Karl Samuelson | NHL.com correspondent
Jan 10, 2007, 12:00 PM EST
Life can be a series of turning points. It certainly has been that way for 28-year-old Ottawa Senators defenseman Tom Preissing.
Back in the day, Preissing was bypassed in the NHL Entry Draft while playing forward in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But when a former NHLer turned coach decided to try him on the blue line, he provided Preissing with the first turning point in his hockey career.
"As a forward, I was an average player in the United States Hockey League,” said Preissing. “I played forward through high school and then I played two years of junior hockey in Green Bay. Coach Mark Osiecki moved me back to defense midway through my first year and that’s where I found my niche. I think my development came a lot quicker as a defenseman."
Preissing brought an offensive flair to the back end while learning to be defensively responsible on the ice.
"Honestly, I always thought that I’d be a better defenseman than a forward,” said Preissing, who was born in Illinois, but grew up in Minnesota. “My teams growing up were not always the most competitive and it was just more advantageous for me to play forward on those teams. I jumped at the chance to play defense in college and having Mark Osiecki as a coach was a tremendous help. He has such a great defensive mind and it was a tremendous experience learning from him.”
The next turning point came during his senior year in college. Although the business student was a steady defenseman during his first three years at Colorado, he garnered little attention from professional scouts. But then came his final season of college hockey where he brought his game to a whole new level, collecting 23 goals and 52 points in 42 games.
“I had a successful senior year as did my team,” Preissing said. “We were the No. 1 rated team in the nation for a good part of the year. We had an excellent team and it was a lot of fun to play. Before that season, I had entertained some thoughts of playing beyond college, but I really wasn’t that set on the idea. I knew I wanted to get my college degree, but I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go after my senior year. Having a good final year gave me the confidence that I needed to go further and after my senior year I signed with San Jose.”
The 24-year-old rookie signed his first professional contract for the 2003-04 season and was nurtured in the San Jose system, one of the most successful development clubs in the circuit. After being named the Sharks’ top rookie that season, he followed up with an outstanding sophomore campaign by leading all San Jose defensemen with 43 points in 74 games.
“It was tremendous,” Priessing said. “The amount of younger guys they had on the team, the skilled guys and the player-friendly coaching staff and organization made it ideal. I think that they put me in situations to succeed and when I did succeed it helped build my confidence step by step. I had a good time on the power play last year with the Sharks and being able to dish off the puck to guys like Patty Marleau, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo made the game a lot easier. So I think my development was a matter of going with the situation and being on the ice with excellent players.”
The next turning point came when Preissing was dealt to Ottawa in a three-club deal. He is now facing the steep learning curve of playing for a new team in a new conference.
“In my second year in San Jose I not only started to feel comfortable with our team, but also with the Western Conference,” Preissing said. “You get to know player tendencies in your own conference. Playing the Eastern teams as infrequent as we did last year with San Jose, I have to learn that all over again. I’m looking to find tricks that will help me play against certain guys. It has been fun this year at the same time because it keeps you on your game and keeps you sharp.”
But the trade came totally unexpected.
“The trade was definitely a shocker,” said Preissing, who was the key player for Ottawa in the deal that sent Martin Havlat to the Chicago Blackhawks and Mark Bell to San Jose. “It was my first trade. I wasn’t expecting it and I wasn’t really ready for it, but in the end when the dust settled if I could pick any team in the league the Ottawa Senators probably would have been that team. The style of play is similar to the Sharks and the skill level of the guys on this team is high.”
It was Preissing’s skill level that attracted Ottawa General Manager John Muckler, who earlier in his career had coached the likes of Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, and Brian Leetch.
“I think Tom logged about 20 minutes of ice per game with San Jose,” said Muckler. “He is good offensively, has a good shot and is a good skater. Tom is a right hand shot, which is something we lacked on our club last year. That gives us a little more flexibility on our power play. I think it gives Bryan (Murray) as a coach more selection of players to make two power plays that would be almost equal. Last year we just played the one power play and it became a bit of a habit because power plays are good sometimes and not so good other times. So, our thinking was when one is not working maybe the second power play we put together would be able to take up the slack.”
Looking at Preissing’s impressive offensive stats from last season have some Senators fans thinking that he might be the second coming of Paul Coffey, but the message to Sens Nation is clear. Don’t expect Preissing to be the next great offensive defenseman, but do expect a solid contribution every night on both sides of the puck.