November 20, 2016

Ken Linseman

Ken Linseman was a real effective hockey player, but he was not much of a finisher. I mean that two ways. Though a good offensive presence, he was not a goal scorer. And secondly, he was real shit disturber with a reputation for causing a lot of trouble that he rarely stuck around to see the end.

Yes, Linseman's reputation will always be that of a dirty hockey player. He was a physical player in all zones of the ice, but at 5'11" and 175lbs he was anything but a heavy hitter. He did hit hard though, often taking a couple more strides than he should have, and often using his arms and elbows to hit high. In a pre-obstruction crackdown NHL he was well versed in other uses for the hockey stick. He would slash, cross check, and spear an opponent, and he was a clutch and grab specialist.

Making it even worse was Linseman's mouth. He was so yappy on the ice that he drove many an opponent crazy listening to him. He was like your little brother or sister who would tease you into a fury until you got in trouble for throwing the first punch. Linsemen drew many penalties by being a super pest.

Linseman was down right dirty at times. In fact, not many people remember that in junior hockey he was charged and convicted of assault for kicking an opponent in the forehead with his skate.

It's actually too bad that Linseman chose to play this way, because he was actually quite a decent hockey player. He was an excellent defensive player and face-off expert, and as such he was given important responsibilities late in games. He would doggedly pursuing the puck to no end, but he had good anticipation and vision to make the job much easier.

Though he lacked great straight ahead speed, Linseman was a wonderful skater. He had tremendous lateral movement. He was as shifty a player as I've ever seen, and with a single step he could change direction and never be out of the play. He skated with very bent over, which led to his nickname "The Rat," not his antagonistic style.

Offensively he was a nice presence. He was a good stickhandler and a solid playmaking pivot. Blessed with excellent vision, he could feed pucks to teammates at the same time holes opened up.

As mentioned previously, Linseman was not a goal scorer. He did not possess an especially accurate or powerful shot. Instead he relied on crashing the slot looking for deflections and rebounds.

In 1978 Linseman joined the Philadelphia Flyers organization, and was being groomed to be Bobby Clarke's replacement on the ice. In many ways he was similar to Clarke though not nearly as good offensively or even defensively. He would spend 4 seasons on the Rat Patrol line with Paul Holmgren and Brian Propp but would wear out his welcome.

Linseman joined the Edmonton Oilers in 1982-83, forming an effective line with Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson. Linseman was part of the Oilers 1984 Stanley Cup championship.

The following year, Linseman was traded to Boston where he put in more than five seasons. By the turn of the decade he had lost some of his steam. He would round out his career with brief return appearances in Philadelphia and Edmonton as well as Toronto.

Linseman's reputation may forever be as a super pest, but his greatest legacy will be for his role in redefining the draft.

When Linseman was starring in junior hockey with the Kingston Canadiens, he attempted to sign as an under-aged player with the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA. At the time both the NHL and WHA excluded anyone under the age of 20 from the draft and from playing. But Linseman figured at 18 he was old enough to vote and go to war, so why couldn't he earn a living?

The attempt unexpectedly exploded into a full-blown legal bout that was eventually settled only when Linseman secured an injunction against the WHA and was allowed to join the Bulls.

Linseman's successful bid created quite the groundswell, and changed hockey forever. Soon the WHA was raiding junior hockey of many top young players, including Mike Gartner, Michel Goulet, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. The NHL came on board too, dropping the draft age to 18.

The lowering of the draft age has made drafting future NHL players a very uncertain task. Suddenly grade 12 kids, many of whom were rushed into junior hockey and away from their family's home that much earlier, faced a lot of pressure to perform. Aside from the elite talents, many kids are not able to live up to expectations.

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