Improved Shipley looking for better results

It's not fair to be dramatic regarding a 19-year old hockey player, but 2011-12 could be a make-or-break year for Niagara IceDogs forward Steven Shipley. After all, the 6'3 center endured a 20% decrease in production in his first post-draft season, an unsavory fact for those looking exclusively at numbers. You'd think that an offensive rebound is a requirement if Shipley is to earn an NHL deal in the spring.

According to the St. Catharines Standard, Shipley's slide should be attributed to him rounding out his game in an effort to become a more complete hockey player.

"Last year, I wanted to improve my all around game and my defensive game and little things like that," said Shipley, a 19-year-old native of Ilderton. "I'm happy with the ways things went. I learned a lot as a player last year, but I set high expectations for myself this year to improve upon.

"It is a balancing act. You can't be cheating for offence. You have to take care of your defence, but at the same time, when you get your opportunities, you want to take advantage."

With Shipley shifting his focus to improving his two-way set, Niagara coach Marty Williamson often used him on the third line (often out of his natural center position), while relying on others to provide the main offensive pop.

"Not everybody can be a top-six guy in the NHL. But a bottom-six guy in the NHL is a pretty good life," Williamson said. "You need to be well rounded. Ships was pegging himself into trying to only be an elite NHL guy and if that didn't work out for him, he would be falling flat on his face.

"Now he's got both things. If he can have an elite year points-wise, he's got the defensive game in his back pocket. It opens more doors for him. That was my message last year for him that we need to round your game out a little better."

Shipley's production also suffered from a lack of time on the power play. On a team with the likes of Andrew Agozzino, Ryan Strome, Freddie Hamilton and David Pacan, Shipley didn't get many chances with the man advantage.

"Ship was used to first unit power play, so you can always factor in 10-12 points on that stuff," Williamson said. "I think Ship had a 50-60-point season and if you would have told me Ship would have 70 points on a team that was real balanced like we were last year, I would have been real happy.

"I probably took 10-12 points away from him by not giving him that first power-play unit."

It's great that Shipley is working away from the puck, and I understand how playing time relates to production, but the Sabres have always done a good job developing bottom six forwards. It's time to turn the heat up offensively and exude some skill to show that he's more than that.

"I think absolutely I can be a top-six forward. In the past I think I have proven I have the ability to do that. The next step now is to improve my offence," he said.

Shipley will be with the IceDogs for another week or so before heading off to training camp in Buffalo, an experience he enjoyed immensely last season.

"It was my first training camp and it was an incredible experience," he said. "Meeting those guys and being part of a team atmosphere. I'm real excited to go back this year. We're going to Traverse City (for the NHL Prospects Tournament) and I'm real excited for that.

The main concern moving forward is Shipley's competitive fire, as I feel that Williamson would have been inspired to give him those quality minutes had he brought the juice and moxie nightly. We've seen Shipley dig in and take the puck hard to the post. That power and size needs to be used with regularity.

After canning a line of 23-40-63 as a 17-year old, there's little question that Shipley can "do it". From my perspective, the Sabres will need to see that upped passion mixed with measurables of 25 goals and 70 points to confidently sponsor a three-year development plan moving forward.

High expectations for a fourth-rounder? I think not, especially if the chip that was on his shoulder a year ago remains.
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