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WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – A big reason the American Hockey League wanted to make the 2020-21 season happen was the insistence that young players couldn’t afford to lose over a year of development.

If anyone proved that point for the AHL with an exclamation point, it was Jordy Bellerive.

Bellerive made major strides in his second season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, even if that sophomore year was shortened to 32 games over three and a half months.

“I think I made a big jump from last season,” Bellerive said. “I learned a lot this year with J.D. [Forrest] and the coaching staff.”

Going back to Bellerive’s rookie year, he notched just three goals in his first 38 pro games, but then erupted for nine goals in the last 18 games of 2019-20. Determined to prove that late-season output was no fluke, the North Vancouver, B.C. native tied for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s team lead with 10 goals this year, and his 18 points placed fourth on the team.

His penchant for potting those goals in clutch moments is already the stuff of legend. Half of his goals since turning pro have come in the third period or overtime. The Penguins are 13-3-2-0 (.778) all-time whenever he lights the lamp.

Despite the increased production and continued success at coming up clutch, Bellerive believes his second-year improvement spans beyond the scoresheet.

“The goals and everything, that’s great, but I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, that’s just a bonus,” he said. “I think my game has a lot more than just the goal scoring stuff like that… I want to continue to focus on the little things.”

There was a marked improvement in “the little things” in Bellerive’s game this season, as well.

His work on faceoffs improved drastically from his rookie season, and even showed steady signs of improvement throughout the season. Bellerive put an emphasis on improving his speed over the long offseason, and that increased acceleration showed itself not only on offense, but also on several key backchecking plays throughout the course of the year.

One huge element of the subtlety in Bellerive’s game is his antagonistic nature. A regular perturbance, the 22-year-old has near-perfected the art of getting underneath his opponents’ skin.

Even if he wasn’t the one initiating mayhem in a particular sequence, there were several times this season where he’d take a beating from a frazzled foe only to emerge with a taunting smile sprawled across his face.

Whether he’s dolling out the punishment or receiving it, Bellerive has shown that he revels in that part of the game. He’s shown that side of him for a long time, going back to his major junior days with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, but Bellerive turned the irritation up to 11 at times this season.

“I’d say more than Junior probably, yeah,” he said when asked about the edge in his playing style, as a miniature version of that twisted grin showed for a moment. “This year, I think I tried to do a lot of that. You know, that’s part of my game. I like to be able to chip in different kinds of ways. So I just think that’s, that is something that’s become part of my game.”

Unless he plans on joining an underground fight club, Bellerive can’t really hone his combative traits during the summer. What he can do, however, is get back to the training regimen that translated to positive results from year one to year two.

“For me, it’s always the same thing,” Bellerive said. “I’m always trying to get faster and continue to get stronger. I’ll work on some mobility and everything like that, and just try to do all the work on and off the ice to be prepared for next season.”

Bellerive’s big jump in his second season with the Penguins was exciting to watch. Waiting to see how much of a leap he can take in year three will help build the anticipation for the start of a new season in the fall.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Ticket Information