by A.J. Atchue || for NHL.com
Springfield Falcons defenseman and top Columbus Blue Jackets prospect John Moore spent last summer living and training in Columbus in preparation for his rookie season, and several items were on the to-do list.
The former first-round draft pick hoped to build up his strength and endurance, become comfortable with the organization’s conditioning program, familiarize himself with the pro lifestyle and living on his own, and learn how to cook.
Three out of four isn’t bad, but that last one didn’t go over quite so well.
“It was pretty ugly at first,” Moore said. “I was cooking some things where you kind of plug your nose and force it down your throat, but I’ve gotten better. I’m still no culinary expert, but I get the job done.”
Fortunately for the 20-year-old Moore, he makes a better hockey player than a gourmet chef and was able to head into 2010-11 ready to tackle the professional game.
Under the watchful eye of Blue Jackets strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins, Moore and a handful of other prospects worked out six days a week all summer.
“I really enjoyed being there, and it was really good training,” Moore said. “I did some of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but at the same time, I was in the best shape of my life after the summer and I was ready to go.”
A Chicago native who grew up in the northern suburb of Winnetka, Ill., Moore has been ready to go, so to speak, from the moment he first started playing hockey at age five. Suiting up for the local pee-wee hockey team, which his dad coached, he fell in love with the game and immediately started thinking bigger.
“As crazy as it sounds, from the first time I saw hockey on TV and started playing it, I knew it was what I loved to do and thought it would be unbelievable to play in the NHL one day,” he said. From then on, I was just enjoying everything, and as I got older the pieces started falling into place.”
Moore is not your average stay-at-home defenseman, preferring instead to use his speed and skating game to jump up and have an impact at the offensive end of the ice.
Growing up as a Chicago Blackhawks fan, he idolized those assets in Chris Chelios during a time when the future Hockey Hall of Famer was winning a pair of Norris Trophies with the Blackhawks.
“I really tried to be like him, be a good two-way defenseman and chip in offensively,” he said.
Moore was just 16 years old when he joined the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel in 2007-08, and at only 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, he didn’t yet have the body to properly play the type of two-way game he craved.
By the summer of 2008, though, he had grown four inches taller and used the offseason to put on 25 pounds of muscle. The results were aplenty. Moore grew more confident as an offensive defenseman, put up 39 points in 57 games with the Steel, and was selected by Columbus in the first round (No. 21) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
In an ironic twist, Moore also became teammates that season with Dean Chelios, son of his boyhood idol. Chris Chelios, then with the Detroit Red Wings but on the shelf with a broken leg, was a frequent visitor to the rink.
“It was really neat to see him there,” Moore said.
After a 47-point season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League in 2009-10 – and his summer spent in Columbus – Moore was ready to take his game to the professional level.
Playing on a Springfield club flush with rookies like himself, Moore currently leads all Falcons defensemen with 14 assists and 16 points while appearing in 34 of the team’s 35 games thus far. All but five of his points have come at even strength, indicative of the impact he can have on the Falcons’ transition game.
“In many of our games, John’s very noticeable in how quickly he can get up the ice and join the rush,” said Springfield coach Rob Riley. “He plays every situation, but I think he really shines in an up-tempo game where he’s able to kind of roam freely and get up the ice and try to make something happen, which he’s done very well.”
Moore’s confidence at the AHL level began to take off as October turned to November. He had gone eight straight games without a point to open the season – an eternity by his standards – heading into an Oct. 29 contest at Hartford.
The game was tied at 1-1 in overtime when Moore collected the puck on his half of the red line and began a rush which culminated with his first professional assist on the game-winning goal by Mike Blunden.
“I tried to use that as a foundation for what I expected of myself and to reassure myself that I was good enough and could definitely make a difference in this league,” he said. “It’s not like juniors where you’re going into a corner and could be going up against a 16-year-old kid. You’re playing against men up here and when you push them, sometimes they don’t move.”
As the season reaches its halfway point, Riley has taken note of Moore’s remarkable work ethic, a trait which was developed over that first summer building up strength in the USHL, progressed last summer in Columbus, and continues to evolve as he rounds out his game in the AHL.
Already a solid 5-on-5 player, Moore has spent time recently working to bolster his contributions on the power play, and he’s always looking to get stronger off the ice.
“He’s an extremely conscientious, diligent, hard-working kid who is really committed to getting better every day, and I think he’s far exceeded my own personal expectations of him as this season has gone on,” Riley said.
One knock on young, offensive-minded rearguards is a tendency to join the rush at the wrong times and end up surrendering an odd-man situation the other way. With Moore, it hasn’t been the case.
“There are certain times in a game where you watch what he does, as far as jumping up in the play and then maybe getting back to the defensive end as fast as anybody, and you just shake your head and know you’re seeing something pretty special,” Riley said. “He’s just a tremendous, natural skater.”
“It’s a lot more fun when you’re up scoring the goals and getting involved in the offense than it is when you’re just staying back and making sure no one scores on you,” Moore said. “But if there’s a change of possession or you turn it over, you’re still a defenseman first and foremost, so you have to make sure you have the speed to get back and help your goalie and (defensive) partner.”
In addition to Riley and his staff in Springfield, Moore is in frequent contact with the brass in Columbus and is well aware that the Blue Jackets view him as a puck-moving defenseman who can play in all situations and ultimately be a key cog on the blue line in the NHL.
Columbus general manager Scott Howson, though, is on record this year emphasizing that Moore and fellow prospects in Springfield won’t be rushed into prime time and will earn an NHL spot only when they’re fully developed and ready.
A non-issue, says Moore.
“I don’t put much stock in (getting to the NHL as fast as possible),” he said. “Sure, it would be nice to be in the NHL, but at the same time, every day I spend here I’m going to make myself a better hockey player. No one has ever hurt themselves by spending time in the American Hockey League.
“Right now, all I’m really worried about is my play in Springfield, and hopefully it will translate one day into a job in the NHL.”
“I think (Columbus) is happy with his continued development,” Riley added. “If we can just keep getting that same consistency from him, when he reports to camp next year I think he’s going to be a serious threat to a lot of the guys who are up on the big club right now.”