Walsh looking to build on promising but injury-shortened season

By Richard Murray

Dustin Walsh - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Dartmouth forward and Montreal Canadiens prospect Dustin Walsh looked to be coming into his own in 2011-12 but ended up sidelined for most of the season due to injury (courtesy of Bob Fisher/NHLI via Getty Images)

After having his season shortened last year due to a nasty hip injury, Dustin Walsh is now healthy and is looking to impress.

The Dartmouth forward was on pace for a breakout season last year for the Big Green before he tore his labrum and needed surgery. Walsh was off to a hot start last season with 10 points through only his first eight games. It was the first time Walsh had averaged over a point per game (1.25). He averaged the most points per game for the season for Dartmouth and it would have also been good for fifth-best in the ECAC. Walsh’s previous career high point total was 20, so he was well on his way to breaking that.

“It was tough to lose him last year because he was the best player on the ice a lot of nights before he got hurt,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said.

The Montreal Canadiens prospect had a tough road to get back from his labrum injury after surgery.

“Dustin returned to practice [multiple] times only to have a set back, and it was frustrating to watch one of your guys go through something like that,” Gaudet said. “We had to shut him down eventually for his own good, so he could take care of the injury and rehab.”

Missing most of last season also created an extremely long and frustrating off-season for Walsh. He had to focus not only on rehabbing his injury but also trying to get ready for the season with the Big Green. He is back on the ice now, though, so he is just trying to help his team.

“It was a long off-season for me because I was just trying to keep my mind focused on this upcoming season,” Walsh said. “I knew we were going to be a good team this season, so my whole focus this past summer was to just keep working hard. I am just very excited to be back on the ice.”

So far this season, Walsh has been able to bounce back for the Big Green with eight points (4G, 4A) through his first nine games. He is also skating on the team’s first line most nights, but, although he may be healthy, Dartmouth has yet to see the best from him this season.

“Dustin has another gear to his game, and we have been seeing it in spurts so far, “ Gaudet said of Walsh’s play. “I think we are going to see him pick his game up especially in the second half.

Because Dartmouth and the ECAC start so late, Walsh has actually been able to get a step up on a lot of college hockey players. Walsh has attended the Habs prospect camps, but he has also had the fortune to participate in the Canadiens' NHL training camp.

“Montreal has a really good skating coach that I think has really helped my play, Walsh said.

“My stride has improved a lot because of the work I have been able to do at the camps. Being able to skate with some of the NHL guys helped me realize that there is a jump that I need to make. I also know that I can make that jump.”

The 6'3” forward’s size has also given him an advantage over a lot of the smaller players in college hockey. Walsh isn’t really a power forward per say because of all the skill he has, but Walsh can still use his body to create scoring opportunities.

“I have a pretty long reach because of my size,” Walsh said. “I also have the ability to make strong turns in the corners while keeping the puck away from the defenders and work the puck down low.”

Even though Walsh has had to fight through his share of injuries, his coaches still have recognized many improvements and general growth in his game.

“Dustin is just a more confident version of himself compared to when he first started playing here,” Gaudet said of Walsh’s growth.

“He always had great skill, but now he pushes himself harder. It isn’t even that he works harder, it is just the maturity factor where he knows what his level is. We are starting to see that next gear in his game, and now he is getting back into game shape mentally.”

As long has Walsh can stay healthy and have a strong performance in the second half of the season, Walsh could be pushing for an NHL job sooner rather than later.

Follow Richard Murray on twitter via @Richie_Murray