Jim Nill made a quiet move in March (unless you’re the Buffalo Sabres), signing college free agent defenseman Gavin Bayreuther from St. Lawrence University.
For Bayreuther, major junior was never an option. He wanted to get his degree, and play for the team he felt wanted him the most once he became an educated man. Bayreuther’s story is a nice counterpoint to the way college free agents are usually characterized (even by NHL players) - as money grubbers and “draft dodgers”.
Funny how we never demand that coaches or GM’s take a paycut or relinquish control for “love of the game”, nevermind an NCAA strength and conditioning coach making $600,000 a year. Apologies. I get carried away on this topic.
Gavin went undrafted, after all. So he didn’t “spurn” any team. But when he hit the open market there was league interest.
Bayreuther was 3rd in the NCAA among defensemen in points per game his final year of NCAA hockey. He began playing for the Texas Stars immediately. And as you might expect from a hockey player with a sociology degree, he plays a rather educated game.
And like most college students, he debuted with a party instead of studiousity.
Despite scoring a goal in his first game, Bayreuther struggled too. Something I found a little “strange” was how often he got beat outside in his first game against Cleveland on March 17th. It was a little disconcerting, especially if you were the Texas goaltender, who probably felt like one of these men after the fact.
But I literally never saw (that I remember) Bayreuther get beat outside after that. It’s important to note that he played that night with Dillon Heatherington, Julius Honka, and Matt Mangene in the same game. That didn’t happen again either.
Bayreuther plays a fairly modern offensive defenseman game. He’s not an overt talent like Miro Heiskanen or Julius Honka. He doesn’t wow you with supernatural skating ability, a booming shot, and he doesn’t tower over opponents like Brent Burns with an August Comte mouth.
World weary prospect that Bayreuther is, he could probably talk to you about Emile Durkheim. It’s fitting then, that he plays a brand of hockey that emphasizes duty over rights-err, freelancing.
The best that that can be said of Gavin is that he plays economically - not fast, but urgent, making calm decisions under pressure, and calmly pressuring.
This is a typical Bayreuther play. As the play transitions back toward the neutral zone, he remains calm under pressure, very patiently delaying his pass back toward an open forward to get back on the rush.
And sometimes he is the rush.
The Dallas Stars had a problem last season. Well, they had a thousand of them. But one of their problems was playing too many defensemen doing bad John Klingberg blueline ventriloquism. Defensemen asked to carry the puck who can’t carry the puck carried the puck anyways through the offensive zone. It went as successful as you’d expect.
Bayreuther’s play above reflects why redundancy is so important. The more blueliners you have who can carry the puck effectively, the less you have to actively defend. Obviously, every team wants balance. But in the absence of balance, velocity works pretty darn well.
As it did for Bayreuther just a few days later.
Honka, Bayreuther & Gurianov with a clinical PP for the Texas Stars tonight pic.twitter.com/jbbh0MLkBo— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) March 23, 2017
Bayruether is not just a mere puck mover. He’s a defenseman first and foremost. Whether or not that translates into a successful career is anyone’s guess. Right now Klingberg, Heiskanen, Honka, Lindell, and Johns are the future. Which leaves one last spot in the interim for Gavin to earn a shot.
Gavin will likely split his time with Niklas Hansson (a good young prospect with a more offensive mind; which is fine, as Bayreuther and Honka looked solid together), Brett Regner, or Ludwig Bystrom. However he fits into the lineup, expect intelligent play from someone who is a hell of a hockey player for a sociologist.