The Penguins’ blue line had a few notable departures this offseason, and Rob Scuderi is one of the few remaining veterans back there.
He knows there are responsibilities that come with that in terms of mentoring younger players, speaking up when needed and just taking an overall leadership role. And while Scuderi still plans to do that, his main focus is going to be on himself after he struggled during the second half of his first season back with Pittsburgh.
“For me personally, I feel like I need to have a bounce-back year,” Scuderi said. “I struggled after my injury, after coming back. So I’m a little bit more focused on myself this year, about the things I have to do. I think the other stuff just comes naturally as you’re a veteran. I know I can handle that part of it. But I’m putting a little more focus on myself this year and making sure my game gets back to where it has to be.
“I didn’t come back well. I don’t mince words and I don’t lie to myself. And (after the injury), I didn’t play as consistently well as I expect myself to.”
The 35-year-old defenseman missed 29 straight games after breaking his ankle on Oct. 26 at Toronto, returning Dec. 29 at Columbus. The injury ended his consecutive games played streak at 275 games, dating back to Dec. 7, 2009. It was the first long-term injury of his career, and Scuderi is the first to admit he didn’t deal with it well.
Physically, the trainers and medical staff did a good job of getting him prepared to play again. Mentally, Scuderi struggled.
“Looking at it in hindsight, it was very frustrating to be hurt because (before that), I think I went maybe four seasons without missing a game,” he said. “And then to not only miss some time, but to miss two full months is the longest time I ever missed in my career. The mental side of it just didn’t go well for me coming back.
“I was out of sync. My reads, my footwork, everything was just off. I didn’t feel like myself. You start to press when it doesn’t come back around, then one problem turns into two and it just snowballs on you. You try to be a positive influence on your team, and I tried to do what I could in whatever role the coaches decided to put me in, and that’s what I was going to do, try to be a positive influence for our group.”
The offseason has been huge for Scuderi, who signed a four-year deal last summer, in terms of hitting the reset button and preparing himself for a fresh start in 2014-15.
“Having some time off in the summer and getting myself physically back to where I want to be, I’m looking ahead to a big start in training camp and getting my game back to where I think it should be,” he said.
Having turned pro back in 2001, Scuderi has certainly been through his share of organizational changes before – both during his first stint with the Penguins and then adjusting to a new team in Los Angeles. He understands that while change is scary, sometimes it’s needed.
“You never like to see good people go, and I think that’s the case (here),” he said. “But if the latter wasn’t the case, then everyone would have the same job from 50 years ago. It’s scary and you hate to see people that you know are good people go, but it happens in this business. That’s just the way it is.”
While Penguins head coach Mike Johnston has touched on how he wants the defensemen to play within his system, Scuderi is looking forward to getting more in-depth and seeing how everything translates on the ice.
“I’ve heard about him as a coach in general, but I haven’t had the personal experience of sitting in on meetings or (getting) a strategic point of view for how he sees our team and the direction of it,” Scuderi said. “So we’ll just have to wait and see. Certainly, he’s the coach, he’s making the call, and we’re players, it’s up to us to adjust and play the system that he wants.”
He’s ready to start getting all of that figured out.
“It’s a little bit of a scary time, I think, when you have some change,” he said. “But it’s also exciting to see what’s new and what we’re going to be learning. I think most of us are pretty anxious to get started.”