Let me begin by saying that I, like most everyone else, was surprised that Everett was able to earn a split from the first two games of its playoff series against the Portland Winterhawks. Given Portland’s 60-point edge in the standings and domination of the season series, I didn’t give the Tips much of a chance at stealing one on the road, especially with overage winger Ryan Harrison unavailable. The Tips deserve big-time credit for proving us all wrong.
But if I’m most surprised that the Tips were able to split, a close second on my surprise meter is Everett’s use of Kevin Davis.
Davis, Everett’s first-round pick in last year’s bantam draft, just turned 16 earlier this month. He looks even younger. He’s not tall for a defenseman, standing just 5-foot-11, and he’s a rail-thin 165 pounds. Yet there he was taking a regular shift on defense for the Tips in Games 1 and 2, pushing full-time defensemen Landon Oslanski and Cole MacDonald into winger roles.
Top prospects in their 15-year-old year appearing during the playoffs is nothing new, as they’re often called up once their midget season is over. Zach Hamill (who actually played junior B as a 15-year-old) played in 20 playoff games for Everett in 2004. Kyle Beach saw action in nine games in 2006.
You’ll see forwards doing this more often than defensemen. The forwards can be stashed on the fourth line, getting just the occasional shift, and if they make a mistake it results in a turnover instead of a scoring chance. Therefore, it’s a lot less common to see a 15-year-old defenseman get playoff shifts. The last 15-year-old defenseman to see action in the playoffs for the Tips? That would be none other than Ryan Murray in 2009.
Now, I am not comparing Kevin Davis to Ryan Murray. Murray was a special talent who went on to become a special player for the Tips. Trying to hold any 15-year-old defenseman up to that standard is completely unfair. Murray hadn’t appeared in a single WHL game when he joined the team at the start of the playoffs, and yet he immediately jumped into Everett’s top four against a second-seeded Tri-City team that scored goals for fun that season. Murray’s instantaneous impact was extraordinary, and I don’t expect to ever see a 15-year-old defenseman do anything like that for Everett ever again.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what Davis is doing, too. Davis isn’t a player who seems to have any transcendent physical tools. As mentioned before he’s not big, nor is he physically mature for his age. He hasn’t exhibited any special skating abilities or stick handling. Yet the evidence suggests he’s been anything but a liability when he’s played. Everett won just over a third of its games during the regular season, yet the Tips won half of the six in which Davis played, and Davis finished a plus-3 in those six games.
Davis was then something of a surprise choice in Games 1 and 2 in Portland. As the road team, Everett wasn’t able to spot him against the Winterhawks’ fourth line, and during the live blogs there were reports that Portland acting coach Travis Green made a point of getting his veteran forwards on the ice whenever Davis was trotted out. But Everett pulled off the upset in Game 1 anyway. Apparently Davis had a harder time against Portland’s bigger forwards in Game 2, with overager Taylor Peters’ strength (he’s a mature 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds) said to have given Davis trouble in board battles.
But Everett general manager Garry Davidson said he was very pleased with how Davis performed. So much so that the Tips have arranged for him to stick around a little longer. Davis was supposed to return home this week, as his school’s spring break is over. But the Tips arranged for Davis to remain another week — mom is gathering his assignments — so he’s available for the next three games of the series.
Should Davis play in those three, he will have reached double-digit WHL games as a 15-year-old, including five playoff-intensity contests against the best offense the WHL has to offer. I don’t know whether Davis will continue to get the call, and if he does I have no idea how he’ll do. But I have no doubt the experience Davis has already received will do wonders to prepare him for his rookie campaign next season, and that’s a reason for optimism for the Tips.