Lack of experience doesn't rattle Devils' defenseman
ALBANY So far, so good.
The six rookie skaters the Albany Devils have on the roster have gotten off to a decent start this season. However, how guys like defenseman Reece Scarlett handle the step up to the pro game will become more clear after this week.
After three games in four days, the honeymoon will be over.
“In development camps over the last two summers, I’ve been able to see he clearly has an intelligence, is smart with the puck, sees the ice well, reads pressure well for a young kid,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said of Scarlett. “He had a great camp and carried it into the beginning of the season.
“I think, with those guys, and a guy like Reece, we use that 10-game mark, even with guys who came in at the end of [last] year. They’re running on adrenaline, and once you get past that 10-game mark and the honeymoon phase is over, that’s the true test.”
Scarlett was the only player on the opening-day roster who had never played a professional game. He has been paired with Seth Helgeson, who was the next least experienced, having played two games with Albany at the end of last season.
That 10-game period will expire Friday. The Devils host defending Eastern Conference champion Syracuse tonight, host Norfolk Friday night and travel to play Adirondack on Saturday night, with all three games at 7 p.m.
Scarlett has only played in six of Albany’s eight games so far, so these three games will only push him to nine on the season, but he said he felt the adrenaline rush wane a little early.
“I actually felt a lot more comfortable in the last two games this weekend,” Scarlett said. “I felt like I settled into my game, the way I like to play, and I’m ready for the season.”
So far, he has an assist and a plus-two rating. Last season with Swift Current in the WHL, he had nine goals, 40 assists and a plus-14.
He said he can contribute on the offensive end, but he will pick his spots carefully.
“I’m more than willing to jump into the play if the chance provides itself, but I’m not about to go be that liability, offensively,” Scarlett said. “I just pride myself on being a reliable, puck-moving defenseman.”
He and Corbin McPherson are the only right-handed shots the Devils have on the blueline, but McPherson isn’t used on the power play.
Kowalsky likes the combination of that righty shot with the understanding of when and how to get the puck to the net.
“I think it’s a huge value there,” Kowalsky said. “He doesn’t have a big shot, he’s not going to blow you away with passes, but he’s a prime example for a young kid — and I think even some of our guys who have been around can learn — he makes the play that’s there. When he has a chance to get it on net, that’s what I thought he did a really nice job of in camp. When he has a chance to get it on net, he’s not afraid to just get it on net. He’s not shooting to score, he’s not looking for the big slapper, which some of these guys ... the extra time it takes to crank that stick over your shoulder, that’s the time guys at this level are going to get in the shooting lane. That’s what I liked about him [on the PP], and that’s why he’s on there.”
Scarlett played on the power play with his junior team the past three seasons, and he was a top penalty killer, too.
“I kind of pride myself on being a good positional defenseman, and so the PK is kind of my forte, in terms of I know where to be, so I welcome that, as well,” he said.
Kowalsky said there was initially some concern over playing the two least-experienced defensemen together, but they have dispelled any concern he had. Helgeson not only is a big body who fills the stay-at-home role, but also has been moving the puck well.
Also, all the rookies have taken quickly to instruction and Scarlett said he’s been like a sponge, especially when assistant coach Tommy Albelin is talking.
“I’m all ears,” he said.
Until he’s on the ice, at least, when he needs every bit of his 180-pound, 6-foot-1 frame against forwards who are larger and more developed.
“Everybody’s bigger, so you have to adjust in the way you go into the corners and the way you approach puck battles,” Scarlett said. “But everybody’s been teaching me little things, little ways to get ahead of the big guys, that sort of thing. That’s basically the main adjustment I’ve had to make.”
“With him, it’s size and durability,” Kowalsky said. “He’s playing against some bigger forwards, and once we get into a busier schedule, I think the grind of that may wear on him because he’s not a real big guy. He’s still developing, physically, so that’s going to be a challenge for him.”
He embraces that challenge, and every other one he’s bound to face. Scarlett is determined to remain as dependable as he’s been, or more so, well after the honeymoon’s over so there will be no doubt he’s a good match for the Devils.
“I came in here looking to make an impression, looking to show everybody that I’m able to make that jump to the pro game and do it without any doubts in anybody’s head,” he said. “That’s been my goal, and I’m going to continue to prove that, game in and game out.”