A glance at the most recent stats for the Checkers reveals that rookie blue liner Haydn Fleury leads the team in plus/minus. Even more impressive, however, is that he has garnered that lead over this last stretch of games alone.
Fleury, who has appeared in 41 games this season, boasts a +11 rating on the year, a sizeable lead over Dennis Robertson’s next best +6. Over the past eight games the rookie’s game has been even more elevated, going +11 across that span.
So the question remains, what has spurred this jump?
The easy thing to look at would be his offensive game. Fleury hasn’t been especially productive on that side of the ice, but has chipped in 12 points (3g, 9a) thus far, good for second among team blue liners.
Regardless of his own point totals though, Fleury’s plus/minus numbers illustrate him making a difference on the offensive front.
“I think he’s really put an emphasis on his skating,” said Checkers video coach Myles Fee. “He’s getting up ice and being involved in the play.”
During his time in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels, Fleury established himself as a point-producing force on the blue line, a trait that led the Hurricanes to select him seventh overall in 2014. But making the jump to the pros can be tough.
“Yeah I don’t think anyone realizes how hard this league is before you get here,” said Fleury. “This league doesn’t get that much credit. I still think I’m getting chances offensively, the points just aren’t really coming, but I’m not trying to focus on that too much.”
As Fee points out, many players aren’t able to replicate their same roles at the next level. But Fleury continues to grow his game as a whole thanks to the aid of his coaching staff.
“Everybody in junior tends to play more minutes and a lot of times you find them standing up straight if you watch the video,” said Fee. “Whereas here, [assistant coach] Peter [Andersson] has done a lot of one-on-one meetings with him so he can see when he needs to explode and go. There can’t be a pause in the pro game and a lot of guys come from junior with a bit of pause. Your minutes are going to be down, so you have to be more explosive.”
While he is coming into the offensive side of his game, Fleury’s defensive play has arguably been his biggest catalyst to shooting up the plus/minus rankings.
“Obviously to be a plus you can’t be a negative on the D side,” said Fee. “So he’s really become a stronger presence in front of the net. Peter has emphasized more boxing out, which we feel that the group has done more as a whole, but Fleury especially.”
At 6-foot-3, it’s not hard to imagine Fleury becoming one of the team’s more physically imposing forces on the back end.
“He’s using that big frame, using his stick real well,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “He’s been a hard player to play against. He’s been physically engaged in all the games lately.”
Fleury’s recent surge has helped boost his stature in the lineup, as he’s spent the majority of the last month manning the left side of the Checkers’ top pairing.
“It gives you confidence knowing that the coaches are putting me out there in a situation that I can succeed in,” said Fleury. “I think playing with Cheli [Jake Chelios] helps a lot too. We’ve been playing well together for the past couple of games and we’re getting more comfortable with each other as the games go on.”
That confidence has turned into production on the ice and, in turn, that production continues to spur Fleury’s confidence.
“It’s similar to [Lucas] Wallmark where he’s progressed as the year is going on,” said Fee. “Haydn’s a high draft pick and you can see why. He’s adjusted his game to what he needs to do and he’s found his niche. He’s able to excel at that.”