April 19, 2012 11:07 AM
Though his season ultimately ended with the disappointment of not making the playoffs, on an individual level, Bobby Sanguinetti has nothing to be ashamed of.
The 2011-12 campaign was always going to be an important one for the 24-year-old defenseman, as he lost most of his first season with the organization due to hip surgery one year earlier. The Carolina Hurricanes gave him another year to prove himself, and he responded by setting career highs in goals (10), assists (40) and points (50) in just 60 games played.
“It was a good feeling to get back there,” said Sanguinetti, who finished second on the team in scoring behind Chris Terry. “I knew I had that confidence in my game to get to where I was in Hartford offensively, and I think the coaches really helped me on the defensive side of the puck and just being an all-around player.”
While good even at face value, Sanguinetti’s numbers are even more impressive considering yet another dose of adversity he encountered early in the season. Just when he was starting to round into form after a somewhat slow start that produced six points in his first 16 games, an injury cost him the next 10. Shortly after returning to the lineup, he found himself as the odd man out when the Hurricanes sent Derek Joslin to Charlotte on a conditioning stint, sitting out one game as a healthy scratch.
“With the year before, it was frustrating with the injury and not being healthy, and then coming to camp I wasn’t 100 percent or didn’t get the right opportunity,” he said. “I stuck with it, then I broke my foot and it was another setback.
“I came back and had to find a way to contribute and make sure I could solidify myself in the lineup.”
What happened next was nothing short of remarkable. Starting with a two-assist performance against Hershey on Jan. 12, Sanguinetti, a first-round pick in 2006, set a Checkers record with an 11-game point streak, the longest by an AHL defenseman since the 2008-09 season. During that run, he scored 15 points, including his first five goals of the season.
“Something clicked, and the light bulb went off,” he said. “One went in, and it just seemed like I was getting the puck in good situations, guys were finding me and everything I shot seemed to go in or make something happen.”
Though his streak eventually came to an end, his torrid scoring pace would not. He was the team’s most consistent and most prolific producer at any position down the stretch, recording a point in 11 of his last 12 games (3g, 15a), including a four-point performance in a 6-1 win over Peoria on April 13 that tied his career best from two seasons earlier.
Going back to his return from the broken foot, Sanguinetti had 44 points (10g, 34a) in his last 44 games. Despite more or less spotting the rest of the league a few months, he finished the season ranked third among all AHL defensemen in points and second in power-play points (30). No defenseman who spent significant time in the league could match his pace of .833 points per game.
“He deserves a ton of credit for the way he approached this season,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “He wanted to prove himself and wanted to get better, and his commitment to do that was off the charts.
“To me, he was one of the best defensemen in the league that we saw in the last three months.”
Though the glut of defenseman on the NHL roster rarely resulted in the need for reinforcements, Sanguinetti was the clear first choice when Carolina finally called in March. He made his Hurricanes debut on March 13 and would go on to play two more NHL games that month – his first since suiting up for the New York Rangers two seasons earlier.
In doing so, he made a positive impression.
“His scoring numbers were really good with Charlotte, but when he came up for those games he showed us that he can play at both ends of the rink,” said Ron Francis, the Hurricanes’ director of hockey operations.
Now that his one-year deal is set to expire in a few months’ time, Sanguinetti is set to enter this summer just as he did the last - as a restricted free agent. Having been crowded out by up-and-coming blueliners Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy at last year’s training camp, he would stand to get a much longer look this coming season, even though Murphy and Brian Dumoulin, among others, are also expected to challenge for positions on the roster.
That will make this summer an interesting one for Sanguinetti as he enters contract negotiations with the Hurricanes.
“We have a lot of young defensemen coming in, but you never know who’s going to be ready,” said Francis. “(Sanguinetti) is right at the top of the list of guys we think can start in the NHL next year. We hope that he understands that and is willing to sign with us again so he can compete for a spot.”
To get back in that conversation from where he was a year ago when he didn’t even get the chance to play in an NHL preseason game underscores just how good his season was.
“These last four months have been a positive thing for me to get back out there 100 percent and show how I can contribute and what type of player I can be,” he said.