The Norfolk Admirals look to be a competitive team this year, thanks in large part to the arrival of several talented rookies from the junior ranks. One of those hoping to make a name for himself this year is the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2005 second-round draft pick, Mike Blunden.
The Gloucester, Ontario native joins the Admirals this season after a very strong training camp with the Blackhawks. Though he failed to make the team due in large part to the lack of available roster spots, the 6’4, 210-pound winger will use his time in Norfolk to continue to build more of a complete game.
A self-proclaimed power forward, Blunden displayed a knack for scoring in the OHL, where he compiled 84 points in 60 games in his final season with the Erie Otters last year. But the first year pro also prides himself on his defensive game, and will use his rookie AHL season as a chance to continue to improve.
“You always have to be accountable defensively,” he said. “I want to be a two-way player – one who helps out offensively, but also is accountable in my own end.”
Blunden is seeing about an equal amount of time on both the power play and the penalty kill.
In addition, he is a physical player who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. While fighting is down in the NHL, it is still present at the AHL level, and it’s something he’ll do if he has to.
“Yeah, I’m sure [I’ll get into a few],” he said. “Someone’s going to come after you and I just have to keep my head up and be ready for it. I can’t get away from my game. That’s what got me here, and I have to keep playing the same way.”
Because he joined the Admirals at the tail end of last season, he had a pretty good idea of what to expect coming into this year, and head coach Mike Haviland thinks that experience can only further his development.
“He’s a good player. He’s a big man and he’s strong,” he said. “Last year, the last ten games or so of the year playing with us really opened his eyes up to exactly what he needs to do. This year, he came in in great shape, and he really had a chance to make the Hawks. He’s somebody we’re going to count on.”
Blunden was glad to get a taste of the AHL last year too, posting six points in 11 games.
“They were huge,” he said of the games he played. “They boosted my confidence a lot. It helped me over the summer, knowing how I had to train, and knowing what to expect when I came here, and now I’m just hoping to have a good year.”
In addition to his abbreviated foray into the professional ranks, Blunden credits positive experiences at both the World Junior Championships (where he was a member of Canada’s gold medal team) and Hawks training camp in aiding his development.
“The World Juniors and the end of the year here [helped a lot],” he said. “I was playing with great players and learning from them. I went to camp in Chicago and watched guys like (Martin) Havlat and (Martin) Lapointe control the puck. It’s been a huge help. I roomed with Lapointe, who’s also a power forward, so that helped me out a lot, just talking at night and hanging out and watching movies and stuff. He would tell me not to worry and just to keep working hard, so that was a great experience for me.”
Turning 20 this December, Blunden will be one of the youngest players in the AHL this year.
Armed with the skills, experience, and confidence he’s picked up over the past year, Blunden is looking to achieve some specific goals to help make his rookie campaign a success.
“I want to try to come in here and get 20 goals, and hopefully have 50 points and have a good rookie year,” he said. “I just want to come in here and work hard and help the team win.”
As far as the Admirals are concerned, Blunden seems anxious to get the season going in earnest. Playing on a team that has suffered first-round playoff exits in the past two years to the eventual Calder Cup Champions, Blunden looks forward to seeing what this team can accomplish. In the one game Norfolk has played, he was lined up with Carl Corazzini and captain Craig MacDonald.
“We have a great team,” he said. “We have a good mixture of veterans and youth, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve only been here for about a week with the guys, so we’re still getting to know each other and stuff, but so far, things have been amazing, and we’re looking forward to the year.”
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