After being traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Anaheim Ducks in late June, defenseman Luca Sbisa spent the last days of summer getting to know his teammate, Bobby Ryan, in a unique way — sleeping on an air mattress at his new teammate’s recently purchased home.
“I just realized he was at the hotel. He was paying for it himself,” Ryan recounted.
“He had just gotten traded and he had only been in Philadelphia for a couple of hours before he had gotten traded here. I know everybody in Philadelphia so somebody gave me a call and passed his number along and told me to take care of him whether that meant taking him out for a couple of meals or having him come and stay with me for a week and a half like he did until he found a place.
“I think that’s something a teammate should do,” said Ryan. “I was in a position where I had room and he was a good house guest and the girlfriend even approved of him, so we were happy to have him.”
Quite a grand gesture, but taking in the new rookie blueliner has made a big difference in helping Sbisa make the transition to his new team and begin to feel at home, especially off the ice. And so far, it looks like it’s worked.
“The guys here are really good. It’s like back in Philly,” said Sbisa. “I feel like I’ve played here for a couple years. That’s how awesome the guys are.”
While the 19-year-old has made the transition off the ice, the 6’2, 204-pound blueliner is still adjusting to life on the ice with a new team. Last season, Sbisa played in 39 games with the Flyers fresh off being drafted 19th overall in 2008, notching seven points while averaging 17:28 minutes of ice time.
Last season, when the Flyers had some veterans return from injury, Sbisa was reassigned to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, where he scored 15 points in 18 games and was later sent to the Flyers AHL affiliate once the Hurricanes ended their season.
“I would have loved to stay there the whole season, but I knew the situation to send me down due to salary and getting guys back from injury,” said Sbisa. “I saw it in a positive way – playing a lot of minutes, playing in all situations, and having a lot of responsibility so I think it was the right step. It helped my hockey and I came back to Flyers [for the playoffs] with a lot of confidence. It helped me to be where I am right now.”
This season, through eight regular-season games with Anaheim, Sbisa has averaged 12:37 minutes of ice time per game while being paired with veterans Nick Boynton or Sheldon Brookbank and he’s learned very quickly what kind of coach the Ducks Randy Carlyle is.
“It was for sure one of the toughest camps I’ve ever had,” said the Swiss defenseman. “He’s pretty old-school. He’s pretty hard on the guys, but if he sees the guys do the things he wants to see he’s really nice. He has both sides.”
While Carlyle may run some of the toughest practices in the league, he’s also known for being quite adept at developing young talent. Sbisa is playing fewer minutes than he did back in Philly. Nevertheless, Carlyle has been pleased with the rookie’s progress.
“We’re just trying to get his feet wet and try to bring him along slowly and not put him in any situations where he can’t have success,” said Carlyle. “The one thing he has to do is play to his strengths and his strengths are skating and moving the puck. We feel he’s quite capable of playing solid defense. His positioning is something we’d like him to continue to work on and playing the game on his forehand versus his backhand.”
The challenge for the Ducks defense this season will be to fill the void left by the departure of veterans Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin.
“We definitely have a lot of talent, said Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer. “We may be younger in some spots, but it’s a matter of building that confidence. It doesn’t just happen and you have to keep working at it. You have to come and continue to build something. It doesn’t just happen right away when you throw 20-something players out there — you have to build that feeling that if we go out there and play our game, we’re going to have success.”
And for Sbisa personally, he’s excited at where the season could lead him.
“I have the best teachers in the league,” Sbisa said. “I have Randy Carlyle. He’s won a Norris trophy. He definitely knows the game from the defensive side and I have Scott Niedermayer — a lot of guys would love to be in my situation, being a young guy and getting to play with future hall of famers. If you look around this locker room, you see amazing players. Sometimes it feels like being on an all-star team.”
Notes: The Ducks are without a dedicated AHL affiliate this season and have spread their prospects out between San Antonio, Manitoba, and Toronto of the AHL. They have also sent quite a few of their prospects, who would normally play in the AHL, to their ECHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. While some might see this move to send AHL-caliber prospects to the ECHL as a step backwards, Carlyle insisted that while the situation isn’t enviable, the most important thing right now is for the young players to get playing time and compete. When the time comes to call players up, the team will simply be looking for the best players regardless of what level the player is competing at.
Carlyle said, “When they give me the players and say that they’re the top players in those positions then that’s what we want. We want competition for the position and if they’re playing in the ECHL and they garner a rating that says they’re playing better than someone in the AHL then we won’t be afraid to bring them up. We understand that our situation is unique this season but we’ll deal with them on a player-to-player, game-by-game basis.”