April 07, 2016

Kerry Huffman

Kerry Huffman was always an intriguing defenseman. He had offensive attributes to burn, yet his output never matched his gifts. And since his defensive game was not as good as offensive game, he became a well travelled NHLer.

Huffman was a very good skater. He was not necessarily the fastest skater but he had great agility and mobility to make him fun to watch. He was so smooth in his turns and pivots it was a joy to watch him. He had good size, though he was not a physical player by any means.

He could rush the puck out of his zone but also could headman it with a strong pass. Early in his career he, like so many young offensive defensemen, forced high risk, dangerous plays and would get burned.

And because Huffman was rushed into the NHL at such a young age, and because he played for the unforgiving coach Iron Mike Keenan, Huffman's psyche was tested early.

Huffman was a first-round pick (20th overall) in the 1986 NHL Draft and debuted with the Philadelphia Flyers at the young age of 18. He probably could have benefited from more years of apprenticing in junior and in the minor leagues, but Huffman's skill level and an opening on the Flyers' blue line saw him brought in immediately.

The Flyers had a roster spot to fill after trading stalwart Brad McCrimmon in the summer of 1987. The Flyers had just finished competing in the Stanley Cup final, but were at odds with McCrimmon in contract negotiations. General Manager Bobby Clarke opted to trade the underrated McCrimmon partly because he believed Huffman could step in right away.

"These days, most teams are a little more cautious about how they bring players along but it was a little different back then," said Huffman. "Ideally, I wouldn't have been playing in the NHL so young, but it was what is was. I loved playing for the Flyers, I liked it in Philadelphia and I had some great teammates who took me under their wing."

Huffman's transition was far from smooth. He struggled with consistency and confidence. A thigh injury shortened his rookie season, which was something he had to get used to. He bounced between the Flyers and the minor leagues over the next several years.

At one point the adversity got so great that he even took a brief leave of absence from the Flyers to go home and contemplate his future

"I know that my leaving the team is viewed as a negative thing by a lot of people. But mentally, it was the best thing for me. I know it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I don't know if I could ever do it again. But at the time, I just felt I had no other option."

He did return and found himself in a better place. He had a breakout season in 1991-92, scoring 14 goals and 32 points in 60 games.

"I was a little bit more mature as a player by that point," said Huffman. "I had developed a little more mental toughness."

Huffman benefited from having a new coach in town - Bill Dineen. Dineen gave Huffman more opportunities and put him in different situations, and Huffman responded well.

But the duo were not together long. In the summer of 1992 Huffman was included in the massive package of players, draft picks and cash sent to the Quebec Nordiques to acquire the rights to Eric Lindros.

Huffman would spend parts of two seasons in Quebec before moving on to the expansion Ottawa Senators.

By 1995-96 Huffman was out of the NHL, playing three more seasons in the minor leagues. He retired in 1998.

Kerry Huffman retired in 1999. He obtained a Bachelor of Legal Studies from Kaplan, University while also becoming a marathon enthusiast. He would become a NHLPA certified player agent but is also a rising junior coach.

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