Adam Pelech still is only 21, and Thursday night was his seventh NHL game. He’s an Islander and not a Bridgeport Sound Tiger only because Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic are injured.
But just being in the NHL doesn’t seem to be enough for Pelech, who got plenty of noticeable ice time against the Rangers on Thursday night and made it count. He was on for the four-on-four play to start the third period, and his foray deep into the Rangers’ zone forced Kevin Hayes into a turnover that Brock Nelson deposited in the Rangers’ net.
Pelech also was on the ice for the shift immediately following Nick Leddy’s go-ahead power-play goal, as well as for two shifts totaling 1:38 in the final 2:59 of the game as the Islanders worked to protect a one-goal lead. On Friday morning, Pelech even picked up an assist on Kyle Okposo’s empty-net goal. Pelech, who also was credited with an assist on Nelson’s goal, picked up his first two NHL points.
“He’s earned that time,” coach Jack Capuano said. “You have to earn your ice time and he’s done that. He’s got a real good hockey IQ, a really active stick and he trusts his feet. The young players work hard to get here and he’s showing he wants to stay.”
Pelech may have been the surprise choice in his two call-ups from Bridgeport this season, given that the Sound Tigers have two-time AHL All-Star Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield, who played the final two playoff games against the Capitals last spring.
He was surprised himself. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing well in the AHL; it’s always a surprise to get called up,” Pelech said. “I’m getting more comfortable here each game I play, and when the coaches show faith in you in those big moments, it just brings your confidence up even more.”
After a season and a half of steady improvement in the AHL, Pelech moved to the head of the call-up line. Mayfield has been up for the past week but has been a healthy scratch the past two games. Pulock might be in line for his first shot at an NHL game with Hamonic (foot fracture) still at least a week away and Boychuk (shoulder) two-plus weeks from returning. But Pelech doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
“He’s going to be an NHL defenseman for a long time,” said Calvin de Haan, another Islanders defenseman who took a slow-and-steady route to the NHL and has shown improvement each of his three seasons. “Pelly’s not the flashiest guy out there, he’s not real crafty, but he gets the job done. He’s done a lot to open some eyes with this opportunity he’s gotten.”
Notes & quotes: Capuano was named an assistant coach to John Tortorella for Team USA in next fall’s World Cup. “Any time you get to represent your country, it’s an honor,” Capuano said. He’ll join former Islanders coach Scott Gordon, now with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, along with Devils coach John Hynes, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and Predators assistant Phil Housley. “It’s John’s show,” Capuano said. “I’ll do whatever he wants me to.”