The moment Blake Comeau
started wondering if he deserved another chance in the NHL, the Islanders came calling.
Perfect opportunity. Perfect timing.
Comeau, mired in a season-long slump while playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, said he was certainly surprised to hear he of all people was getting called up to the big club on Dec. 17, 2007.
But since he made his season debut only two days later against Buffalo, Comeau has added a new dimension to the Islanders’ offense. A solid two-way forward, the Saskatchewan native who turns 22 on Feb. 18 has thrived with four goals and four assists, earning more and more minutes nearly every time out.
Comeau, who had just three goals and six assists in 25 AHL games, began playing with Tim Jackman and Andy Hilbert on the fourth line, but as of late was seen with veterans Mike Sillinger (since injured) and Trent Hunter. His ice time is at nearly 11 minutes per game and rising.
“He wasn’t really tearing it up in the American Hockey League, but we saw the potential in him,” Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. “We saw a lot of upside, and the first couple of games I’m quite sure he wasn’t playing with that much comfort, but the last (three weeks) he’s been doing some things we thought he could.”
Comeau admits he has found the confidence now that eluded him in Bridgeport for those 25 games, but he still can’t help but wonder why the big club would summon someone who was far from proficient in the American Hockey League?
Sometimes, Nolan answered, players just play better when they skate with NHL-level talent instead of the kind you’ll find in the AHL.
“I think there are a lot of guys like that, but unfortunately a lot of guys don’t get the opportunity,” Nolan said. “Blake is one of those fortunate ones that got the opportunity and he’s taking full advantage of it.”
Comeau, who played three games with the Islanders last season, said Nolan’s confidence in him was what he needed to hear.
Again, perfect timing.
“When I got called up, the first day Teddy pulled me aside and said; ‘I know things aren’t going the way you want them to in Bridgeport, but I want you to come up here and give you a little taste, so just work hard, play physical, and take care of the defensive end,’ ” Comeau said. “I think that helped me out a lot to know that Teddy had confidence in me to get me up here and give me an opportunity.”
It’s funny to hear Comeau talk about confidence. That was hardly an issue for him prior to turning pro.
Comeau, as Canadian hockey fans will remember, had tremendous success as an amateur, winning a Memorial Cup with Kelowna of the WHL in 2004, and World Juniors gold as an alternate captain for Team Canada in 2006.
He led the Canadians with seven points during those World Junior Championships in Vancouver. It was his only WJC because Comeau signed a three-year entry level contract with the Islanders a few months later.
“Any time you can play in those high pressure games it helps with the experience aspect of the game and it teaches you to be poised and just relaxed in those big games. This year that’s helping me out,” Comeau said. “I remember last year when I came up I was pretty nervous and trying to make sure I didn’t screw up. That was what was in the back of my mind. When I came up this year it wasn’t a fact of if I’m going to score, just come in and make an impact.”
Comeau knew his opportunity with the Islanders last season was fleeting. Unless he lit the NHL on fire – he managed only one shot on goal while playing a total of 28 minutes over three games – he would be gone before he could settle into a hotel room.
But the few days he spent as an Islander last season served him well when he got the call in December. Getting over the pinch-me-I’m-here experience was one less hurdle he had to clear.
|Comeau has done his part by impressing his teammates.
“Oh, big time, yeah,” Comeau said. “To come this year and know the majority of the guys from last year makes it a lot easier. To come in the room, talk with the guys, joke around with the guys, oh yeah. They’ve all made me feel welcome right from the start, which translates on the ice, no doubt.”
Comeau has done his part by impressing his teammates, including veteran captain Bill Guerin, who wasn’t around last season when Comeau got his first taste.
“He’s an NHL player,” Guerin said, offering a compliment that should undoubtedly make Comeau’s confidence soar even higher than it currently is. “His skill level is one thing, but there are a lot of guys with good skill out there who end up not making it. You can just tell he belongs. He’s going to be a good player for a long time. He’s a rookie, but he has patience all over the ice. He’s just a smart player.”
“He looks like he belongs here. He’s taken his game to another level,” added Jackman. “He’s got the talent and the skill to be on a top line. The way he controls the play and handles the puck, he could be on the power play.”
It’s not all rosy.
As expected, there are areas of Comeau’s game that need a lot of work, such as his patience with the puck. Nolan praised it, but added that he would like to see Comeau move the biscuit a bit quicker.
“Sometimes that patience looks lethargic,” Nolan said.
In terms of nit-picking, though, that’s about as much as you’ll hear publicly from the Islanders about their new golden boy.
He’s not perfect, but he’s just what this team needs.
“He’s a bright spot for this organization,” Nolan said, “a young prospect with a lot of ability.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.