PORTLAND – Mark Louis could be playing a new role for the Portland Pirates during the Calder Cup playoffs.
A second-year pro, Louis has played as a shutdown defenseman for most of his career and has been paired with prized rookie blueliner Brandon Gormley for much of this season.
His role changed dramatically during the final week of the season when Louis lined up at right wing with rookie center Brendan Shinnimin and left wing Ethan Werek to form a fourth forward line for the AHL team, which starts a best-of-five playoff series on the road Saturday night against the Syracuse Crunch.
“As an organization we’ve been chatting about it a little bit, seeing where it might be good for him and us because of the way he skates and the power that he plays with,” Portland Coach Ray Edwards said. “We have a lot of depth on the blue line, and we don’t have a lot of depth necessarily in that (power forward) role. Those guys are hard to find.”
Louis is not hard to find. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he can be a formidable presence no matter where he plays.
“He is probably one of the biggest forwards in the league,” Werek said. “I don’t think a lot of defensemen like having him come down (the ice) full speed. He’s such a good skater and so powerful. It’s great having him on the forecheck down low.”
Louis also is an extremely physical player. In 61 games with the Pirates, he has been assessed 111 penalty minutes, including 11 fighting majors.
So far, Louis, who is recovering from a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup the final game of the regular season, likes the move.
“I like playing (defense) too, but this just brings a different look, and I really like it,” he said. “Obviously it’s a challenge to switch, but I feel just having great guidance around has smoothed the transition and made it fairly seamless.”
Louis, 26, has played up front before.
“The last time I played up front was when I was 20 in juniors,” he said. “I started the year playing defense and moved up to forward. Brandon Sutter was my centermen.”
Louis played at Red Deer in his native Alberta in the Western Hockey League with Sutter, a member of the famous Canadian hockey clan who now plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After playing defense for four seasons at Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Louis joined the Pirates last February at the end of his college career. During the offseason, the NHL parent Phoenix Coyotes signed him to an AHL contract.
So far, Edwards has liked what he’s seen from Louis up front.
“We’ve had a very small sample size, but there were some real positive things looking at it which caused us to say ‘With some work here this could be real good,’ ” the coach said.
Edwards intends to continue using Louis as a forward during the playoffs.
“He’s day-to-day, so we’ll have to see how it goes,” he said. “Everyone who is here is potential player for us.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: