Bobby Sanguinetti set out this season with a goal: to make the full-time jump to the NHL. With just three weeks remaining in the regular-season, he seems to have proven his worth.
Of course, it has been an adjustment on and off the ice, and he has had to combat a recent rash of injuries, but it’s all a part of the learning process of a first-year NHLer.
“It’s definitely different,” the Trenton, N.J., native said. “You’re playing with the best players in the world, so there are going to be mistakes and breakdowns. I’ve kind of had to learn the hard way early on to try to forget it when you get scored on and just stay positive. It’s been a big learning experience.”
“Sangs has been good. He’s growing as a player,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He’s matured through this experience. He’s fought for it, and he’s earned it.”
Sanguinetti emerged as a starting defenseman out of an abridged training camp, dressing in the first three games while third-year blueliner Jamie McBain was a healthy scratch for two games and veteran Joe Corvo sat for one.
Aside from missing a handful of games with injuries, Sanguinetti has been a healthy scratch just five times this season. He’s logged 26 games, better than an eight-fold increase in his total games played from last season. He’s tallied five points, his first-career goal – which proved to be the game-winner – coming on Feb. 24 against the New York Islanders. He recorded his first-career NHL point just a game prior, the primary assist on a late third-period goal against Tampa Bay.
Sanguinetti has averaged 14:53 of ice time, recording a season- and career-high of 21:55 in that same Feb. 24 game.
The 25-year-old defenseman credits playing for three months in Charlotte during the work stoppage in preparing his game to be at the optimum level to claim a spot on the Hurricanes’ defense in mid-January.
“When you’re in game shape and ready and you get the kinks out early, it was great for me, and I think the other guys would tell you the same thing,” he said. “When that time came, we were at the top our games and playing, so it was important for us, for sure.”
But, as with any player making the jump, there were growing pains and learning curves, especially in a season in which the importance of each game is magnified.
The biggest lesson he’s learned? Learning how to shake off a bad shift.
“That’s what the great players do. They kind of forget about what happened and make sure they are ready for the next shift,” he said. “That’s been something I’ve been gradually trying to get better at.”
“He’s playing hard, and he’s playing with more confidence than he has in his career so far,” Muller said. “He’s showed signs of progressing, wanting to be a part of it and engaged in it, and that’s what you want to see.
“That’s what we’re happy about: seeing him and his enthusiasm and wanting to get better.”
Hindering his progression a bit was the gaudy injury target he seemed to be bearing recently.
In the span of a calendar week, Sanguinetti suffered three separate injuries. On March 14 against Washington, Sanguinetti was chasing a puck into the near corner to the left of Dan Ellis when he lost his footing. Joey Crabb added a crunch, and Sanguinetti left the game holding his left arm. He returned shortly after but could not play against Tampa Bay two days later. On March 19 against Florida, Sanguinetti was cut on the upper lip with a skate and required 13 stitches, and he played through the rest of the game with an increasingly bulgy lip. Two days later in the third period against New Jersey, Sanguinetti slid awkwardly into the boards in the neutral zone and did not return. He missed the following four games, returning to the lineup against Washington on Tuesday.
It’s been a rough few weeks.
“It was tough. I had that week there where it seemed nothing could go right,” he said. “Especially in your first year, you don’t really know what you’re getting into, so you just try to play through everything. You want to stay in the lineup.”
And, as is likely the case with a number of players in the room, Sanguinetti is playing through various ailments.
“He was playing real good hockey until he had about three injuries there, and now he’s not totally healthy, but he’s fighting through it,” Muller said. “He’s not happy about sitting out, so he tells our staff that he wants to play. He wants to battle through injuries.
“Those are the type of guys we want here,” Muller said. “His character is coming through right now.”
But will he make it out of this season in one piece?
“That’s the plan,” Sanguinetti said, smiling. “We’ll see how it goes.”
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