Hurricanes' Joslin plays it forward

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 9, 2012 

Derek Joslin played his 100th career NHL game Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, always a milestone for a young player.

That he played it at forward for the Carolina Hurricanes also made it memorable. And unusual.

Joslin is a defenseman. He was drafted into the NHL in 2005 as a defenseman and said he had not lined up at forward since he was 12 years old.

But that changed in mid-February. Canes coach Kirk Muller, looking at a full complement of defensemen ahead of Joslin but wanting to get him into the lineup, made him a fourth-line winger. At times, he also has played the wing on Brandon Sutter's checking line.

A tough transition? Joslin, 24, doesn't think so.

"It's going good," he said. "I'm feeling more comfortable and starting to feel more confident, making plays in the offensive zone."

"It's very important that I keep my energy going and finish my checks and use my big body. That's why Kirk (Muller) really likes me up there."

In some aspects, Joslin's role is the same. Be physical, be a grinder, a banger, give his team strong minutes on the ice.

Early in the game Tuesday at the Verizon Center, the fourth line gave the Canes a big energy shift. They kept the puck in the Caps' zone, making the home team work.

Muller shortened his bench as the game wore on, limiting Joslin to just five shifts in the Canes' 4-3 overtime win. He had 12 shifts, but just two in the third period, Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres in a 3-2 overtime loss.

Joslin had two shifts total during Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the RBC Center, but Muller said that was not a reflection of his play.

"It was a three-line type game," Muller said. "Their top guys played a lot of minutes. He's been playing well. I just didn't think the right matchups were there."

When Joslin was moved to forward, many assumed it would be a short-lived thing. The NHL trade deadline was approaching and the thought was that defensemen Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek might be dealt to other teams.

Joslin had been a healthy scratch for five straight games. Getting him playing time at forward, some believed, would help get him ready to return to the back end if Allen or Spacek were traded.

But Allen and Spacek are still Hurricanes. For now, Joslin is still a forward.

"It's a little easier than I thought," Joslin said. "I really didn't know much about left wing going in, but sometimes less is more. Less thinking and just more skating. Keep your feet moving.

"Going after that puck is pretty much my job. Coming from defense, I know how to take the puck off the wall and defend the rush, so that's helped me a lot."

Joslin, who appears bigger than his listed 6-1 and 210 pounds, noted there are others in the league who have played both at forward and on the blue line - Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets, to name one.

But it's unlikely many have made the switch after 12 years on defense, like Joslin.

"I'm just glad I was able to make that transition and have a role on this team and be in the lineup every night," Joslin said. "It's a lot better than watching from the stands."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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