Blackhawks

How Duncan Keith raised his ceiling early in his career

Blackhawks

Rome wasn't built in a day, and three-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith didn't turn into a cornerstone of the Blackhawks dynasty overnight.

Former Hawks defenseman Adrian Aucoin captained the club during Keith's rookie year in Chicago, the 2005-06 season. Even as a young defenseman Keith made a lasting impression on Aucoin, who went on to play over 1,100 NHL games and later became a development coach working with D-men for the Hawks.

The future 2015 Conn Smythe trophy winner's fitness is one of the first things that stood out to Aucoin.

It's common for NHL teams to administer VO2 tests to players, usually ahead of the season, to measure how well they use Oxygen when riding a bike.

"I think the one summer Duncan came in and he didn't even ride the bike one time. He jogged, as you know he's very advanced with his workouts. He's cutting edge, he likes to try new things. And I thought the kid was nuts, I really did," Aucoin said. "I'm like, 'You come here, you haven't biked all summer and you're trying to make this team?' 

"I think the average biking time for that test would have been anywhere from like 12 to 15 minutes and I think he was mid-20s. And they just had to say, 'Get off the bike.' Here's this little guy who, smaller guys ... usually don't go as long. And he blew everyone out of the water and that's when I kind of looked at him like, 'We're not sure how good of a hockey player he is yet, but this guy's in great shape.'"

 

With the Hawks rebuilding and with the 2004-05 lockout producing more hooking and holding calls, the game was ripe for mobile defensemen. Enter Duncan Keith.

"Keith was a little bit of a surprise early on because he didn't come to our team as a big name, Aucoin said. "He had played a little bit in college, then he went back to juniors and came (to the NHL after two years in the AHL). We saw right away at my first camp here, this guy can play and he can play pretty good. So we knew he was going to be good, I don't think anyone knew he was going to be that good. The most amazing thing, like most players, especially defensemen, is how they mature. It takes a little longer."

Related: Why the Blackhawks' rebuild won't be anything like the dark ages

Brent Seabrook, selected at No. 14 overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, had a higher ceiling than Keith, who the Blackhawks picked at No. 54 overall in 2002, in the eyes of the organization initially. The duo soon became the Hawks' top D-pairing for many years and went on to win three Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal together. 

"To say that Duncan Keith maybe got better than Seabrook, is no slight to Seabrook, we're talking about a Norris Trophy winner, obviously," Aucoin said. "But, I think when the kids were drafted, it was still a little bit of an old school game. 

"Seabrook, a little stronger, a little steadier, at the time, probably had a little more skill than Duncs. Duncs was just so dynamic. He is the prototypical new era defenseman, and he was ahead of his time. I really think he's one of the kids who helped mold the new style of defensemen going forward and I think he revolutionized the position a little bit. So credit to him, I know everybody knows there's no one who works harder."

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