It is near impossible to miss Dylan Blujus when looking for reasons why the Brampton Battalion are a surprise team in the Ontario Hockey League.
The Battalion came into the season with minimal buzz, but are punching above their weight largely thanks to a crew of defencemen who have matured as a whole over the past season and a half. The 6-foot-3, 193-pound Buffalo native has been a big part of that, particularly with his savvy work as a power-play quarterback, whether it's getting shots through traffic to the net or zipping passes to his teammates. Blujus comes into this week's action eighth in scoring among the league's defenceman with 27 points in 40 games. That's no mean feat considering he's a second-year player on a team that is all about defence and grinding out wins.
Blujus' offensive gifts and his size give him a lot of upside. He'll need to add muscle to his rangy frame in order to become a bona fide prospect, along with perhaps being more physical in his own zone.
"One thing I have to improve on is my toughness and my play down low," says Blujus, who is 52nd in NHL Central Scouting's midterm North American rankings.
Brampton coach and director of hockey operations Stan Butler notes that Blujus' compete level is a work-in-progress, since his minor hockey environment in western New York was arguably not as competitive as an AAA midget league in Ontario. However, the defenceman's skill in the offensive zone is a very good base.
"You can teach intensity and you can teach defensive play, but you can't teach offensive instincts like he has," Butler says.
1. What do you think is the biggest area of your game that you need to improve by the time you'll be ready to turn pro?
"My defensive game, getting smarter down low and making quicker plays."
2. Whom in the NHL do you watch and think, "I need to start doing that" or "I see things in his game that I can work into mine?"
"I don't really key on any one defenceman. I look at a couple defencemen thoughout the NHL for pointers ... for a little while it was Chris Pronger, now it's Shea Weber — bigger guys who can play both offence and defence."
3. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?
"Honestly, I come to work every game and I'm always there for the guys and trying to keep up my offensive game."
4. You're a Buffalo native and your sister cheered for the Bills for a year, but her husband (Dan Gronkowski) and her brother-in-law (Rob Gronkowski) play for their AFC East rival, the New England Patriots. Where do your loyalties fall when those teams clash?
"It's weird. I grew up hating the Patriots. I'm kind of forced to like them a bit now. I think my loyalty is still with the Bills, but I like to see Dan and Rob do well."
5. Aside from the Powerade Centre, what is your favourite rink to play in?
"Ottawa's a nice place to play, with all the fans. So are London and Windsor, any of those places where it's a great atmosphere to play in."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).