Jerome Samson’s face shone as bright as the goal lamp he lit last night after scoring his first career NHL goal – part elation at the memory of a lifetime and part relief at the realization that his hard work in the minors this season was finally breaking through on the big stage. Samson leads Carolina’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, in goals this year, is second in total points with 27 (15G, 12A), and, as he has done much of his career, leads the AHL in shots on goal with 160. In his first recall of the season, Samson was looking to make the most of his opportunity with the big club.
“Once you get the chance, you try to show them that they’re wrong just letting you sit down there for so long,” Samson said. “I’m looking forward to…maybe having more ice time than I did last year and I’ll be able to show them more.”
Of course players always want to make the most of any opportunity presented to them, so just what made this time so different?
A long time complaint of Caniacs has been the
use misuse of young prospects in the Canes’ lineup. Under former coach Paul Maurice, call-ups from Carolina’s AHL affiliate were often relegated to riding the pine. With rare exception, top young talent in the Hurricanes organization knew their role upon recall would be limited to a brief appearance on the fourth line. Players with proven scoring abilities in the minors and in junior or college hockey were looked at as nothing more than warm body fill-ins for whatever regular happened to be injured at the time. Players like Samson, Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, and Drayson Bowman rarely saw decent time on ice with the Hurricanes and were rarely paired with other scorers that would complement their offensive talent.
In the 30 NHL games that Samson saw in the previous two seasons, he averaged just over seven minutes per game and did not see any powerplay time at all. Dalpe suffered a similar fate under Maurice, also averaging just over seven minutes per game with no time on the man-advantage and hit a career low on 14-Nov-2011 against Philadelphia when he saw just 2:41.
Enter Kirk Muller.
Last night against Philadelphia, Samson was on the ice for a career high 13:26, almost double his average under Maurice, and enjoyed 1:33 of powerplay time. In four games under Muller, Dalpe averaged almost 15 minutes per game with his powerplay time coming in just shy of two minutes per game. Bowman has seen his average time increase by five and a half minutes per game with steady work on the powerplay. Boychuk has yet to be called up under Muller, but with the NHL trade deadline looming and a high chance that some regulars could be shipped out of Raleigh, his time is sure to come soon.
While Maurice believed in constantly running with his “proven commodities” (or as some fans referred to it, his “favorites”) and banishing call-ups to fourth-line duty, Muller has indicated that he will not operate under that philosophy.
“I know young kids have to earn their time and all that, but I think you’ve got to put them in a spot where they can excel,” Muller said. “If you just keep throwing them on the fourth line when they come up, they’re just going to be a guy out of their element.”
Hallelujah!! This man gets it!
“He deserves to be brought up from his play. You can see the power of the merit system.”
The merit system, you say? You mean rewarding players based on their play? What a concept! Who ever would have thought??
Not only was Samson rewarded with the call-up for his stellar play of late in Charlotte, but he also reaped benefits in-game for his strong play last night. Samson started the game on the second powerplay unit, but after drawing an interference penalty against the Flyers in the second period, Samson was put right back out on the ice with Eric Staal and the first unit where he would score that first goal. As the game went on, his number of shifts increased and he was out there for the final shift of the game when Cam Ward was pulled for the extra man and the Canes desperately needed a goal to tie the game.
What a confidence builder for one of our young offensive prospects – to know that your coach not only recognizes your talent, but believes in it. That is something the majority of call-ups from the Checkers have not been given up until now. To leave out such an important part of a young player’s development is absurd and I for one am so glad that our new coach understands this concept.
I hope to see that brilliant smile from Samson again real soon, only next time I hope that some of his Checkers teammates are celebrating with him – up here in Raleigh, of course!