Two years ago, defenseman Raman Hrabarenka played his way from a preseason invitation to a professional contract.
He signed an AHL contract with Albany, and coach Rick Kowalsky saw in the 6-foot-3 Belarusan a lot of raw potential because of his size, shooting ability and how well he could skate.
“It was really raw,” Kowalsky said. “I remember that first year, we had him on the power play, and it was a breakaway two-on-one-fest the other way. Everything was blocked, losing the puck at the blue line, to the point where I just had to take him off it [the power play] completely and take a step back.”
After some promising moments last season, Hrabarenka has started his third pro campaign with three consistent weeks. He will try to keep that consistency rolling into tonight’s game against the Springfield Falcons at 7 p.m. in the Times Union Center.
The Devils also are home Saturday at 5 p.m. against Bridgeport and Sunday at 3 p.m. against Portland.
Last season, Hrabarenka was sent down to the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL for a short stint, and he said that helped motivate him.
“I just feel comfortable right now, and the coaches trust me, teammates trust me,” Hrabarenka said. “I’m working on my game, on the power play, and that’s probably why I’ve scored some goals and made the most of my moments.
“Last year was tough for me, being sent down [to the ECHL], then brought back to Albany after a month or month and a half. You just have to do what you have to do, work hard and improve yourself as a player. That’s how you get better.”
Through six games this season, Hrabarenka’s six points (three goals, three assists) has him tied for third best among defensemen in the AHL, behind Binghamton’s Chris Wideman (3-5-8) and Rochester’s Chad Ruhwedel (2-6-8).
He is tied for most goals for a defenseman and most power-play goals (two) for a defenseman.
Hrabarenka is tied for the league lead in plus-minus at plus-8 with two Providence Bruins — rookie right wing David Pastrnak, who has played in seven games, and defenseman Ben Youds, who has played in four.
He wouldn’t say he’s more proud of the points or the plus-8, as he’d rather enjoy both and believes attention to both is what will make him a better player.
“Both things are important,” he said. “This means you have played good and done good things, if you’re plus-8. When you score goals or give guys some assists, it’s more about individual skills, kind of. But I think most things are important, for any player.”
Dan Kelly has been paired with Hrabarenka, and sports a plus-6 through six games, tied for sixth best in the league.
“They communicate well,” Kowalsky said. “We thought that would be a good pairing just because we thought Dan-o could solidify things defensively and just help him out. He’s really helped him along, as far as communication and how fast the game is.”
“We know each other well, we’re always talking on the ice and we’re good friends off the ice,” Hrabarenka said. “That’s helped us to play solid defense. I think we’re the same style of defensive player. I’m using my size, he’s using his, so it’s really tough to play against us.”
Kowalsky said though Hrabarenka used to take two positive steps only to fall back a step, fighting through inconsistency, he now exhibits an everyday focus that is, so far, resulting in the impressive defensive play the coaches want to see.
“He’s had troubles solidifying his spot in the lineup here for two years,” Kowalsky said. “A guy with that ability, that size, because it’s raw, his inability to consistently do the little things every night, which we ask of everybody, is what’s held him back. Thus far [this season], he’s done that.
“It’s not about the points, it’s not about the big hit, it’s about doing the little things, being in the lineup consistently, and not making a major mistake or making that one decision that costs us a goal or causes a penalty. He’s starting to get that.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: