a lot of talk about the type of players the Oilers should draft. Rookie general manager Craig MacTavish has said he is very interested in acquiring more skill through the draft. I wonder if that is the best approach to build a winning team.

I can't argue that the most important asset a hockey player can have is skill. Without it he will not be able to play at a high level even if he possesses all the other requirements of a NHL player.

In my opinion a very, very close second is character. Skill without character is useless. I would rather have a player with character and less skill then the other way around. I think there is misconception of what character means in a hockey player.

Too often I hear that a team can "just pick a character player up on waivers when they need one". I love it. It makes it sounds like they are going down to the mall to pick up a black pair of shoes that will make a whole outfit work! Makes zero sense to me.

Yes there are players who are referred to as "character players". It seems to me that these are players that do some of the dirtier tasks for a team. Blocking shots, finishing checks, killing penalties and fighting are examples of what people who are "character players" do for teams.

These are important elements to have on a winning club. However, if a team is hoping that these types of players are enough character for a whole team they are kidding themselves.

Players with character vs. character players

Photo: Resolute/Wikimedia Commons

Players with character are required throughout the line-up.

Unfortunately it is pretty hard to quantify character with stats. I guess you could look at blocked shots and hits but to me that just points at the types of players that are often referred to as "character players". How do you figure out if the rest of your players have character who aren't big on those two stats?

We just saw a perfect example in this Stanley Cup Final. Jonathan Toews put on a clinic on what character is all about. The Hawks were having trouble getting to the net with the Bruins line-up of bigger defensemen and centers.

They were having trouble with it because they didn't want to pay the price in the first few games of the series. Would you want to try and go to the net when a mountain of a nasty man is standing between you and the net? You could literally see the change in the Hawks mindset in the last few games of the series.

Toews led the charge by going right at the Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara. No longer was Toews going to let Chara dictate how he or his team was going to play. How many times did you see the smaller Toews battling with the much bigger Chara for loose pucks in the corners and front of the net in the last two games of the series? All the time!

He didn't do it because he was trying to get on the stat sheet with hits, he did it because he knew that in order to win he had to battle the biggest and best the Bruins had to offer. He couldn't avoid it. His character shined through.

He did what was needed to win even though he knew the effort and pain that were required.

That is character. He isn't a "character player.” He is a player with character.

Skilled players go through highs and lows of scoring goals. No NHL players score every night. If a skilled player is having an off night or is struggling scoring what are they contributing to the team's success?

Skilled players with character find ways of helping the team during the lows of a season. They are very solid defensively at those times. Skate and attack the net to create opportunities for others. They become a part of the team's overall success even when they are not having individual success.

At the Draft

Photo: Alexander Laney/Wikimedia Commons

It is clear to me that the Oilers need to add more players with character to their line-up this off season. The first chance they get is this weekend at the draft in New Jersey. Drafting players solely based on skill is not a recipe for success in my opinion.

It is not easy to identify character in draft eligible players. These guys are very young and their games are in full development mode but that is the challenge for scouting staffs across the NHL.

I know many teams look at players away from the rink. What is their lifestyle? How do they treat their billets (for junior-aged players) and teachers (for college players)? Do they put forth effort in off-ice training? Are they responsive to coaching? These are all questions that scouts try to get answered when they are pushing for their team to draft a specific player.

I think a great question to have answered would be this... what does the player do when no one is watching?

I want to know if he does extra after practice on the ice. Is he a guy that is working on his game without being asked? Is he a guy that watches video to improve? Is he a guy that goes to the gym without being asked or prodded?

These are the attributes I saw during my career in players that not only played in the NHL but contributed in a meaningful way to the success of a team on and off the ice.

Don't ever underestimate the value of character in a player. It is a hair under skill in my opinion.

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Jason hosts the Jason Strudwick show from 9pm to 12am, weeknights on the team 1260. He is an instructor at Mount Carmel Hockey Academy and loves working with the kids. Having played over 650 games in the NHL, Jason has some great stories and unique takes on life in the NHL. He loves Slurpees and Blizzards. Dislikes baggy clothes and close talkers.
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#101 Devolution
June 27 2013, 10:54PM
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The Beaker wrote:

I know this is off topic but when adults can't tell the difference between your and you're or there, their and they're it's really sad. Grammar and even punctuation aren't really that big of a deal on a site like this but have a little self respect.

-- Off Soap Box --

Meanwhile, if the BPA isn't up to your standard of "character" then trade down. I'd still rather them say "wow, that guy is awesome AND has great character, let's move up to get him!"

I actually find the poor grammar very irritating but I keep reminding myself that it is a hockey site, not an English site.

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#102 Crispy
June 27 2013, 11:08PM
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@NewAgeSys

Glad you've been watching your character count. You've definitely had a lot more characters in the past.

I guess the Oilers want character players, but ON needs posters with a bit less characters some times.

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#103 TigerUnderGlass
June 27 2013, 11:19PM
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Wangtaco wrote:

how would either of you know that? I think both of you are guessing.

I'm guessing when I say it's garbage to make such a claim? How does that follow? You just repeated my point trying to disagree with me.

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#104 madjam
June 27 2013, 11:56PM
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Klima's Mullet wrote:

Barkov is not Russian...he is from Finland

FOR THE RECORD : Barkov has legal Dual Citizenship as father is Russian and mother Finnish .

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#105 David S
June 28 2013, 12:12AM
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The time between when the Oilers gloriously flame out and draft day.

That's the worst. It's like a bunch of drunk guys arguing over the one hot chick in the bar.

You just know the cops are going to show up right after last call.

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#106 Time Travelling Sean
June 28 2013, 12:13AM
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@Next up, is Connor McJesus.

Winning is not all that matters.

If the Oilers were a team full of gangsters who said "I don't care about the fans, I just care about my paycheck and winning games" I wouldn't even bother going to games or even watching them on TV.

Corson was such an awful captain they took it off him and then let him walk.

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#107 madjam
June 28 2013, 12:14AM
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We need something more important than just character and skill , we need the fans favorite characteristic above all the rest -PERSONALITY . Now that's something we don't have enough of , and all winning clubs do . The Hall of Fame is filled with Personalities !

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#108 madjam
June 28 2013, 12:17AM
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The next D.Potvin could very well be Risto .

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#109 madjam
June 28 2013, 12:46AM
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One has to wonder if MacT.'s strategy to put up or chastise Hemsky , Horcoff and several others he's not too pleased to keep by the sounds of it . is keeping others away from wanting to sign here . Has his strategy blown up in his face ? I know if I was a player they were wanting i'd be dubvious of coming here not knowing what the rest of squad beyond top six might look like .

I think if he had some signings he should have announced them by now , and thus alleviate that prospect from others contemplating a move here .

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#110 madjam
June 28 2013, 06:23AM
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Should the Oilers go after Coburn as Stauffer projects they might ? Well if they like Nurse , then Coburns already developed and usable now . Nurse is projected to be no more better than Coburn down the line . Book it , and toss a coin to see if we draft Monohan or Risto .

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#111 crobar
June 28 2013, 07:28AM
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Smokey wrote:

Character is subjective. Saying Hemsky has high skill low character is just that. I know all the reasons why people say this and its being used to ship the guy outta town.

My arguement is against you is this. Guy chose Edmonton and all the media spotlight for 12 years, and has never said a disconcerting word even though hes been scapegoated, called soft and selfish. Guy played here with whatever inadaquate teamates they put on his line, went into the corners against Rhegier ever shift. I remember not only did he take hits you or I could not take, he delivered shots to Rhegier. Wonder why his shoulder are made of "glass." He endured media and coaches questioning his work ethic saying he could be better, while he battled injuries. He sign not one but two contracts to live in Edmonton. One he was underpaid for 6 years. Took countless insults for getting what he was due on the last contract to make up for years of being underpaid. He chose to sign the second ocontract during a rebuild, cause he wanted to be part of the solution. Last season he was the one of the best players during the first half, scoring game winners. Played the second half on a broken foot no less while taking more criticism from the media and fans. Watched his team tank after he left, was no coincidence, the team struggles always in his absence. and predictably fell out of the hunt.

On my 2014 he stays. I'll take his quiet shy demeanour any day. He did not get that good because he is lazy. Maybe you could argue he could be a better leader, I argue let him be what he is a quiet deternined guy.

two things to look at when assessing character. 1--- ask former (not current) team mates. the same names will come up all the time. 2---- does he draw alot of penalties and then sit on the bench for his teammates to bulge the twine.

2 outta two here is a keeper. and hey struds, you know who these guys are. call it out!!

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#112 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 28 2013, 08:08AM
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David S wrote:

The time between when the Oilers gloriously flame out and draft day.

That's the worst. It's like a bunch of drunk guys arguing over the one hot chick in the bar.

You just know the cops are going to show up right after last call.

To carry on that analogy....

The way I remember it.....by last call ALL the chicks in the bar are looking hot...

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#113 hatrock
June 28 2013, 12:05PM
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Hemsky does not fit on this team anymore.

At practices and warmups, Hemsky is the last one on the ice and the first one off the ice.

Low character.

Yakupov on the other hand, first on the ice, last one off.

High character.

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