Jarred Mohr had 38 points for the Thunder last season. It was the highest total among Wichita defensemen and it might have been higher if Mohr hadn’t had to compete for points with so many other Thunder defensemen.
The Thunder plays a style and at a pace that encourages and often highlights defenseman scoring. Coach Kevin McClelland finds players who fit into such a system and turns their playmaking abilities loose.
Mohr has once again found himself among several lamp-lighting blue-liners. Wichita is tied for the Central Hockey League lead with 22 points from defenseman. Mohr has three points; the Thunder leader in that category is Kevin Young, with three goals and five assists.
“I think it’s more Coach Mac going out and finding defensemen that have the ability to become part of the offensive rush,” Mohr said. “If the opportunity is there for us to chip in, we have the guys who can do that.”
Mohr’s 38 points in 2011-12 were a career high but not an outlier among his career statistics. The jump in assists, to 32 from a previous career best of 22, offered the best indication of how defensemen can improve their scoring numbers with the Thunder. His plus-22 rating, smashing his previous-best plus-5, showed the value of playmaking in Wichita’s system.
Wichita places an emphasis on taking a high volume of shots. With a barrage of shots comes elevated goal totals and more points to go around. But the Thunder also emphasizes a fast rush at the goal featuring all five players on the ice.
That can leave Wichita susceptible to the skills of faster forwards, but it also gives the Thunder an advantage that helps cancel out the philosophy’s downside. Defensemen start the surge with quick passes to forwards, and goals happen as a result of the Thunder’s relentless attack.
“Mainly we’re standing on the blue line, so when we have time and space we’re encouraged to shoot the puck a lot,” Mohr said. “Our forwards kicking the pucks or putting home rebounds can always benefit a defenseman’s assist totals. It’s not necessarily setting up a play, it can be a tip-in goal or a shot and a rebound or things like that.”
Last season the Thunder got 124 points from its defensemen and is on the way to shattering that total thanks to personnel that better fits the style. Wichita lost the franchise’s highest-scoring defenseman, Daniel Tetrault, but brought back offensive-minded Andrew Martens, who spent much of last season in the AHL.
Wichita also added Dave Inman and Nathan Lutz while Young, who played in eight games at the end of last year, is back for a full season. They fit within the Thunder’s balanced-scoring scheme by contributing to the points totals and by getting all of the forwards involved.
“You have to pick your spots,” Mohr said. “As a defenseman, you can’t do it every time. You’ve got to wait for the opportunity, and when it does you have to be there.”
The Thunder earned criticism from fans after losing convincingly to Fort Wayne in the CHL Finals. The Komets overwhelmed the Thunder with speedy forwards and fans were calling for more stay-at-home defensemen, whose sole purpose is to slow the opponent’s rush.
Wichita has one of those in Travis Wight, and Mohr provides somewhat of a happy medium. He’s fast enough to keep up with those forwards but his scoring abilities keep him from being one-dimensional. The Thunder also has a way to combat an opponent’s superior athleticism.
“Just adjust,” Mohr said. “You just adjust to teams, because every team plays different. The game has changed a lot from a few years ago to what it is today. It’s all skating, it’s much faster. You have to find d-men who can skate, that can play at both ends of the ice and can contain forwards that have a lot of speed.”