Kyle Rau was a dynamic player at the University of Minnesota, where he was a point-per-game performer in each of his four seasons, tallying 164 points (67 goals, 97 assists) in 160 games. The Florida Panthers’ third round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft saw some AHL time at the tail end of the 2014-15 season that is paying dividends in his first full year of pro hockey in 2015-16.
Rau joined Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio last spring on April 4th and made an immediate impact, scoring his first career pro goal on his first shot in his AHL debut off a pass from NHL veteran Dany Heatley. Rau went on to score a goal in his second pro game, too, giving a glimpse of things to come as the Panthers organization switched their AHL affiliate from San Antonio to Portland prior to this season.
“It was huge for me. It definitely made me motivated going into the summer knowing what it takes to hack it out there with those players,” Rau said of his taste of pro hockey last spring. “It was a good learning experience for me.”
Through half a season of pro hockey so far, Rau continues to adjust to the pro level and is playing well with 15 goals and seven assists in 39 games with the Portland Pirates.
“I’m just getting comfortable learning the game, the new systems,” Rau said after a January 2nd game-winning overtime goal against Lehigh Valley, a game in which he tallied two goals. “It’s always different when you come to a new league, a new team. I’m getting more comfortable every game.”
An undersized forward at just 5-8 and 173 pounds, Rau hasn’t let his size hinder his aggressiveness and willingness to battle in the dirty areas of the ice.
“Grit, courage, tough, hard to play against – he embodies what a hockey player should be,” Pirates head coach Scott Allen said of Rau’s game. “He gets involved, he goes to the hard areas, he’s going to give blood, he’s going to get banged up and have ice bags on his body after the game. He gets it,” the first year AHL head coach added.
“People are very deceived by his size at times, but all the more the reason to love a guy like that and what he brings to the table day in and day out.”
While Rau has been producing offensively, he is also playing a prominent role defensively for the Pirates this season. He has earned the trust of the coaching staff to play in all situations, something that is only a positive sign as far as where he is at in his development in Year One.
“He wants to be as good as he can be. He digs in, listens and follows direction well,” Allen said of his first-year forward. “I think fans a lot of times see the offensive side, but if you look at his penalty kill and the way he blocks shots. The intangibles that he brings, he’s a special player for sure.”
Rau has hit a bit of an offensive slump in 2016, being held off the scoresheet in nine straight games, but the ups and downs during a rookie’s first full season are expected. The Panthers organization has certainly liked what they have seen from him so far, and all sides are hoping the trend continues.
“Keep trending in the right direction,” Rau said of his goal this season. “Work on my defensive game, that can always improve. There are always things you can get better at, so just keep going.”
Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @