Anaheim calling to the hockey world....
The Ducks announced yesterday that they have signed Northeastern freshman defenseman Jake Newton to a three-year entry level contract. The 6'3" 200 lb. free agent will be making 825K this season and 900K for each of the next two seasons for a cap hit of 875K. His AHL salary will be 67.5K.
The feel-good portion of Newton's story is that he's a Southern California native-- a 2006 San Jacinto High School graduate in fact --who played with the Junior Ducks and Junior Kings, played his Squirt and Peewee hockey around the Inland Empire and played Bantam and Midget hockey with the San Diego Gulls before moving on to the NAHL, USHL and then this year, to Northeastern University. Obviously, there are easier roads to the NHL from California. Hermosa Beach native Brian Salcido, for example, attended Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota and played alongside Sidney Crosby and Jack Johnson, vastly increasing his stock as a prospect. Newton should be commended for availing himself of the benefits of California hockey until he graduated from high school.
Unfortunately, taking the long road to the NHL also left Newton a 21 year old freshman in the NCAA, which made it very likely he would leave for the pros if he had a breakout season. And break out he did. Newton put 83 shots on goal (T-3rd on the team) for 22 points (5th on the team) and 9 goals (4th on the team) in 34 games with the Huskies. The performance earned him a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team, not to mention a call from the Capitals and the Ducks, where David McNab was particularly interested in getting him to put ink to paper.
So, what can you expect from Jake Newton?
Well, first off, Newton is only undrafted because he didn't have the pedigree to get any attention before going to Northeastern. This isn't a situation where McNab has found an undersized player (like Dan Sexton) or a limited toolkit character player (like Stu Bickel). Jake Newton can play, and he apparently had Ross Mahoney on the phone before the Ducks could even get to him. It's all right to put expectations on him; he's not a diamond in the rough, which McNab has become notorious for unearthing.
It's also all right to call him an offensive defenseman. His goals and assists aren't flukes. His highlight reel paints the picture of a strong skater with a hard and accurate shot who can read the rush well on offense and is supremely confident carrying the puck down the wing, to say nothing of how well he passes and sets up scoring chances. Unfortunately, Northeastern had a slow night offensively when I watched him play UMass in January, so I didn't get to see his toolkit revving on all cylinders, but I definitely got an eyeful of defense.
Newton is very mobile defensively, and he seems to push shooters to the outside patiently and effectively. He didn't force the shot so much as he let them run out of room into the corner, where he would usually crunch them. You could argue that an NHL defender should be more aggressive, but you could also argue that guys run out of room faster in the NHL, making Newton's job easier. He's not an open ice hitter or a bulldozer, but he did draw plenty of net-front duty this season and proved himself effective but not dominant. Hopefully he can lean into those instincts at the next level and really do some furniture moving in front of the crease, but right now, he's not afraid of reminding the opposition that he's 6'3" and that's a good offensive defenseman to have.
This year's games are counting against Newton's contract, so there seems to be a distinct temptation to try him out in the lineup if he looks good in practice. And with only two years remaining on his deal, he will likely get consideration ahead of the Ducks' currently unsigned defensive depth.
Size - At 6'3" 200lbs, Newton is slightly larger than Sbisa and Gardiner, while still a strong skater. If he can't translate his offense to the next level, he has a slightly higher basement value than the rest of the Ducks premier puck moving and offensive defensemen.
Offensive Sense - Newton does not strictly carry the puck, and he seems to read offensive opportunities as well as he creates them. I only saw him finish the opportunities in highlight reels, but I never got the sense that he was converted from forward based on how he played against UMass.
Unchecked Aggression - Newton likes to get pretty deep into the offensive zone, either carrying the puck down low to the goal line or positioning himself near the hash marks. He'll find less space and better skaters at the next level, and he'll need to adjust his offensive instincts accordingly.
Raw Defensively - As I said, he could be better in front of the net or attacking the puck carrier, and he will get a chance to do that at the next level. But if he is to stand out amongst the Ducks' other offensive defensemen, he has to consistently look his size.