Rookie Paul Ranheim, age 22, became the greatest goalscorer in Golden Eagle history Wednesday night; maybe it's because he's worked so hard at becoming a defensive player.

"That's probably one of the reasons he gets lots of scoring chances," says Eagle Randy Bucyk, who has been Ranheim's center most of the season and who fed him the puck off a faceoff Wednesday for Ranheim's record-breaking 60th goal of the season."It's because he's able to steal the puck, or if there's a turnover, he's in good defensive position to where he can make a quick transition into the offense," Bucyk says.

"Defensive play is something he's improved the most at," says Bucyk. "He's more aware of things happening on the ice and knows when to jump at the puck and when to hold back."

It was something that Bucyk and linemate Rich Chernomaz, both veterans, worked with Ranheim on in practice earlier in the season. It paid off for all three. Chernomaz leads the Eagles with 91 points, Ranheim's second with 85 and Bucyk's fourth with 81.

In the last seven games, Ranheim has scored 13 points, Bucyk 12 and Chernomaz 11. In his last 10 games, all Eagle wins, Ranheim has come up with six two-goal games, a four-point game and three three-point games.

Because Ranheim is consistently part of all the play on the ice, and because he's not too eager to score, says Bucyk, he's usually in a spot where Bucyk or Chernomaz can easily get him the puck in scoring position.

"He's worked at being a complete player, and he is. He's one of our most solid players defensively," agrees Coach Paul Baxter, whose charges seek the franchise season record for wins tonight at Indianapolis.

They now have 49, which ties the club record set 10 years ago. They also have a 10-game win streak and have allowed no more than one goal in each of their last four games. The Eagles play at Saginaw Saturday and go back to Indy Tuesday.

Baxter says the fact that Ranheim has scored nearly a goal a game (60 in 66 games; Joe Mullen had 59 in 80 games) "is incredible in any league," and part of the reason is that he's worked so hard to become a complete player.

Baxter has often said Ranheim's one of the three fastest-skating professional players he's ever seen.

Ranheim also possesses a devastating wrist shot that takes no backswing for him to generate, making it tough for a goalie to spot.

Baxter says he honestly didn't expect to have Ranheim for the full season; he'd have thought the Calgary Flames would have called him up before now, though he didn't score in his four games with them in January.

"Paul's a natural goalscorer," adds Bucyk. "The biggest thing he needed was his confidence. He certainly has that now.

"Not much is going to hold him back in his career that I can see," says Bucyk.