Another day, another dollar.
Left wing Joe Whitney stepped off the ice at Knickerbacker Arena on Wednesday morning as the Albany Devils’ representative in the upcoming AHL All-Star Classic, the roster having been released Tuesday afternoon. He stepped off the ice, also, as the league’s reigning player of the week.
Last week, he also played in his second and third career NHL games, scoring his first NHL goal.
Still, though, he stepped off the ice the same ol’ Joe Whitney — the guy who shrugs off point streaks because he sees no difference in his game or effort from night to night, points or no points. The guy who’s happy to represent Albany in the Jan. 26 All-Star Classic in Utica, but more intent on preparing for the next game.
“It’s nice to see these things come up every once in a while, but there’s still half the season left to go, and it’s an important second half for us to get into the playoffs,” Whitney said. “That’s my main goal.”
This season, Whitney’s fourth year as a pro, has been his best. As much as it has helped that he doesn’t let success go to his head, his improved play has benefitted even more by his not letting frustration go to his head.
“When he has those nights when he maybe can’t find as much space or he’s facing a line that’s checking him really hard or a defenseman that’s hard on him, he used to wear it,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “A lot of these guys, when they’re young guys and they get frustrated, it controls their energy. Their emotions control their energy level. He just moves on to the next shift and finds a way.
“If he’s not getting the puck or someone’s not getting the puck for him, he finds different ways to create offense and create energy. I think that’s been probably the biggest thing, just his mental toughness.”
He’s been on a roll, recently, with goals in his last three games (three goals, five assists, eight points), points in his last five (3-7-10) and points in six of his last seven (5-7-12).
Through his first 32 games this season, Whitney has 13 goals and 19 assists, totaling a team-high 32 points, with a plus-4 rating.
He had 32 points (12-20-32) through 32 games last season, too, along with a plus-2, and earned his first AHL All-Star nod. That was an improvement from the first 32 games in his second season (11-13-24, plus-12) and rookie season (7-11-18, minus-8).
His assist count this season also leads the Devils, as does his number of multiple-point games (eight). He is tied for the team lead in power-play goals (five) and game-winning goals (three), and leads the league in power-play points (15) with five goals and 10 assists.
The number of Whitney’s multiple-point games through the first 32 has increased each season, from three to four, to seven, to eight. He can take over a game when he has a hot stick.
As Kowalsky said, though, he has grown this season by figuring out how to move on to the next shift when he does not have the hot stick.
He played in his first NHL game last season, and his increased ability to play consistently earned him another recall last week.
“I think this year, he came in and realized if he plays the right way — and things have gone well — then he has to get a look,” Kowalsky said. “He has to get a chance. He got the one game last year. This year, getting that chance in the NHL — and he hasn’t said this — but I think he’s proved to himself, more than anything, that he’s ready to play in the NHL.”
A few minutes later, Whitney did say it — admitting it took that goal to convince him, beyond a doubt, his everyday work ethic is good enough to get the job done.
“It was pretty exciting to prove to yourself you can put the puck in the back of the net at that level,” Whitney said. “It’s a lot of hard work that paid off in that one moment.
“I think, with anything, until you … You always believe you can do it, but you don’t know, for sure, unless it actually happens. So it was special, and I feel now I can produce at that level and, hopefully, I’ll get another opportunity.”