Joe Whitney's scoring, and who needs to help him next year
Scoring was hard to come by for the Albany Devils this season ... well, for most of them, anyway.
Second-year winger Joe Whitney posted 26 goals and 51 points in 66 games. That’s 0.77 points per game. He had six power-play goals and seven power-play assists, five game-winning goals, seven first goals and was 3-for-9 in shootouts.
“You always work in the offseason to get better,” Whitney said. “I worked hard this past summer to get in good shape and work on my skills. It helps out, playing with good players, too. I was fortunate enough to put the puck in the net this year a little bit more than I did last year and improve in that area.”
Probably most impressive was his improvement from his minus-eight as a rookie to a plus-13 this season, another stat with which he led the team.
“I worked on my defensive game, through video,” he said. “I talked to the coaching staff and management last year at the end of the year about that. So I tried to get in a little bit better shape in the summer, to play better on the defensive end. I thought I improved in that area, as well.”
With the NHL lockout pushing players into the AHL for the first half of the season, the 5-foot-6 Whitney was left out of the lineup in six of the first eight games this season. When he got his chance, he worked to show how much of an asset he could be and that he belonged on the ice every day.
“I’ve always had that mentality, being a small guy, to prove myself,” he said. “I know there’s going to be people who doubt you or don’t believe in you, so I’m always out there trying to prove [myself to] those guys. But at the beginning of the year this year, that’s how it goes. I waited my turn. I knew when I got in there, I was going to make it count. That’s what I tried to do.”
Whitney’s AHL contract is up, but it would be hard to let him go elsewhere after this season. He said he’d like to end up back in Albany in the fall.
“Absolutely. They’ve treated me well here, and it’s a great organization,” Whitney said. “There’s good guys in the locker room, coaching staff and management.”
The Devils organization, too, is one that has given small players a chance in the NHL before. The contract recently given to 5-foot-7 Stephen Gionta is proof that talent trumps size.
“I just work hard every day, and if that time comes, that’s great,” Whitney said. “I’m trying to get to the NHL. That’s everyone’s goal, so if it happens, it happens.”
Going home for the summer, Whitney said he’s going to work on turning his stature into a weapon.
“I need to get stronger, quicker, faster,” he said. Obviously, being a smaller guy, I need to use that to my advantage. [And] I’m always working on my skills and my shot.”
The Devils were outscored 225-193, and in the final 18 games were outscored 63-36.
In the Devils’ first season back in Albany, winger Matt Anderson had 23 goals and led the team in assists (32) and points (55). His numbers have been down from those in the past two seasons, but he by no means had a bad season. He finished with 13 goals and 30 assists in 67 games, second on the team in points, tied with Steve Zalewski for first in assists.
“On a personal level, I feel I had an OK season,” Anderson said Monday. “As a team, we struggled to score goals. Everyone wants to score 20 goals, and I came up a little shy of that. I feel like I did my job, what’s expected of me, so at the end of the day, I can sleep well. I got my opportunity to play in the NHL, and that’s something I’ll never forget.”
Anderson is an unrestricted free agent. Many of the Devils’ forwards are free agents, so it will be interesting to see who gets re-signed.
“I’d love another opportunity to get a chance to play in the NHL,” said Anderson, a native of West Islip. “Albany’s been great to me. It’s a great situation for me. My parents live three hours from here and I can go home on days off. Location-wise, it couldn’t be any better, and the Devils have treated me well. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
Alternate captain Tim Sestito also is an unrestricted free agent.
“The meeting’s coming up, we’ll see how it goes,” said the native of Rome. “I love it here. It’s a great spot for myself and my family. Whatever happens, happens.”
Sestito was an asset for more than just his leadership. He was a centerman that could also pop out to play the wing when Albany coach Rick Kowalsky wanted him on the same line as Darcy Zajac. Those two with Mike Hoeffel provided a gritty line that could mix it up down low.
Their priority, though, was not scoring. It was energy and muscle. If goals were a byproduct, that was gravy.
Scoring had to come from guys like Zalewski and Chad Wiseman and rookie Harri Pesonen and Mattias Tedenby and Mike Sislo.
Sometimes it did. Too often, though, it didn’t.
That’s where this team has the most room for improvement heading into next season.
Sislo showed some promise in the second half of the season and finished with 13 goals and 13 assists. His old teammate at the University of New Hampshire, Phil DeSimone also had stretches of productivity in the second half. In the last quarter of the season, rookie David Wohlberg came into his own.
Reid Boucher, who played pretty well for Albany in the last 11 games, will provide some help in the struggling power play.
““I think a lot of those [young] guys, from a skills standpoint you may, down the road, look to rely on offensively probably didn’t play much at the beginning of the year,” Kowalsky said. “You have Wohlberg that didn’t play much, got boxed out. Sislo was in and out of the lineup. He’s a guy that’s now really secured a spot in the top six, in my opinion. You’ve got DeSimone, who didn’t play much, but had some ability.”
Here’s a list of free agent forwards who played most of the season with Albany:
Whitney, Sestito, Cam Janssen, Zalewski, Wiseman, Pesonen (restricted), Sislo (restricted), Tedenby (restricted), Jean-Sebastien Berube (restricted), Hoeffel (restricted), Anderson.
I’m not sure about the contracts of Kelly Zajac, Darcy Zajac, DeSimone or McKelvie.