Only Albany Devils captain Rod Pelley has worn the horned “A” on his chest for as many games as Corey Tropp this season.
However, Tropp, who has played in all 38 games for Albany through the first half of the season, is under contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, on loan to Albany.
Standing off to the side of the stands at Knickerbacker Arena during Thursday’s optional skate, Tropp was no pretender while wearing a jacket and knit cap plastered with that same horned “A” logo. He’s dedicated himself to this team, this day, this shift throughout the season.
“I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t thought about it,” Tropp said. “It’s definitely a weird situation, a weird part of the business, the situation I’m in now. At the same time, you can really only worry about the things you can control. Right now, I’m an Albany Devil.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Tropp will add two more games as a Devil this weekend when Albany hosts St. John’s tonight at 7 and on Saturday afternoon at 2.
Tropp, 26, is a sixth-year pro who has played in 148 NHL games, totaling six goals and 21 assists. This season in Albany is the first time since his rookie year with the Portland Pirates (2010-11) that he has spent significant time in the AHL. His second season, he split time between the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres.
In June 2015, he was part of a multi-player trade that sent him from Columbus to Chicago, but the Blackhawks didn’t have room at right wing at either the NHL or AHL level, so they loaned him to Albany.
The Blackhawks got in touch with Albany coach Rick Kowalsky, who put them in touch with general manager Tom Fitzgerald to arrange the loan.
This season with Albany, Tropp has adjusted from the third- and fourth-line role he had played much of the time at the NHL level to the top-six role he has with the Devils. He has 10 goals and 13 assists in 38 games, along with 46 penalty minutes and a plus-3 defensive rating. He’s tied for third on the team in goals, and is fourth in points.
That already equals the 10 goals he put up in 76 games with Portland.
At any moment, Tropp could be recalled by Chicago, a team atop the Western Conference and looking to make another run at the Stanley Cup, or he could be traded to a team in need of a right wing at the NHL level with the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaching.
“Our building is a very popular scouting building,” Kowalsky said. “There’s always someone watching. If things don’t work out in this organization, come the next contract or the trade deadline . . . you’re building a reputation for yourself. I’m sure there are teams looking at him, and I can’t speak for Chicago, but I’m sure that has to be in the back of his mind, what could happen coming up here. I think he’s just got to stay focused on playing within himself, playing Corey Tropp’s game, and I’m going to reward him with ice time for playing the right way.”
Tropp’s contract is up at the end of this season, too, so regardless of this season’s potential transaction activity, he is working to perpetuate his own brand, showing teams what he can bring to the table.
Kowalsky wasn’t sure what that would be when he first learned the loan was going to happen.
“My first impression was this guy is potentially going to take ice time away from our prospects,” Kowalsky said. “Obviously, there’s an emphasis on development here, but also, we want to create a winning environment here, and we’ve had the depth to do that, and Corey’s been part of that. I got the green light to play him as I saw fit. He came in here and did a real good job in a lesser role until I got to know him as a player. Then, he’s been rewarded with more minutes and power-play time, even 3-on-3 time in overtime, because of what he’s done. I think it’s important he doesn’t lose sight of what earned him that, and continue to play the right way. That’s going to give him the best opportunity to get back to the NHL.”
Paul Thompson, one of his frequent Devils linemates, said it took a little time for the rest of the team to adjust to the situation.
“You go to training camp and expect that’s going to be your group,” Thompson said. “Then you get loaned a guy, but for us, it’s worked out great. We get loaned a pretty damn good player who’s played a lot of games in the NHL, is a good leader and can show guys the right way to play.”
“We have some fun with it,” Tropp said. “They’d crack some jokes about who’s paying me. But we’ve got a great group of guys. It’s a weird situation for everybody, and at first, I was a little nervous about being on a team that has no ties to me. I didn’t know how the guys would accept me, but it’s been great.”
The joking around was more prevalent early in the season, as Tropp got used to his new role. The biggest adjustment was seeing his ice time double.
“I went from playing somewhere around seven or eight minutes to maybe 15 to 18,” he said. “That was an adjustment early on, but the more games I’ve played, the more comfortable I’ve been. You’re getting more touches with the puck and are put in positions that, the last couple seasons, I hadn’t been in. It’s been fun.”
Tropp couldn’t have a more appropriate linemate than Thompson, who came to
Albany last season more used to lower-line roles and minutes and stepped into a more involved role, then thrived and earned a two-way contract with New Jersey this season.
“You play those third- and fourth-line minutes, then when you get another opportunity, on the power play or top-six minutes, you try to do those same things you were doing,” Thompson said. “If you’re doing them in those expanded minutes, you’re going to have success.”
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