All the huffing and puffing was worth it.
Assistant coach Tommy Albelin made defenseman Alexander Urbom work hard in his first few skates coming back from an upper-body injury that sidelined him for five games, and as a result, Urbom returns this weekend at 100 percent with no lingering effects.
“The first days, when I was skating by myself, it felt a little bit like I was tired,” Urbom said. “But Tommy skated me pretty hard, and so when I was back to the team, I felt normal again.”
The Devils travel to face Providence tonight at 7:05, then will play home games Saturday and Monday, respectively, against Adirondack at 7 and Norfolk at 2.
Albany head coach Rick Kowalsky said he has yet to decide whether Urbom will play back-to-back nights or just one of the two.
“He should be a big part of our top six,” Kowalsky said. “We’ve got a bus ride and a night to think about it. I’m leaning toward putting him in, and if he feels good and we feel he’s got enough gas in the tank to play the next night, then he will.”
His return comes at an opportune time as the Devils have to do without defenseman Matt Corrente, suspended one game for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of Saturday’s 4-0 loss to Adirondack in Glens Falls. Corrente will be eligible to play again in Saturday’s home tilt with the Phantoms.
Urbom has played in just three regular-season games this year, recording an assist and a plus-two rating before his injury.
“It gets better and better,” Urbom said. “I only played two exhibition games, and they were OK. The third game [of the regular season], I thought was really good, actually. Then I got hit. I’ve just got to go right back at it again and do what I always do. Hopefully, I keep playing good.”
Any player returning from an injury may have to be reminded to not try to do too much, but Kowalsky said that’s a good tip for all the Devils’ blueliners, right now.
“I think all our D have to keep it simple,” he said. “The game’s fast, teams really come at you quick. The longer you hang on to that puck . . . he’s no different than anyone else. Adam Larsson or Dan Kelly — they’re different players with the puck, but if you hang onto it too long, it gets our forwards into trouble, it gets yourself into trouble. So we want to move the puck, we want to be a north-south team that gets the puck up and goes, and Alex should fit into that.”
Being able to watch games from a slightly removed vantage point, Urbom said he’s been bored by the lack of action around him, but he’s also been able to see what the Devils need most right now is scoring.
Albany has played well, for the most part, but has just 15 goals in eight games, so far. The Devils have allowed only 20, but have been shut out twice in their last three games.
Urbom might be able to help with that.
He has a pretty good shot from the point, and Kowalsky said the young Swede has shown good judgment about when to join a rush, like the one that set up Albany’s first goal in its opener.
“One thing I have seen from him over the two years is, he’s pretty smart with his reads when there is an opportunity to jump in the rush,” he said. “We will encourage that out of him, and it’s something he may come into a little more as that maturity process keeps going.”
It has never been a question of potential with Urbom, but he had a rough rookie season before turning it around last year, when he was an AHL all-star and far more reliable. The biggest stride he made as a sophomore, though, was with his attitude as he focused on the work in front of him instead of when he would be called upon to play for New Jersey.
“He wants to play in the NHL, but he knows what he has to do down here, what he has to work on with his game,” Kowalsky said. “His approach to video with us has been completely different, and now, it’s [a matter of] maintaining that and continuing to do that consistently. Then, just small stuff — getting to pucks quick, being physical in front, good gaps. All that stuff that, from year one to two has gotten better, has to be even more consistent this year. Then he will be on the right path to getting a chance to play.”