Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kevin Hatcher

I'm really not sure why, but I never truly respected Kevin Hatcher quite like I did his younger brother Derian.

Derian was one of my true favorites, mostly because of his mean streak and his commitment to team defense. Kevin on the other hand was a giant who, at times, liked to throw his weight around but was most notably an offensive defenseman.

I suspect I never warmed to Kevin because for all his skill and impressive scoring ability, never maximized himself like he could have. That's a pretty easy thing for me to say, with my grand total of 0 NHL games. Perhaps we fans just placed too high expectations on Kevin Hatcher, like so many other players over the years.

Regardless, he was never reputed to be as good in his own zone as he was in the other team's. He seemed susceptible to making boneheaded, risky plays, overhandling the puck and hurting his team defensively. He did not always maximize his size, taking nights off. Outside of the 1992-93 season he just never really could put it all together and be one of the game's truly dominant defenders.

Kevin Hatcher was a powerful straight ahead skater, which he displayed whenever he could by jumping into or leading the rush. With his giant stride he could catch even the speediest of transition attackers on the way back. Defensively he could look awkward when turning, but he compensated for that with his gigantic reach.

He had a devastating shot from the point, and would often come crashing in from the blue line looking for a surprise garbage goal. When he was on his many offensive rushes he was an excellent give and go player. Otherwise he was good passer, but not a greatly creative player.

Physically he could dominate. He was imposing at 6'4" and 225lbs, and he enjoyed banging bodies, sometimes with a mean streak. Other times, especially as his career advanced, he seemed quite disinterested in the physical game, which for someone of his size is extremely frustrating for coaches and fans alike. He lost a few fights early in his career and seemed to back down over time. Perhaps this was simply because his coaches wanted him on the ice, not by the ice box.

He could be guilty of getting out of position to make a big hit. Since he didn't have the lateral mobility to recover he could get burned by such bad reads. He was usually a safe defender when it came to clearing the puck, usually breaking a man with a good pass. He could be guilty of overhandling the puck, and when he did cough up the puck in his own zone, he usually did so royally.

Drafted by Washington 17th overall in 1984, Hatcher went on to play in 1,157 career NHL games, scoring 227 goals and 450 assists for 677 points. He also registered 1,392 career penalty minutes. He put together one of the most impressive offensive seasons by a defenseman in 1992-93 when he scored 34 goals and 79 points. Impressively he reached double digits in goals scored 12 times in a row in his career, including seasons of 24 and 19 goals.

Despite these impressive scoring stats, he was never truly among the game's elite defensemen in the 1990s, but rather firmly just a notch below.

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