may not have the pedigree of some of the Hurricanes’ other prospects, but he’s doing everything he can to make up for that.
The undrafted third-year pro with Albany currently ranks second in the American Hockey League with 37 goals and is tied for fourth place with 78 points through 74 games. He is far and away the River Rats’ top offensive performer, as he boasts 32 more points than the next-highest scorer, rookie Chris Terry
The Quebec-born 22-year-old has been particularly strong of late, having earned AHL Player of the Month honors for March – a month in which he scored 24 points in just 12 games, including three four-point games and two three-point games. On the same day he took that award, he was also named to the league’s First All-Star Team.
“He’s had just a phenomenal year,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “To be in the top five in scoring in the AHL and closing in on 40 goals, I don’t think we envisioned that within his entry-level contract. It’s pretty impressive for a kid his age, because a lot of the other guys at the top of the scoring chart in the AHL are the veteran guys that have been around for awhile.”
This season marks a high point in what has been a career of steady improvement for Samson, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. Whether it was the buildup to his final year in junior, a 99-point campaign with Moncton and Val d’Or, or the totals he has posted this season, his numbers have notably increased every season.
Jeff Daniels, Samson’s coach in Albany, sensed big things were coming after a strong finish to a 54-point 2008-09 season in which the player averaged a point per game in the final nine contests.
“For me, it started last year in the last 10 or so games when he was really dominant for us,” said Daniels “He set the bar last year, and I told him I was going to hold him to that. This season, he’s gone out and done that every single day.”
Despite Samson’s undeniable success this year, the question remains: does he have a future in the NHL? While it may not be the in the type of free-scoring role that we’ve seen so far, the Hurricanes believe the answer is yes.
“The fact of the matter is at this level, you never say never, but he’s probably not going to be a regular offensive contributor,” said Karmanos. “But with his work ethic, attention to detail and the professionalism that he brings day in and day out, he’s going to find a way to carve out a role for himself somewhere in the NHL. I would be confident in saying that based on watching him now for three years. He’s determined, and kids like that usually find a way.”
Karmanos bases that assessment partially on how Samson has handled occasional disappointment at not getting more games with the Hurricanes this season. While he did appear in his first six NHL contests this year, earning one assist on his very first shift, more highly-touted prospects spent more time in the bigs despite Samson’s superior statistics.
According to both Daniels and Karmanos, not once did that affect his play with the River Rats.
”Jerome is a guy that, based on his play, deserved more time here,” said Karmanos. “Other guys have been called up at different points in time, but it could have just as easily been Jerome. The good news about him is that, regardless of whether he’s on fire and we don’t call him up, he just keeps going and he keeps driving.”
Samson could be in the mix for one final NHL stint in the season’s final two games, but the Hurricanes are being cautious with their one remaining regular recall, both for injury insurance and for the fact that they would not want to reassign an undeserving player in his stead.
However, with a number of jobs expected to be up for grabs at next season’s training camp, he could very well win a job in a checking role before all is said and done.
“We’re going to have to take a long, hard look at where he is come next year, because it’s just a matter of deciding where he fits,” said Karmanos. “He’s a kid that’s worked for all of the improvements in his game, and he’ll probably just continue to do that until he sticks in the NHL.”