Aucoin a rock on the Island
Islanders defenseman Adrian Aucoin is always on the ice. So why is he so easily overlooked?
And plays ...
... and plays.
And with little fanfare -- and even less league-wide notice -- Aucoin has quietly become one of the game's steadiest defensemen. He has been so reliable since arriving on Long Island in 2001 the Islanders hate to take him off the ice. Again this season, just like the previous two campaigns, Aucoin leads the Islanders in ice time.
The Ottawa native, who spent one season at Boston University before joining the Canadian national team in 1992, feels the extra duty keeps him focused on the task at hand.
"There's no down time when you're playing a lot minutes," said Aucoin, 30. "It makes it easier to stay in the game. I think I makes it easier for me. I love it."
Coach Steve Stirling, in his first season behind the Isles' bench, enjoys having Aucoin on the ice.
"He's one of those rare guys that can give you quality minutes," Stirling said. "He's such as steady player. He's strong down low and he keeps it fairly simple. It's comforting to have him out there because you know he's going to make smart decisions."
Aucoin's smart play can be seen in his plus-23 rating, tops among NHL defensemen and second overall behind Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi's plus-24. But his impressive numbers don't end there. Aucoin's 23 assists tie him for fourth among defensemen with Colorado's Rob Blake and his 25 points tie him for seventh with Nashville's Marek Zidlicky.
While those numbers speak to his level of his play, team captain Mike Peca said Aucoin's game is much more than just stats.
"He's a guy who quietly goes about his business," Peca said. "You need guys like that. But he's also a veteran who helps stabilize the team. He's not afraid to speak out when we need it. He's definitely one our leaders."
Ironically, the acquisition of Aucoin from the Lightning at the 2001 draft went virtually unnoticed by Islander fans -- they were more focused on the blockbuster deal that brought high-priced center Alexei Yashin to the team. The Aucoin deal was further minimized the following day when the Isles bagged Peca from the Sabres in a multiplayer trade.
Aucoin's arrival didn't create too much of a buzz in the Islanders' coaches room, either.
"Peter [Laviolette] wasn't crazy about him in training camp," said one Isles insider. "But Kevin Haller got hurt in the first game of the (2001-02) season and that kind of forced him to give Adrian more time."
Aucoin continued to be a go-to guy for Laviolette. Last season he finished second in the league with 29 minutes per game. During Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Senators -- a double-overtime loss -- Aucoin played a career-high 45:53.
"Coming to the Islanders was definitely a turning point in my career," said Aucoin, after logging 31:28 in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. "I had a couple of good years in Vancouver, then I fell out of favor with [coach Marc] Crawford. They had Mattias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski on the right side. Back then they were definitely better players than me.
"I went to Tampa for half a season, then I got traded to the Islanders. It was good timing. It was a fresh start for me, and the team was getting a fresh start with some new players and a new coach. I'm just glad I got a chance. When you go to a new team, you never know what's going to happen."
This season, Stirling is trying to shave a few minutes off Aucoin's nightly dance card in hopes of keeping him a little fresher down the stretch.
"We've made a conscious effort from day one to make sure that (depth defensemen) Radek Martinek and Eric Cairns are getting their minutes, too," said Stirling, who was promoted from the club's AHL affiliate to replace Laviolette during the offseason. "For the most part, we're right where we want to be with Aucoin."
While Aucoin still has some 30-minute games, mostly due to excessive special teams play, his ice time average is down nearly three minutes this season.
But for the unheralded Islander defenseman, the quality of those minutes continues to get better ... and better ... and better.
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