The Maple, ON native had back-to-back 93-point seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League to end his junior career, but only totaled 14 points (six goals, eight points) in his first AHL season with the Sound Tigers.
Last season, DiBenedetto broke out in a big way, recording offensive career-highs in goals (19), assists (11) and points (30) as well as earning his first career NHL call-up.
“The first half of the year, I had an injury that set me back,” DiBenedetto said. “But I worked hard on and off the ice. When I came back, I made the most of the opportunity.”
|Justin DiBenedetto taking at knee on Nassau Coliseum ice, listening to the coaches at Islanders Mini-Camp on Wednesday, July 13, 2011. |
DiBenedetto had just three goals his first 19 games with the Sound Tigers, missing half of the team’s games due to injury. However, he returned to net 16 goals in his final 32 games in Bridgeport, earned a spot on the top line and became a go-to guy offensively.
It all paid off in late February, when DiBenedetto got the call to pack his bags and head to Long Island. Although some players could be intimidated by hitting the big stage, DiBenedetto found comfort in some familiar faces.
“When I got that call, it was the best call of my life,” DiBenedetto said. “You grow up dreaming of that moment. When I got here, at least a quarter of the team had played with me on the Sound Tigers, so it was great…a real easy transition for me.”
Before he got that call, he played his best hockey of his pro career with a team that was decimated due to injuries and call-ups. Despite that tough stretch with the Sound Tigers, DiBenedetto took positives away from that experience.
“You just have to stick with your teammates through adversity,” DiBenedetto said. “We had a stretch of 21 or 22 losses in 24 games, and it was real tough. But you learn from that and I felt the experience made me a better player.”
DiBenedetto recorded an assist in his eight-game stint with the Islanders in March before finishing the season with the Sound Tigers. When he returned to the Sound Tigers, he was one of the oldest players on the ice despite being in just his second professional season.
“By the end of the season, a lot of the older guys had either been called up or were injured,” DiBenedetto explained. “I felt like I took a leadership role and it was good to feel what that was like.”
Now in the final season of his three-year entry-level deal, DiBenedetto knows that this is his most important pro season to date.
“I’m looking at this year as a big opportunity for me,” DiBenedetto explained. “It’s the final year of my entry-level deal and I want to make a statement. Last year, I got called up and was just happy to be there. This year, I want to come to camp, contribute and make the team.”
The 6’0, 188-pound forward is known for his quick shot, speed and ability to agitate the opponents. He recognizes the importance of improving all facets of his game if he’s going to take that next step.
“I think you just need to work on everything during the offseason,” DiBenedetto said. “Whether it’s my speed, my shot, my strength…at the next level, you’ve got to be good at everything.”