by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.
Peoria Rivermen defenseman Justin Fletcher‘s strength shines through in a transition game. In order to play that way on the ice, he’s had to live through it in his career.
The second-year pro was the AHL’s co-player of the month in March, with three goals and 12 assists. That nearly doubled his production of the season up to that point. His 31 points overall are almost twice as many as he contributed for Norfolk and Rockford in 59 games last year.
The X-factor this season has been his ability to finally settle into a system. He joined Springfield out of St. Cloud State two seasons ago, and then signed with Tampa Bay that offseason.
Norfolk loaned him to Rockford at the end of 2007-08, then he re-signed with the Lightning organization last summer. At the start of this season, Tampa Bay traded him to Peoria.
"I came back this year pretty confident. Then I got traded, which did get my spirits down. It caught me off-guard," he said. "You get back on your heels for a second. I just started to feel comfortable (in Peoria), getting used to the way we played. The last couple of months, things have been picking up for me and the team."
Joining the Rivermen gave Fletcher, 26, more than just another new address; it also slotted him into a style more complementary to what he has to offer. Rockford last year, Fletcher said, was a run-and-gun team whose offense centered around creating chances for forwards. He said Peoria is a strong defensive team, but also one that gives its defensemen a safety net to take the right kinds of chances.
"The style we play here is you don’t really get left out to dry," Fletcher said. "You always have support. You have to learn to find your offense in different ways. It took awhile, but now I feel very comfortable. It’s not at the point where I just think about it. I just go out and play."
Once that stage of familiarity was reached, Fletcher sees his second-half surge as merely a natural career progression.
"This is my second year in the league," he said. "Good players start to step up after the all-star break in their second year. I feel like that’s what I’ve started to do. I hope I find some stability. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing until I can find a team that has that stability."