|The Albany River Rats' Jerome Samson is one of the potentially high-yielding works in progress this season.
Spotting a blue-chipper early in its development can be a rewarding and lucrative talent.
Albany River Rats rookie right wing Jerome Samson learned that from his father, Luc, a financial advisor in Montreal. When his last goal is finally scored, Jerome would like to draw a paycheck in that field.
“I’m real interested in it. When I was in school, I took a lot of statistics,’’ Samson said. “It’s fun, how to make money, where to put it. If you get 10 percent interest a year, you want 12.’’
Boosting the value of any kind of stock comes down to finding someone who knows what they’re talking about and then listening to them. Samson has been lucky in that regard. The words of his father could someday pad his bank account.
And the earthy admonitions of a coach like Ted Nolan have laid the groundwork for him to spike as a hockey player.
The undrafted Samson, 20, is one of the potentially high-yielding works in progress this season. His nine goals and seven assists would be bonus enough. His ahead-of-the-game eagerness on the defensive side -- in part attributable to Nolan -- makes him a possible all-around impact player.
“He should be able to make a statement at the NHL level after two years,’’ River Rats coach Tom Rowe said. “There are some guys, they just have a presence about them. He is very business-like. I thought it would take a little bit of time for him to get used to the league. But he accelerated everything.’’
Samson picked that up in juniors, where he rolled through coaches faster than lines. In three seasons with Moncton and Val-d’Or, he played for five coaches.
“It’s always a new start every time,’’ Samson said. “You always want to make a good first impression, so a coach sees you on a good note. It’s kind of weird to do that every year.’’
Samson tried to absorb something from each mentor, but playing for Nolan was the key seminar of his junior career. It came in his second season with Moncton in 2005-06. Samson was starting to look like a scorer, with 52 points in 62 games. Big deal, Nolan told him. Someday, that scoring touch could disappear. If you make yourself a plus-type of player who can swing from lines one through four, you’ll always have some value to your team.
To prove the point, Nolan stuck Samson on a checking line. Not completely coincidentally, that was the season Moncton made the Memorial Cup final.
“He told me there’s one thing you can’t miss. You have to be a good defensive player if you want to make the NHL,’’ Samson said. “It’s for sure a part of the game. Not everyone can see it, you might not be the guy on the score sheet. But to have a good team, you have to be well-rounded.’’
Samson put another layer of glitter on his game last season. In 71 contests with Moncton and Val-d’Or, he piled up 99 points. That understandably caught the attention of the Carolina Hurricanes, who pushed hard to sign him to a free-agent deal. Rowe had little idea what he had on his hands in training camp. He saw a guy who was pretty good at winning the one-on-one battles, and at making a nuisance of himself along the boards.
Mix that mentality with Samson’s potential as a finisher, Rowe thought, and maybe, just maybe, Samson was a guy who could play with No. 1 center Keith Aucoin.
Perhaps by Christmas, if everyone was lucky, that is. Until then, Samson was projected as a plucky newcomer who probably should start as a third-liner.
“We didn’t know what to expect. When he got here, he looked good every day in practice,’’ Rowe said. “He got off to a good start. He’s a stocky guy. He’s wide (5-foot-11, 175). He’s not an easy guy to knock off the puck, and he knows how to finish. Being able to protect the puck is something that we really liked.’’
When Rowe saw that Samson was tough enough to handle the minutes that someone on Aucoin’s line was going to get, he paired him with the veteran star almost immediately. It was a quick promotion that caught everyone off-guard. Aucoin said this is the first time he’s skated with a rookie wing so long into the season.
“It says a lot. Being on a first line in this league, it takes a lot of work,’’ Aucoin said. “He’s just confident on the ice that he can get the job done. He jumped in like he’s been around a couple of years, which is good for a rookie.’’
Whatever validity there is to the concept of a rookie wall, skating with Aucoin has been the jolt of energy Samson needed to help hurdle it so far.
“It was like a boost for me. I had to play with more energy,’’ Samson said. “I had to change my game a little bit. Last year, I was the guy who was making the play. I’m playing with Keith, he’s controlling the game a lot.’’
Those random role fluctuations aside, Samson keeps building a portfolio that indicates the best investment he’ll ever make is in his own abilities.
“I don’t really know what to expect for myself. I’m working to go up and up,’’ he said, drawing parallels between hockey and stocks. “Nobody wants a career that’s a big up and a big down. What you’re looking for is a real good peak, and when you’re down, you’re not down long.’’