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Kohn gets head start on pro career

by Mike Fornabaio | Connecticut Post

Dustin Kohn might not have dressed in a playoff game for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but he’s already taken another step on his progression toward the pro game.

Though he has another year of junior eligibility remaining, and thus can’t play for the Sound Tigers next season, Kohn, 19, joined Bridgeport last month on an amateur tryout.

He played in Bridgeport‘s final two regular-season games, his first two professional games. He made his pro debut at Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Apr. 14.

"I felt like I was 16 years old, going back to my first game in the Western League," Kohn said.

Kohn spent more time during the playoffs at Wachovia Arena with the rest of the Sound Tigers during the East Division semifinals, won by the Penguins in seven games on Saturday night.

Kohn came into the playoffs as the eighth defenseman of an eight-man corps, but with Allan Rourke battling a groin pull, he was a heartbeat away from the lineup.

"If it comes to him playing in the playoffs," Bridgeport coach Dave Baseggio said during the series, "I don’t have a problem with it."

That’s because Kohn, the New York Islanders’ second-round pick in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, has been impressive from the time the team drafted him.

The Islanders kept the 6-foot-1, 195-pound defenseman around late into training camp.

"I got to stay around awhile, play a couple of exhibition games, get a little taste of things," Kohn said. "I want to be able to do the same thing next fall."

When he joined the Sound Tigers after his junior season, he was minus-1 in a pair of games in which Bridgeport was outscored 8-1.

"I thought he did really well," Baseggio said. "He’s a great skater, he’s got good poise and good vision. He’s going to be a real good pro."

Kohn sees skating and offensive abilities as his biggest strengths. He had 72 points over the past two seasons in the WHL.

This year, Kohn’s numbers were down, but he worked a lot harder on his defensive game. He felt that improved greatly.

In fact, playing against two of the AHL’s Eastern Conference’s best teams, he fit right in defensively against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hartford.

"It’s hard coming in and stepping into two pretty tough buildings to play in," Baseggio said."

Kohn played most of his time with veteran Tomi Pettinen, a pairing that made Kohn feel comfortable right away.

The rest of the corps has helped, too.

"Bruno (Gervais) has kind of taken me under his wing," Kohn said. "(Ryan) Caldwell, Pettinen, Rourkey — they’re all really good guys. They make this a very easy adjustment."

Kohn’s adjustment has mirrored that of fellow juniors Ryan O’Marra, a centerman who scored four goals in his first three regular-season games, and Blake Comeau, who stepped in at second-line right wing to start the playoffs and played like a veteran.

"It’s great for the future," Baseggio said. "A young defenseman with that poise, that vision, they’re tough to come by."

Mike Fornabaio covers the Sound Tigers and the AHL for the Connecticut Post