Michigan freshman Aaron Palushaj is enjoying an excellent season, playing on the Wolverines second line alongside fellow freshmen Carl Hagelin (NYR) and Matt Rust (FLA). The Northville, MI native comes into the Frozen Four having posted 41 points (10 goals, 31 assists) in 42 games this season. His 31 assists lead Michigan and are tied for third in the nation. One of his most memorable performances came on Dec. 28 in the Great Lakes Invitational semi-final versus Providence College, where he posted a goal and two assists in the Wolverines 6-0 win.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Palushaj after practice on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center.
HF: What are your thoughts on playing in the Frozen Four?
AP: It’s unbelievable. We did the job to get here, working really hard and stuff. We still have two games left, so the job’s not over yet.
HF: So what happened to your hand? (Palushaj had an ice bag wrapped around his right hand)
AP: I just banged it up a little bit. It’s nothing really serious, so I’ll be alright.
HF: Obviously, you’re one of the many highly-touted freshmen that came to Michigan this year. Kind of go through with me the great season that you’re having, especially since you’re one of the top assists leaders in the country.
AP: I’ve been put into a great position with being on the first power play unit. I’ve been playing on the second line for most of the year, so when you’re put in those types of situations that makes it a lot easier. And playing with Matt Rust and Carl Hagelin has helped me out a lot too.
HF: How has your line been able to really compliment the Kevin Porter line so well this season?
AP: They’re going to get shutdown by other teams. They’re not going to score two or three goals for us every night, which we would like them to do and they’re close to it (Laughs), but when they don’t, we need other lines like our line and Louie’s (Caporusso) line and (Tim) Miller’s line to step up. We try to do the best that we can.
HF: So would you say that the best way to describe your line is the “secondary offensive support” line?
AP: Yes. Like I said since we’re the second line, when the first line is able to provide a lot pressure in their zone and get that next change, we stay on them and hopefully get a lucky bounce and we can put one in. That really helps them out because we have a defensive player that’s keying in on our line and that provides Porter’s line some more space.
HF: The St. Louis Blues drafted you last summer. What was that like for you?
AP: Oh, it was a dream come true to get drafted in the second round. I didn’t know that I was going to go that high because none of the rankings had me that high. It was a great feeling. I went to their rookie camp and that was unbelievable. I got to see sort of what it was like to live the professional life, and see and meet some of the older guys like (David) Backes and Erik Johnson. So it was nice seeing what it’s all about.
HF: Are you planning to attend their prospects camp again this summer?
AP: Yes, yes I am.
HF: The thing I have to ask is why you were left off of the CCHA All-Rookie Team? You had the numbers to back it up to be in contention, but were it because you had been playing on the second line.
AP: Well I’m not complaining at all about playing on the second line. It’s just one of those things. I’m not too worried about that, I’m just happy that the team’s doing great and congrats to Max (Pacioretty) on being named to the All-Rookie team and being named Rookie of the Year. That’s just unbelievable. It really wasn’t too big of a deal for me.
HF: As I understand it you and Max are roommates. What’s the relationship between the two of you.
AP: It’s awesome. He’s a nice roommate and a very good friend and teammate. We spend a lot of time together, obviously being roommates. We have most of the same classes together and watch a lot of hockey highlights and games together. So it’s pretty nice.
HF: So you guys are hockey nuts in addition to being hockey players?
AP: (laughing) Yes.
HF: What do you feel are some of the areas of your game that have improved over the course of the season?
AP: Practicing with the guys every day makes you stronger and faster. I think that my patience with the puck throughout the year has gotten a lot better. At the beginning of the year, I was sort of rushing it a little bit and making similar plays that I would make in juniors last year. Now my confidence has gone up a bunch too by holding on to the puck a little bit longer and controlling the play a little bit better. So that’s one of the biggest things.
HF: You play for a legendary coach in Red Berenson. What are some of the things that he has taught you that have made you a better player?
AP: Everything he says, everyone tries to listen to. One thing that he’s really been stressing on me is moving my feet while I have the puck rather than trying to stickhandle to make a play. He’s been on me all year about that and I think that I’ve been doing a lot better job with that. I think he really emphasizes seeing the puck while you’re moving your feet, getting back and stopping at the post. And all of those things come with a great coach like him.