By Brian Coe
Philip Samuelsson was off to a solid start to the 2013-14 season through the first two months of the American Hockey League schedule. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when the Pittsburgh Penguins gave him his first taste of NHL action with a call-up to the big club just before Christmas.
What might be surprising is how he’s responded since being sent back to Wilkes-Barre.
In his first 12 games since being reassigned on December 24, Samuelsson has recorded 11 points (3+8) and a plus-7 rating. Those 11 points in less than a month are more than he recorded in either of his first two full seasons in the league.
“I’ve never really scored this many points,” said the 22-year-old Samuelsson. “You look at my production compared to previous seasons, it’s already surpassed that. Not to say I’m a different defenseman, I still know that I’m in charge of playing defense first. But it’s always nice to contribute offensively.”
He’s being chipping in offensively pretty consistently the past two weeks. Samuelsson posted his first career multi-goal game on January 8 against the Syracuse Crunch, and set a career-high for points in a game with four (1+3) this past Saturday night against the Portland Pirates. His goal in that contest was the first game-winner of his AHL career as well.
His five points (1+4) and plus-6 rating in three games this past weekend helped Samuelsson to earn CCM/AHL Player of the Week honors for the first time.
“When your confidence is high like mine is right now, you’re more creative with the puck and you’re willing to try things you normally wouldn’t,” he said. “Playing the right side, I get a lot of looks on the blueline, just getting pucks down to the net. And any time you get pucks down to the net, you never know what will happen.”
Samuelsson’s recent success follows closely on his first taste of the NHL, and he was quick to credit his time in Pittsburgh with helping his play with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I feel like I’m seeing the ice better and making quicker decisions [since the call-up],” said Samuelsson, who appeared in five games with Pittsburgh during his first recall. “Any time you’re thinking fast, you’re giving yourself the best chance to make better plays out there.
“For me it’s just about moving the puck quicker and having the confidence to hold onto the puck when I have time.”
Another factor in his offensive output has been pairing Samuelsson with Simon Despres, who himself was recently returned to Wilkes-Barre by the NHL club.
“They do really well together,” head coach John Hynes said of the defensive duo. “I think they compliment each other well, they feel comfortable. The two are a little bit different type of defensemen. When they’re on the ice they really do a good job of just controlling the game.”
Hynes has been impressed with Samuelsson’s offensive output of late, but was quick to play up the importance of his other attributes as well.
“It’s not just his offensive side that’s important, it’s the fact that he’s continuing to develop into a complete player. And that’s what you want to have at this level,” he said. “His calling card is his ability to play defense, shut the other team down, move the puck, be excellent on the penalty kill. Those are things that are going to help him get to and stay in the National Hockey League.”
“But the other side of that is you want to be able to have a rounded out player when he gets there - a guy that can move the puck, can chip in on offense. And he’s shown he can do that. It’s great for him and great for our team.”
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