January 22, 2014
TORONTO– All Jesse Blacker needed to get his game going was a new setting.
On Saturday the 22-year-old defenceman scored his third game-winning goal since joining the Norfolk Admirals and in 22 games with his new club after being traded by Toronto he has already produced five goals and 18 points, both career highs.
“I’m just getting more opportunity here and I’m starting to find myself as a player,” Blacker said about his success with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate. “A lot of credit to the coaches here to help me find my game and give the opportunity I needed.”
Blacker, who the Maple Leafs drafted 58th overall in 2009, was shipped to the Ducks’ organization in the deal that brought centre Peter Holland to Toronto in late November. Veteran Brad Staubitz also went Toronto’s way and is playing for the Marlies while Anaheim gets a 2014 second-round pick to complete the deal.
“For us it was largely positional,” said Leafs VP of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin. “We feel we had more depth at theD-position and Peter addressed a need at centre.”
While Blacker had ups and downs in his first two seasons with the Marlies under Dallas Eakins, in large part due to injuries, he was always looked at as a a player with high potential. This season under Steve Spott, however, things completely fell apart.
The blue liner opened the season as a healthy scratch and it stayed that way until John-Michael Liles was summoned by the Leafs in early November. In all, Blacker dressed just five times with the Marlies before the trade and never did see eye-to-eye with his new coach.
“Personally I thought I should have been in the lineup and obviously we disagreed on that fact,” said Blacker. “Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t….He went with the players he felt was best for the team and unfortunately for me in his mind I wasn’t one of them.”
Blacker was drafted as a defenceman with an offensive skill set, and at the time was one of Toronto’s top blue-line prospects. But he never showed his scoring ability with the Marlies. In 132 games he produced only six goals and 29 points while averaging just 1.01 shots on net per game, rarely seeing anything other than even-strength play.
With Norfolk, he has been used in a similar fashion to his role in junior. He has emerged as one of its go-to guys on the power play and is currently putting 1.96 shots on goal a game.
“I have been asked to shoot more, it’s something that’s part of my game” Blacker said about his role with the Admirals. “(And) power-play time is definitely a big difference.”
Blacker, who grew up in Toronto, found out about being traded through a phone call from Leafs assistant GM Claude Loiselle. It was a short conversation.
“He just told me I was traded to Anaheim and (Ducks GM) Bob Murray would be calling me shortly to let me know the plan,” said Blacker. “Not too much to say after that, I expressed being grateful for what they did for me in the past.”
Blacker, ultimately, was no longer part of Toronto’s plan for the future and when the need for a centreman arose, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound D-Man was made expendable.
It could have been difficult for the third-year pro to leave the only organization he’s known, however the move has benefitted him as much as Toronto has profited from having Holland as an option down the middle.
In the end, Blacker is happy for a fresh start.
“It was a shock for me but I wasn’t disappointed,” Blacker said about the trade. “I was extremely happy to come to an organization like Anaheim. If a team trades for you they obviously see something in you that they want.
“I came here and got an opportunity.”