He’s still got a long road ahead of him, but Bobby Sanguinetti has already come a long way.
The 23-year-old Checkers defenseman hit a major obstacle in his road to the NHL last season, missing most of his first year in the Carolina Hurricanes organization due to hip surgery in November. He came back towards the end of the campaign but admitted struggling to catch up after the four-month layoff, finding himself as a healthy scratch at times during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final.
“Everyone always says it’s tough to come back, but until it happens to you, you don’t really know,” he said.
Sanguinetti was impressive out of the gates one year ago following an offseason trade that brought him in from the New York Rangers, making the Hurricanes as a depth defenseman out of camp. Though he wouldn’t appear in an NHL contest before joining the Checkers, he was a key contributor on Charlotte’s blue line right up until the pain in his hip required action, scoring goals in back-to-back games before his operation.
Entering the new season, Sanguinetti has a chance to start over. After recording three assists in the Checkers’ first two games against Norfolk last weekend, he looks and feels like he’s back to his old self.
“Definitely,” he said following Tuesday’s practice at Extreme Ice Center. “I feel pretty strong and a lot better than I did in the last 13 games of last season. I feel like I’m moving my feet and getting into the play.”
“He’s pretty close,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who added that he’ll be counting on Sanguinetti for offense and leadership this season. “He was really strong last week, and I think he knows this is a big year for him and he wants to prove that.”
The importance of Sanguinetti’s season, as alluded to by Daniels, is due to the fact that he has only one year on his current contract, signed this summer. There’s also considerably more competition at his position than there was a year ago, with the Hurricanes currently carrying nine defensemen on the NHL roster, let alone the other blue liners in Charlotte and those coming up through the junior and college ranks.
Perhaps best illustrating the defensive pileup is the fact that Sanguinetti, a former first-round pick of the Rangers who came so close to the NHL one year ago and likely would have made his Hurricanes debut if not for the injury, was not asked to appear in a preseason game this season.
Though those circumstances are hardly ideal, he knows he’s not alone. Games on Carolina’s blue line are hard to come by at the moment, with more experienced players yet to suit up in the team’s first three games due in part to the rapid ascension of rookie Justin Faulk, who has rocketed up the organizational depth chart in short order, and the presence of 2011 first-round pick Ryan Murphy.
“It’s tough,” said Sanguinetti. “You look at guys like (Jamie) McBain that played all year last year and played well, and you’ve got another good young guy in (Derek) Joslin who did well when he came over, and both haven’t played yet.”
That would seemingly make it an uphill battle for Sanguintti to re-join that discussion, at least more so than some of the Checkers’ top forwards who may only be a phone call away. However, Daniels stressed that things can sometimes change quickly.
“From my experience in the last couple of years, I once had 10 defensemen on my roster and told them I could only dress six, and then the next thing you know I only had five,” he recalled.
Rather than sit and wait for something that drastic to occur, for now, Sanguinetti can only continue to build on his good start while continuing to work hard in practice – the latter of which was something the Hurricanes told him to focus on following his recent AHL assignment.
“I’m just going to try and do what I can to get back,” he said.