For the first time in a long time, Bobby Sanguinetti is feeling like his old self.
The defenseman has been one of the Checkers’ most dangerous scorers of late, posting 12 points (4g, 8a) during an active eight-game point streak. Despite missing 11 games, he ranks fourth among all Charlotte skaters and is tied for 12th among AHL defensemen in scoring with 24 points.
He’s also been a force on the power play, factoring in on 11 of the Checkers’ last 14 goals on the man advantage to help the team set a new team record with power-play goals in each of its last eight games.
“He’s playing the best I’ve ever seen him play,” said Jeff Daniels, Sanguinetti’s coach for the last two seasons. “He deserves a lot of credit.”
The Carolina Hurricanes knew they were getting an offensively-gifted player when they traded for Sanguinetti, a 2006 first-round selection of the New York Rangers, during the second day of the 2010 draft. That would perhaps make this level of production none too surprising for a soon-to-be 24-year-old playing in his fourth professional season.
However, injuries, most notably a hip issue that required surgery just 31 games into his debut season with the organization in 2010-11, would halt his progress. Even when he returned to the lineup in March following a three-month absence, he wasn’t quite the same player that had impressed during the preseason, making the Canes’ trip to Europe as one of the NHL club’s top defensive reinforcements.
“When you have the year he did last year it’s hard to get back,” said Daniels. “Coming back near the end of the year, the pace of play is much higher than when he got hurt.”
A broken foot in November of this campaign would provide another halt to what set up as an important bounce-back season for Sanguinetti, who Carolina brought back on a one-year deal last summer. As frustrating as another injury was for a player who felt he was on the cusp of making a real impact, he now appears to have finally recaptured his top form.
“I feel like I’m healthy for the first time since I’ve been in this organization,” said Sanguinetti, who has played in just 66 of 126 regular-season Checkers games over the last two seasons. “I’ve always had that confidence in my game to know I could get back to this level.”
If Daniels’ assessment is correct, he may have even surpassed it. Sanguinetti isn’t quite as willing to make the same statement, having felt he held up well against the best the NHL has to offer during the 2010 preseason with Carolina.
Still, there’s little question that he’s put himself back to where he needs to be, a claim that is supported by more than just the score sheet.
“He’s playing hard, and the effort is there every night,” said Daniels. “The points are good and that’s what everyone sees, but away from the puck his compete level is high and he’s winning battles.”
“Skating is the biggest thing for me and I feel like I get noticed when I’m getting involved in the play, but I’ve got to play a simple game and be aggressive on both ends,” said Sanguinetti.
Now comes the difficult part. The Hurricanes, who have made 15 separate recalls from Charlotte involving six forwards and two goaltenders, have yet to bring in a defenseman who started the season in the AHL. In fact, they’ve done the opposite.
Having started the season with nine defensemen on the NHL roster – a group that prevented Sanguinetti from even appearing in a preseason game – the Canes have had to send Justin Faulk and Derek Joslin to the Checkers just to play games they otherwise wouldn’t have received on a jam-packed Carolina blue line. One of those even cost Sanguinetti a game, as Daniels removed him from the lineup in favor of Joslin on Jan. 4.
It’s a situation that Sanguinetti, whose only five NHL games came with the Rangers in 2009-10, is all too aware of.
“It’s tough,” he admitted. “You’re playing for Carolina but maybe you’ll get noticed by someone else. You never hope that anyone gets injured, so you do what you can with what’s under your control.”
Even now, the Hurricanes have eight defensemen on the roster, though Joni Pitkanen could miss another month as he recovers from knee surgery and a concussion. With Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek frequently mentioned in trade discussions as veterans with expiring contracts, a space could yet open regardless of health.