Coming off an excellent 2011-12 season with the Adirondack Phantoms, Akeson came into camp with almost an entitled mentality.
After all, he was the returning leading scorer of the AHL team, so he was looking forward to the opportunity to play with NHL caliber players like Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, who were playing with the Phantoms while the NHL was on hiatus do to a lockout.
But Akeson didn’t get that chance right away – and it caught him by surprise.
Akeson’s skating and speed weren’t up to snuff in training camp. He wasn’t willing to play the game hard, to hunt pucks in corners or to get to those difficult areas of the ice that result in taking a beating from the opposition if you want to be successful.
He was more of a guy who would want to play on the perimeter. He was still able to put up points despite playing an “easier” game, but it wasn’t fooling the Flyers management.
Rather than keep him as a third or fourth line forward with the Phantoms, the Flyers jettisoned him to the (now defunct) Trenton Titans in the ECHL.
“He probably wasn’t too happy with his place in life [at the start of last season],” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “But after he accepted it, he did a nice job of working his way up the ladder and earned a game in the NHL and got us a goal.”
Akeson earned that one-game trip to the NHL by working his way back to the Phantoms and then, despite missing their first 16 games, still ended up leading the Phantoms in scoring with 20 goals and 33 assists for 53 points.
|Jason Akeson is hoping to start the season with a different crest on the front of his jersey than the one shown above - but he'll make do if he has to start the season with the Phantoms again. |
Getting that taste of the NHL inspired Akeson to do things differently in anticipation of a new season.
And so, this summer he changed his approach to one that has him hell-bent on not only not being sent to the ECHL to start the season, but also not being sent to the AHL.
Jason Akeson thinks he can play for the Flyers, and is out to prove it.
“I’ve noticed it in practice,” Laviolette said. “He’s very noticeable because the puck sticks with him and he makes plays. His head’s up all the time. He’s that type of player. He made those strides last season and made it to the point where he got called up. There’s been a road that he’s taken and now it puts him in camp where he’s playing with some of our top guys. He’s worked for that opportunity and it was nice to see him play well [Monday] and continue to get looked at.”
Akeson had a goal and an assist in Monday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Washington. His assist was a brilliant pass from the corner to a wide-open Jake Voracek out front. His goal came on a rebound as he followed up a Sean Couturier shot and poked it through goalie David Leggio’s five hole.
Akeson even got a chance in the shootout, although he wasn’t able to cash in. It may have been the only negative in an overly-positive performance by Akeson. – and it earned him a repeat role on a line with Couturier and Voracek Tuesday against New York.
“I have been preparing to play here – with the Flyers,” Akeson said. “I got a little sniff of it last year and I knew that if I put enough hard work in here I could play here and earn a spot. All summer that was my mentality. I decided I was going to work harder than the guy beside me and if I could do that, there’s no excuse. There’s no looking back and saying ‘What if?’ My mindset is, I want to make this team.”
When talking to Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube a year ago about Akeson, he loved his offensive game, but felt that Akeson was lacking in the other areas – the defensive game. Forechecking. Backchecking. Systematic play. It was what was keeping him from taking that final step to the NHL.
A year later, ask Berube what he likes about Akeson and he says this:
“I thought he competed hard, did some real nice things on the powerplay with the puck, shot some pucks and had some good chances,” Berube said. “But the one thing that jumps out at me was that he was physical and he was in the battles and getting in there and doing all the dirty work. He really showed up tonight and I thought he was good.”
And as a result, Akeson has sort of thrown his hat in the ring for a role on the left wing for the Flyers, which seems to have a couple openings and several players battling for those spots.
“I know the offensive part of my game is where I want it to be,” Akeson said. “But to play in this league you have to be able to do the other things well too. That means winning battles in the corner and being responsible defensively. That was a focus in the summer – getting faster and stronger so I can do those things at this level.”
Akeson, 23, didn’t gain any weight, but he converting a lot of pounds into muscle, which has made a big difference as well.
Regardless, it looks like Akeson is going to be sticking around for a good while in camp with a shot at landing a job. But, if it doesn’t pan out to start the season, Akeson won’t sulk – like he did a year ago. Instead, he plans on continuing to try to get back to the NHL on a full-time basis.
“It’s not what I want, but it’s been worse for me in the past,” Akeson said. “Last year I started at the bottom. If it comes to that, then it is what it is and I have to just put my head down, go to work and give them a reason to call me back up.
“My plan though, is not to leave here.”
And for now, the plan is working just fine.
NOTES: The Flyers lost to the New York Rangers 3-2 in preseason action Tuesday. Max Talbot and Sean Couturier scored for the Flyers. Steve Mason played the entire 60 minutes in net and made 20 saves… The Flyers finished their four-games-in-three-nights segment of the exhibition schedule going 1-2-1… Hal Gill led all players in blocked shots in the game with four…. Couturier was also strong in the faceoff circle winning 73 percent of his draws.
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