PENTICTON, BC -- The struggle was real. The adjustment was difficult. But the kinks are all but worked out for Kenny Agostino.
Riding an eight-game NHL experience after signing an entry-level contract with the Calgary Flames to close out his collegiate career in 2013-14, Agostino -- still just 23 years old -- found life in professional hockey a tricky adaption.
And, at times, a frustrating one.
“I didn’t expect to slide right in to where I ended the season before,” Agostino said. “I understood I was probably going to start in Adirondack and maybe have some growing pains early on. I did have it in my mind that I wanted to get into some NHL games last year. It didn’t happen for whatever reason and we had a great year as an organization, so no complaints there. It’s more motivation.
“It’s a long year in the minors. Having a full year in the AHL is a long year. It makes you that much hungrier and it’ll make you realize how fortunate you are to play in the NHL that much more and how hard you have to work.”
That hunger comes after a bit of a famine for Agostino.
Seeing the likes of Emile Poirier, Micheal Ferland, David Wolf and Markus Granlund summoned from the Adirondack Flames to Calgary frustrated Agostino.
It also motivated him.
“It’s all about how you perceive it,” said the former Yale Unviersity standout. “It’s really easy to get discouraged in pro hockey, especially when you’re in minor hockey. Sometimes you can feel like you’re so far away and sometimes you feel like you’re right there. I just think if I continue playing my hockey, an opportunity will come, so that’s all I can do.”
Understandably, that opportunity wasn’t going to come early.
Struggling to start his first full season of professional hockey had Agostino further down the depth chart.
The Morristown, NJ native had just four goals and 12 points in his first four months of hockey in Adirondack, and was in and out of coach Ryan Huska’s lineup.
“It was hard not getting a lot of minutes and being in and out of the lineup,” Agostino said. “Obviously coming out of college, I played top line minutes my whole life really. In pro hockey, you have to earn your minutes and make them count. Mentally it was a struggle and something I grew from. It makes you grow as a person to learn how to struggle.
“For whatever reason, I got more playing time in the second half and I got more confident and Huska stuck with me. We worked on a lot of things and they made me a better 200-foot player.”
The growth in Agostino over the course of the year didn’t go unnoticed, in both his development and role with the junior Flames.
In February, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound forward had a goal and five points in nine games. That snowballed to five goals and 14 points in 13 games in March. In April, Agostino closed out thre regular season with five goals and 12 points in 10 games.
Eleven goals and 31 points in 32 games after netting just four goals and 12 points in the first 35 games.
It was a dramatic shift.
“I was trying to allude to a little bit of butting between him and I early on,” Huska said. “We asked him to dig in a little more and not look to play an easy game or a skilled game. He met us halfway and he kept pushing to the point where we used him to kill penalties because he was involved physically, he was willing to block shots and he earned the extra time that he got.
“Our relationship grew over the course of the year where I trusted him more because I saw a guy that was willing to do what we were asking him.
“I think with that he felt better about that game. By the end of the year he was more consistent with it where we would use him more on the power play and he enjoyed that side of things. He held his end of the bargain with us. We asked him to compete a little bit harder over the course of the year and he started to do that and earned more ice time.”
It came down to two things for Agostino.
Two he’s hoping to build on heading into Calgary’s main camp later this week.
“Being a pro hockey player, it’s all about confidence and momentum,” he said. “You’ve got to look at your positives in order to bring that to the rink the next day and continue to play well. This training camp I’m taking momentum from last season and the confidence I had last season.
“I’m at the point now … I’m 23 years old … I think I matured a lot last year. I know my ability, I know what I can do on the ice, I know I can play in the NHL, and whether an opportunity comes sooner or later, we’ll see. I’m ready to go.”