A severed achilles tendon that cost him half a season in Prince Albert has to be considered a major setback in his development. Prior to the injury he was producing at over a point per game (1.14). The following season he produced 0.93ppg as a 19yo on a bad Raiders team, and his AHL production has been a little underwhelming.
Generally speaking, players who are defensive forwards in junior and the minor leagues don't become defensive forwards in the NHL. They remain minor leaguers. Players who become defensive forwards in the NHL are usually those who were dominant in junior and the minors but aren't quite good enough to be scorers in the NHL. As a 20 year old, Chipchura posted 0.51ppg in 102 AHL games. At 21 he posted 0.54ppg in 39 games.
The route taken to the NHL by some other successful defensive forwards:
- Gainey played junior in Peterborough and was an exception to the rule. His scoring numbers were less than half that of his contemporaries (Lanny, Middleton). He was a defensive winger through and through.
- Carbonneau put up 2.5ppg in his final year in the QMJHL, and 1.17ppg in 155 AHL games before his callup. He did alright when it came to scoring in the NHL, for that matter.
- Madden took an unconventional path, playing Jr B, Jr A, then four years in college before taking a leap in his second pro year, leading his AHL team in scoring at 25. Made his NHL debut at 26 and hasn't looked back.
- Dirk Graham put up gaudy scoring numbers in the IHL, if you can believe it.
- Joel Otto learned to play ice hockey in some faraway land of giants called Bemidji State. He scored a little bit in the AHL too.
By and large, famous defensive forwards put up solid scoring numbers at the level just beneath the NHL. Even if you look at a guy like Steve Rice who was expected to become a solid checker (and, like Chipchura, has WJC cred), he scored in junior and the AHL and still wasn't an NHL success. Chipchura's AHL production looks modest, though he played behind some good talent in 06-07 and on a below average Bulldogs team in 07-08.
On to some numbers...
As mentioned earlier, points aren't going to tell us which of these guys are better than others or which comes the closest to Chipchura.
On the whole it seems like a lot of players slapped with the defensive label took the college route. When looking for WHL examples, it was tempting to toss a handful of Sutters onto the list just to bulk it up, but Chipchura doesn't really look like a Sutter.
Craig Ramsay was drafted 19th overall. Chipchura went 18th. He was a plus player for 14 straight seasons.
Brian Skrudland is an obvious choice and a good one, I think. He went undrafted and was signed as a FA. The fact that he was halfway down the depth chart on a stacked Saskatoon team in junior may have something to do with this. His pro numbers are very close to Chipchura's, they're very similar players, they're LH centres, they both have some size, and they're from out West. What more could you want?
Lapierre is Chipchura's biggest obstacle to a pivot role on the 08-09 Habs. Lapierre's advantages are an extra year of experience and he's right handed.
Draper had modest minor league production for awhile before earning a permanent spot in Detroit.
As Topham has noted, Chipchura probably has his sights set higher than 'career plugger,' though a career like Skrudland's would be nothing to sneeze at.