The Albany Devils feature a pair of rookie centers that play different styles of hockey who are both adjusting to life in the pros this fall. Joseph Blandisi and Blake Coleman come from different backgrounds and fill different roles with the New Jersey Devils‘ AHL affiliate, but the two live together and get along well both on and off the ice. They’re both hoping to hone their craft and make a push toward the NHL as a part of the Devils’ youth movement.
Blandisi enjoyed a breakout campaign in the OHL with the Barrie Colts last season, tallying a career-high 52 goals and 112 points en route to being named the 2014-15 Overage Player of the Year. What is most impressive about Blandisi’s skill set is that, although he can put up goals and points in a hurry in the offensive zone, he plays bigger than his 6’0” frame suggests. He is actually quite a gritty player.
Blandisi’s first pro fight was a few weeks back against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ giant defender Sam Morin, a lanky 6’7” physical defender who delivered a hit on one of Blandisi’s teammates that the Markham, Ontario native took exception to.
The challenge for Blandisi, which is even more a point of emphasis in the way the Devils organization plays the game, is being more reliable and accountable in the defensive zone.
“The beginning of the year was tough for me,” Blandisi said of adjusting to the pro game. “The first five or six games I was struggling. I did a lot of video with the coaches and I was a little bit in the dog house in the defensive zone. I’ve always been an offensive player and I try to bring that here and not thinking too much about defense and I was exposed for it.”
While Blandisi started the season with two goals and an assist in his first six games as a pro, he was a -6 and often on the ice for goals against. Since then, he has brought more of a two-way approach and found much more success with 11 points (4G-7A) in his last 10 games to go along with a +6 rating.
“I think recently I’ve been focusing on my defense and it’s been also producing more offense because good defense is the key to starting good offense,” Blandisi said after a recent game against Lehigh Valley. “If you play good defense, you’ll spend more time in the offensive zone and I realized that pretty quickly. I was in the minus column a lot, and right now I’m pretty excited how my game is going and it’s definitely heading in the right direction.”
There is no doubting Blandisi’s offensive skills. His ability to battle in the dirty areas of the ice and get to the net is what will get him to the NHL with New Jersey in the near future. For Blandisi, it is about rounding out his game and bringing a 200-foot game to the rink on a consistent basis.
“I’ve always been able to score goals, so I think that’s proven already,” Blandisi explained, adding, “I just want to be more responsible in my own end. That’s my key right now, how to figure it out.”
Blandisi had no problem talking about his roommate Coleman, and had several nice things to say about what he brings to the table.
“He brings the same game every night. He’s really consistent, responsible down low, and just does the little things right,” Blandisi said of Coleman. “He’s first in on the forecheck and he always finishes checks, so he’s a guy that you can look at and say he represents our team’s [identity], really. He brings character into the dressing room. He’s a good guy to have on your team and you don’t want to play against him.”
Coleman doesn’t quite have the high-end offensive abilities that Blandisi possesses, but the former Miami University RedHawk is no slouch – having tallied 39 goals in his final two seasons of college hockey in the NCHC. Coleman’s game is more of a two-way game with a defense-first and energy approach – a style that has allowed his transition to the New Jersey Devils organization to go smoothly.
“For me to be successful, it’s bringing energy every night, finishing hits, and taking pucks to the net hard,” Coleman said. “I have the confidence in the ability to help produce offensively night in and night out, but also making sure I’m on the right side of the puck and taking care of my own end first and let that lead to my offense.”
As for what Coleman is looking to work on this season in the AHL, the jump from college hockey to the pros means a lot more games and a more grueling game schedule.
“First thing is consistency,” Coleman said, adding, “There’s a lot of games, which is a big shift from college hockey, obviously, so when you’re an energy kind of guy you have to tell yourself three times a weekend versus two or whatever it is to bring that jump to the team and give that spark. Just making sure I have it every night, and if I don’t have it one night, to make sure I’m responsible defensively and still chipping in as well and helping the team win.”
Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @H_P_Hockey