Plucked from obscurity in the East Coast League, Albany River Rats defenseman Bryan Rodney has spent the last 15 months turning himself into an NHL prospect.
By next season, the Carolina Hurricanes figure Rodney’s transformation to NHL player will be complete.
“For a guy to come up to fill in for us, he did extremely well,” ’Canes general manager Jim Rutherford said. “Now, he’s put himself in a position that, going into next year’s training camp, he’ll have to play himself off the team.”
Brought up as an emergency fill-in when a flu bug ravaged the Rats’ roster last December, Rodney stuck around and impressed enough to earn his first NHL contract, a one-year deal.
The undrafted 24-year-old has had two stints with Carolina this season, Dec. 11-14 and Jan. 29-Feb. 14, picking up two assists in eight games.
“Bryan Rodney has been a good find for us,” Rutherford said. “He played extremely well, and deserved an NHL contract. He’s a guy that can really move the puck. He really sees the ice, and he’s a great passer. He can get the puck up to the forwards very quickly. Now, he just has to refine his game.”
That has been Rodney’s mission since returning to Albany last month. Heading into tonight’s matchup with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the Times Union Center, he leads team defensemen with 28 assists and 31 points in 49 games, and has 13 points (2-11) as the Rats’ power-play quarterback.
Rodney also skates with Brett Carson on the team’s top penalty kill pairing, and is even 3-for-5 in shootout attempts on the season.
“On our back end, right now, with guys out, Rods has stepped up and is playing probably 25 minutes a game,” Rats head coach-GM Jeff Daniels said. “He’s bringing his game to another level. I think a lot of that has to do with having some time in Carolina and seeing what it takes, being told he’s got to come down here and take charge.
“He’s our leader on the back end. He’s well-respected in the room. He cares. He can’t have his game drop off. He’s been one guy that, when he was sent down, had a great attitude. He wanted to play right away. He wants to be on the ice. He wants to help. He knows that by playing well down here, it only helps him in the future.”
Since the team bus crash on Feb. 19 that injured several Rats, including defensemen Casey Borer and Jonathan Paiement, Rodney and Mark Flood have carried the defensive load.
Rodney has flourished with the added responsibility. In 10 games following the accident, he has been Albany’s leading scorer with nine points (1-8), while posting a plus-4 rating.
“As a hockey player, that’s what you want. You want to play, and you want to play a lot,” Rodney said. “You feel like you’re helping your team when you get a chance to play and stay in there. I thought as a ‘D’ corps, we’ve all stepped up our game. We’ve been depleted and didn’t have a full lineup, so we’ve tried to simplify our game.”
Rodney toiled in the ECHL for 21⁄2 seasons before being rescued by Albany. He finished with 15 points (4-11) in 42 games, and led the Rats in playoff scoring with six points (3-3) in seven games.
Now an alternate captain, Rodney reached the pinnacle of his ascent when he made his NHL debut for Carolina on Dec. 11.
“There’s no set path on how to get to the highest level. Each guy’s got to find their own way,” Rodney said. “Sometimes, you have to learn to play at the pro level for a couple of years before you get that opportunity or get that second or third or fourth opportunity. If the right situation arises, things happen for a reason. As long as you’re working hard, you’re going to earn a spot.”