May 22, 2012 7:46 AM
For Bobby Sanguinetti, this summer will be very different.
Coming off a career season at the AHL level, the 24-year-old Checkers defenseman signed another one-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. The news came much faster than expected, as teams typically focus on unrestricted free agents rather than restricted players such as Sanguinetti this early in the offseason.
Call it a pleasant surprise.
“It makes me feel good that they wanted to get it done quickly,” said Sanguinetti. “You get a sense of how the team feels about you, and it’s good to get that out of the way.”
That’s not to say that there was much drama when he went through the same process one year ago, but the circumstances are entirely different. Back then, Sanguinetti was coming off a season that saw him play just 31 regular-season games due to hip surgery in November. Even when he returned to the lineup towards the end of the season and for the team’s playoff run, he had difficulty getting back up to speed and sat out several games as a healthy scratch.
Now, he hopes to keep riding the high that saw him average a point per page in the second half, by far the most of any Checkers player, forward or defenseman, and impress during a brief three-game NHL stint in March.
“It’ll stick with me,” said Sanguinetti of that momentum, which saw him end the season with eight points over a five-game point streak. “I saw how low it could be last year when I didn’t have that confidence going into camp. It’s a lot easier to motivate myself and get in top shape.
“There’s definitely more excitement with wanting to get back in there and get going.”
Saying that “the light bulb went off,” has become the popular way for those around the Checkers, including the player himself, to describe Sanguinetti’s second half. There are a few events that could be considered turning points, such as when Derek Joslin’s conditioning stint from Carolina caused Sanguinetti to be a healthy scratch on Jan. 4, which seems hard to believe given how valuable he became down the stretch.
“It was just a little bit of fire,” he said. “That healthy scratch told me I had to find something and bring it every night.”
There’s also his first goal of the season on Jan. 17, which ended up being Game No. 3 of a team-record, 11-game point streak that saw him find the net five times. Around that same time, he also underwent something of a breakthrough defensively after some extensive work with Assistant Coach Geordie Kinnear.
“The coaches said that I competed better defensively, and earlier in my career, I don’t think that could be said,” said Sanguinetti. “It’s something that since I was drafted people said was my weakness, so I did focus on that. The coaches also did a great job of using video to show me how important it was and that I didn’t have to sacrifice my offense.”
While in the NHL, Sanguinetti also got the opportunity to get to know the team’s new coaching staff, including Assistant Coach Dave Lewis, who did video work with the player after each of his three games. That served as something of an audition, with both sides now agreeing that he didn’t look or feel out of place.
Still, he’ll need to carry his good vibes into training camp to make the team, as he the Hurricanes have six defensemen from last year under contract, two more who are unrestricted free agents and even more prospects such as himself also looking to make the next step. After his most recent season, he’s more of a waiver risk should the Hurricanes elect to send him to Charlotte, though his two-way contract could perhaps still work against him.
Whatever happens, it’s safe to say that he’ll enter that battle with a lot more energy than he had one year earlier.
“It’s never going to be easy, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “With this getting done so early, I’ll be chomping at the bit.”