In Sweden, the defensive tutelage apparently starts very early in your hockey career.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a decent or a great forward: you’re learning to play defense and you’re learning to play it well.
“When we were younger the coaches always taught us to play a team game and be responsible,” Dennis Rasmussen said on Tuesday morning. “I think they have a program in Sweden where they teach the coaches to be a certain way, and that’s one of the things they say: even if you’re a skill guy, you have to play defense, too.”
Outside of the fact that it sounds like Sweden is full of coach Joel Quennevilles, the defensive-minded approach has served Rasmussen well with the Blackhawks. An injury gave him a chance when the season began but thanks to his steady play, especially on defense, he’s carved out a solid spot in this lineup. On Tuesday night he was back at center, where he’s most comfortable, and adding a little offense in the Blackhawks’ 4-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
Rasmussen had a strong training camp. That, coupled with Andrew Desjardins’ injury in the final preseason game meant Rasmussen stayed with Chicago. It’s worked out well, with Rasmussen providing reliability among the bottom six.
“He’s been good,” Quenneville said. “I think he’s helped out penalty killing wise. I have to commend him on how he’s approached the whole year. It looks like he’s taking advantage a little bit more of the opportunity.”
Speaking of that penalty kill, that’s another part of the game Rasmussen was required to do in Sweden. It was one more thing that’s proven beneficial in his time with the Blackhawks.
“If you’re one of the best players when you were younger you were playing PK, too,” he said. “I always played a lot of power play and PK. if I’d only been playing power play when I got here, it would’ve been more of an issue. But I’m used to the PK before.”
If Rasmussen’s a little frustrated with any part of his game, it’s generating offense. He pointed to Sunday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, when he came up empty despite opportunities – “I created a lot of chances but of course I’m not happy with how it developed,” he said. “I had a couple of really good chances last game I should have scored on. That’s one thing I need to do better.” He did capitalize on Tuesday, scoring off a Richard Panik feed in the second period; he nearly scored a short-handed breakaway later in the game.
Rasmussen has been working for a long time on his defensive and penalty killing games. The Blackhawks like what he does and have made him a consistent part of this lineup. He’d like to get the offense going too but if he capitalizes the way he did on Tuesday, it will.
“That’s one thing I have to develop a little bit: take the puck to the net, use my body, have some zone time. That’s been better the last couple of games here,” he said. “As I said before, I need to score on my chances. Hopefully that’s going to come.”