Usually, production decreases for players as they adjust from college to the pro game.
Utah Grizzlies rookie Tom May
has done the exact opposite. In fact, with two months still to play in the 2008-09 season, the 23-year-old has already doubled his output from any of his four seasons at the University of Denver.
"I've never really been too big of a goal scorer," said May, who ranks third on Utah's roster with 31 points. "I'm just playing with some really good guys with (James) Brannigan and (Tim) Verbeek on my line. It's been a little bit of a surprise for me."
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound right wing is opening eyes with his knack for the net -- something that was never evident during his college years. In four seasons at Denver, May never scored more than nine goals and never tallied more than 15 points. But the undrafted Minnesota native scored 18 times in his first 44 games under Grizzlies coach Kevin Colley
"He's putting the puck in the back of the net," Colley told NHL.com. "Being a first-year guy, you can see the flashes of the upside Tom brings. We just want to see that on a consistent basis. For the last six weeks, he's been top notch. He's going to play in the American League full-time one day. It's just a matter of taking care of business here and waiting for his opportunity."
Colley should know. The first-year coach worked his way up from the ECHL's Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies all the way to the New York Islanders
, only to suffer a career-ending neck injury. Nonetheless, Colley knows what it takes to make the NHL and has been impressed by the way May has handled himself in his rookie season.
"It's a matter of being in the right situations," Colley said. "I put him in every situation on the ice and I lean on him to put up some points and be an all-around, two-way player. Some players will respond to it and some players kind of go the other way. Tom's responded so well with the opportunity he's been given. He's made a statement that he wants to be an American League player. He's not one of those guys feeling sorry for himself that he's in the ECHL. He's here taking care of business."
Surely, Colley has to be an inspiration for every player in the Grizzlies' dressing room given how hard he worked to reach the NHL. May raved about his coach and believes the 30-year-old has a bright future behind the bench. Utah is currently 18-17-15 as it has lost nine games in a shootout, by far the most in the league.
"He's a great coach. He's so emotional," May said. "The guy hates to lose pretty much more than anyone I've ever seen. I think there's still a little bit he needs to learn about being a coach, but I think he's well on his way to that. I think he can be a great coach down the line. He's definitely been one of the best I've had."
While May has watched several of his teammates move on to the AHL, the rookie forward has yet to get a look at the Triple-A level. But if he continues to produce in Utah, one has to believe May could get a call before the season ends.
"It would be cool just to get a chance to see if I can play up there," said May, who participated in Bridgeport's training camp. "It would be pretty cool to have the opportunity to move up."
One aspect that doesn't seem to be an area for concern is character. Colley gushed about what May has brought to the club -- both on and off the ice.
"Guys like him in the locker room. He's just a great guy," Colley said. "I like having him on my team. You enjoy having those types of players on your team -- the guys who have aspirations to move up. He's definitely one of them. He's just a great person."
But before the AHL comes calling, May believes there is something he needs to work on before showcasing his skills one step below the NHL.
"I'm working on just being consistent," May said. "I think that there's certain times that I might not make a play. I just need to be consistent shift in and shift out. I think that's a huge part of playing in the American League -- just being able to have strong play throughout the entire game and not just certain shifts."
Once he finds a way to do that, it's likely he'll get the same call that Colley received from Bridgeport in 2003, the year he left the ECHL for good.
"When I got out of this league, I was 23 or 24," Colley said. "He's right in that range. I see a little bit of myself where he focuses and just wants to get the job done. He's catching a lot of peoples' attention right now."
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.