After three years of quietly solid play, Michal Jordan is finally getting his time in the spotlight.
The 22-year-old has long been one of the Checkers’ most consistent and most versatile defensemen, which, while appreciated by his coaches and his teammates, doesn’t always grab headlines.
Things that do grab headlines: an All-Star selection and a scoring surge, each of which Jordan has experienced over the last month. The timing was simultaneous, as he had his first career multi-goal game less than two hours after learning that he would make his first career trip to the AHL’s All-Star Classic. He hasn’t slowed since, with five of his 14 career goals coming in his last nine games.
“All of the sudden he starts scoring and we start talking about him, but we should have been talking about him a long time ago,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “He’s been a real force for us these last few years.
“Right now he’s definitely our most consistent and best defenseman.”
To that point, consistency is the word that always comes up in discussions involving the Czech defender, a Carolina Hurricanes’ fourth-round pick in 2008, even though his level of play seems to have increased over the course of this season. He’s always been one of the team’s plus/minus leaders (at plus-11, he currently ranks fourth on the team), a testament to his play on the defensive end as he regularly draws the toughest assignment against the opposition’s top scorers.
That calm, steady defensive play has always been on of Jordan’s strong suits (“He’s never played like a young player,” said Daniels). The spike in offensive totals is something he hasn’t quite been able to explain himself.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I always try to do the same things and work hard no matter what.”
One reason might be the team’s occasional practices dedicated entirely to power skating – a new development this season.
“When they first showed up it was like, “Who are these guys?” said Jordan. “Now I feel things that I’m carrying over into my games. It’s a big thank you to them and to Carolina for bringing them in.”
Another might be an increased role on the team. With high-scoring blueliners Justin Faulk and Bobby Sanguinetti gone to the NHL, Jordan has had the opportunity to emerge from their shadows, earning regular time on the power play in addition to his roles at even strength and on the penalty kill.
“He’s a guy that we trust in all situations,” said Daniels.
“When those guys left, coach was saying that it was up to us to step up,” said Jordan. “I’m getting more ice time and I think with that you get more confident.”
For evidence of that confidence, look no further than the first goal of his recent outburst, a shorthanded tally in which he rushed all the way to the front of the net to tip home a Riley Nash pass
on Jan. 17, and the latest, a play in which he made a full circle around the offensive zone, patiently holding on to the puck to beat defenders and find open teammates before creating a shooting lane and doing the honors himself
“He showed such poise on that goal,” said Dalpe following that game against the San Antonio Rampage this past Sunday. “Nothing against him, but I haven’t seen that kind of poise from many players.”
It was something Jordan hadn’t even seen from himself as recently as a month ago, when he feels he went through an uncharacteristic rough patch. That resulted in the only game he’s missed over the last two seasons – one spent in the press box as a healthy scratch for a game against Rockford in early December.
Daniels downplays that lineup decision now, citing a numbers game due to a glut of talented defensemen at the height of the NHL’s lockout, but it seems to have had the desired effect.
“It was a tough start for me and I wasn’t very happy with my game,” said Jordan. “It was a weird time. Every time I got scored on or made a mistake it just made a bigger hole.
“After I got healthy scratched, I watched the tape and it wasn’t pretty, but I came back wanting to work twice as hard. Everything has been good since then.”
So good that he may have put himself into the conversation to make an NHL debut should the opportunity arise. Only one of the Checkers’ six defensemen – Marc-Andre Gragnani – has any kind of NHL experience, making the candidacy for recalls to Carolina as wide open as ever.
“He just needs to do what he’s doing in being consistent and making quicker decisions, because it gets quicker at each level,” said Daniels. “Hopefully his time will come.”
If he continues to steadily improve at his current pace – one that has taken him from rookie fighting for his place in the lineup to an All-Star in a relatively short amount of time – it just might.
“He gets better every year,” said Daniels.