The Vancouver Canucks signed defenceman Alex Biega to a two-year contract extension. Was it the right move? The jury is still out on that one.
The 5-foot-10 blueliner was selected out of the American high school league USHS by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Following his draft season, Biega committed to Harvard University and spent four seasons with the Harvard Crimson. So, by the time he joined the Portland Pirates, the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate, Biega was already 22 years old.
A University of British Columbia study from 2014 shows that NHL defencemen are best between the ages of 28 and 29, and, therefore, peak at 29 years old. However, conventional hockey wisdom says that a player’s chances of making the NHL decrease drastically once the player turns 23 or maybe 24 years old. Beyond that age, players are no longer considered prospects — they are nothing more than AHL regulars or NHL depth players.
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Many college prospects — like Detroit Red Wing Danny DeKeyser, Edmonton Oiler Justin Schultz or Minnesota Wild Mike Reilly — make the NHL in their first season of professional hockey. Alex Biega, on the other hand, did not. And, following the “rule” outlined above, he only had two years to prove his worth.
Unfortunately, he didn’t do that either, and the Sabres decided not to re-sign him after his entry-level contract expired in 2013. Enter the Vancouver Canucks.
Then-Canucks GM Mike Gillis signed Biega, Yannick Weber and Jeremie Blain following the 2012-13 season. At the time, Weber was meant to be an immediate improvement for the NHL defence, Blain was a 21-year-old prospect, and Biega was, well, a career AHL player. And it looked like he would be just that, as he joined the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets.
But things have changed. Biega, a defensive defenceman, made his NHL debut for Vancouver on February 16, 2015, scoring his first NHL goal — the game winner in a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. He did get sent back to Utica but was named team captain for the 2015-16 campaign. Biega finally showed enough promise to be called up to Vancouver again — and stay there for good.
Biega has only played 14 games in the AHL this season while spending 25 in the NHL. He is one of very few bright spots on a defence that makes Canucks fans cringe with unwanted regularity. Jim Benning and Willie Desjardins are obviously convinced of his abilities, and awarded him the first one-way contract of his career.
At 5-foot-10, Biega has an unusual frame for a defensive D-man, but there are enough reasons to like him. He is very mobile, a good skater who knows how to transition from defence to offence.
"A diminutive, stocky two-way D-man that makes very good decisions with and without the puck. Very physical and plays a hard-nosed brand of hockey. Positionally sound and has great awareness on the ice. Excellent shot. Not creative by any means, nor can he be relied upon for consistent offence. Still a hard-working player who takes nothing for granted and does all of the little things right."
Now, we do have to keep one thing in mind: while there are exceptions to every rule, Biega, who will turn 28 in April this year, will likely peak very soon. So far, he has not proven that he can be an NHL defenceman for a full season — his 32 games over two seasons are a small sample size.
The Canucks know that, so they signed him to a cheap two-way contract with a cap hit of $750,000. It’s a low risk, but it is still a risk.
Unless Biega finds out he can do some kind of magic, he likely won’t get much better than he is right now. Is what he can do right now enough to be an NHL player for two and a half more years?
The jury is still out.
What do you think? Can Biega establish himself as an NHL player? What does his future look like? Let us know in the comments!