EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — For veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, his return to the Los Angeles Kings on February 26 was the best thing that could have happened to him after being traded earlier in the season and then winding up in the American Hockey League with the Rockford Icehogs, the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate.
At 37 years old, and after playing the better part of twelve seasons in the NHL, going back to the AHL was definitely not a welcome development. But now, Scuderi is back with a team that plays a defensive system that fits his style of play like the proverbial glove.
Despite that, it’s not like he can just jump right in and have everything come back to him in an instant.
“It’s great to be back,” said Scuderi. “With the management and coaching staff here, you don’t expect anything but for them to be pretty straightforward. As a player, you want to make the adjustments as soon as possible. I’ve played for three teams in the last two months, so there’s a lot of adjusting on the fly. But you want to make that transition as seamless as possible, so I think I’m getting there. After a couple more games, I think I’ll have it pretty good.”
“I’m not 100 percent where I want to be with the stuff that we’re doing,” added Scuderi. “I know that’ll come, in time, with watching video and talking with the coaches to make sure that I’m making the right adjustments.”
On top of making adjustments, the Kings’ system is slightly different than Scuderi remembers from his first stint with the Kings.
“It’s not too much different,” he noted. “It actually might be a little more aggressive, and that’s fine. It just takes a little time to get used to things. But especially in the defensive zone, if you have a good bead on a guy, they want you to be aggressive, and cut down time and space even faster than we did before.”
Already knowing many of his new teammates from his previous time with the Kings is helping Scuderi make the adjustments, as well.
“The bigger thing is socially—I know half the guys in this room already,” he noted. “You take the time to get to know your other teammates, but that’s a big part of it, because that social awkwardness isn’t there when you first come into this room. That allows me to just focus on the game.”
“I went to Chicago, and you’re comfortable in yourself and confident in what you can do, but there’s the social aspect of getting to know everybody, and that takes time,” he added. “There’s nothing you can do about that. I’m very fortunate that here, I don’t have to worry about that too much, and I can just focus on my game. That’s why I’m hoping to make the transition in a [minimal] amount of games.”
Although he’s the “new” guy, Scuderi brings instant leadership to the Kings, even though he’s not wearing a letter on his chest.
“I still think I pipe up when I think something needs to be said, but mostly, it’s about showing up,” he said. “You can talk a big game, but nobody respects you unless you walk the walk. You have to focus on your game, and that’s where I am right now. I’m only [five] games in, and I’m still trying to get all the details correct, all the time. But talking and being a leader will always be a part of what I am and what I do.”
“Nothing I’m saying is brash, or out of place, so I don’t mind speaking up,” he added. “If I came in—in my opinion, it’s kind of awkward if you come right in, and start saying stuff that’s over the top. As long as it’s measured, in response to what’s going on, I’ve never had a problem speaking my mind, really, ever, even as a younger guy. People respect that. I’m not over the top with anything, so what I say is in context with everything in a game, what needs to happen, or what we need to do better.”
Since his return to the Kings, Scuderi has recording two assists and a plus-4 plus-minus rating in five games while averaging 19:11 in time on ice.
“There was some talk about he couldn’t play the minutes,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “He played every game last year. He played 19 minutes [per game] on a good hockey team, and [he was] a plus player. He played in every playoff game. He’s the only guy in that room, him and [Kris] Versteeg, who played in a playoff game last year, so he’s still able to do that. He’s healthy and fits the program.”
Sutter also indicated that there’s very little that he needs to talk with Scuderi about.
“I’m not spending a whole lot of time with guys who are 36 or 37 years old on adjusting,” he said. “He’s played enough games, with enough teams and enough teammates, in good situations, in bad situations. I’m not really talking to him about the games. I talk to him about how he’s doing [and] how he’s feeling more than anything else.”
“I’m sure it’s not easy [for him], living in a hotel, and with lots of other stuff going on,” he added. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Scuds, or [Vincent Lecavalier] or [Dustin Brown]. You want guys who are consistent. Look at Lecavalier, how good he’s been, how consistent. That’s what you’re looking for. It’s not expecting something they’re not capable of. That’s all you want from Scuds. He’s really a guy [where] the less you notice him, the better he is, clearly. That hasn’t changed.”
Having been away for a few years while playing in the East, Scuderi has noticed differences in two of the Kings’ brightest stars, including one of his defensive partners.
“[Drew Doughty] is still the same player,” Scuderi observed. “He was always an extremely talented player. He has a lot of poise for a guy his age, but I think the thing now is that he’s become so much more of a leader. He’s not afraid to pipe up when something needs to be said, and although it’s nice to see, it’s not a surprise.”
“You could tell that it was just going to take him some time,” Scuderi added. “Now that he has that, he’s just going to become that much better a player, that much more of a leader, and an asset for this locker room.”
Scuderi also marveled at the play of center Anze Kopitar.
“The thing with Kopitar is that everything is so effortless,” he said. “It’s like he’s not even trying, but he’s so smooth at what he does. He puts a lot of work into what he does, as far as refining his craft, and it really does add up. You see the little plays on the power play—he’ll create space for himself to make that first pass to calm everything down. Not that he didn’t have that before, but the consistency that he shows now is really amazing.”
“He’s always been a big body, and he’s always used it well to protect the puck,” he added. “But now, he’s honed that even more. There’s a couple of players in the league who, when they don’t want to give up the puck, they’re not going to give up the puck, and he’s one of them.”