by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
The deal looked like a winner to rookie Worcester winger Devin Setoguchi.
He recently moved into the apartment of teammate Riley Armstrong and lives rent-free. Sure, “home” is now a pullout couch instead of a hotel room bed. But Setoguchi, who has already been sent down four times by San Jose this season, is just looking for someone to hang out with besides a housekeeping crew.
All Setoguchi has to chip in is grocery money. How bad could that be? Setoguchi found out the first time he went shopping with Armstrong, who showed no hesitancy to head for the finer cuisine.
“It’s actually pretty steep,” Setoguchi said of his end of the bargain. “When we go, he buys the more expensive food because he knows he can eat it all and I pay for it.”
Armstrong and the rest of the Sharks better stock-up all they can right now. Their meal ticket has an impressive appetite of his own, and he’s slowly nibbling his way right out of Worcester.
Setoguchi, the No. 8 overall pick by San Jose in the 2005 draft, has set aside disappointment and played better each time he’s been demoted. In his first stint with the Sharks, which lasted just three games, he had no points. In his second go-around, a nine-game stay, he contributed one goal and eight assists. The third run-through was a quickie, lasting just two games. But Setoguchi still unpacked long enough to produce a goal and an assist. In the four games since his most recent send-down on Feb. 4, he has two goals and an assist.
“The biggest thing with him is to put consecutive games together where he’s the best player on the ice,” said Worcester coach Roy Sommer. “He does that, he’s probably not going to be here long. He’s had some good games, and the next game he’s average.”
That contrast was underscored in a pair of games last week. In a Feb. 6 contest against Lowell, he showed off one of the AHL’s jewel goals of the season, taking the puck at his blue line, swerving around three Devils in the neutral zone, faking one defenseman the wrong way, beating the other with a toe-drag and then scoring.
“To see him go through all the guys was fun to watch,” said Armstrong, his linemate. “You don’t see too many of those, beating the whole team. I think our whole team after he scored thought; ‘Did he just do that?’ I was kind of in shock.”
Setoguchi, 21, was in a similar state of disbelief four days later. He was a minus-4 in a 6-4 loss to Hershey.
“It’s a kick in the pants,” Setoguchi said. “I think my game in the American League has definitely been fairly consistent. In the NHL, the consistency wasn’t quite there every night. There’s always room for improvement.”
Mentally, Setoguchi’s up-and-down teases have certainly given him a tough edge. The biggest blow came right away, when the Sharks told him he made the team out of training camp, but he hurt his ankle in the final preseason game. When he was healthy enough to play again, he started in Worcester.
“It was kind of an emotional time. But it’s all in the past now,” he said. “I worked as hard as I could, and got my chance again. It’s more a motivation for myself when I come down, to play as hard as I can and put up some numbers. If you’re playing with confidence, you are able to produce a lot more.”
Setoguchi has a quick release on his hard shot, although Sommer would like to see his aim improve. His speed and elusiveness speak for themselves as he separates from opponents.
“He can go. He’s got some big-time speed,” Sommer said. “That’s what makes him dangerous. Right off the mark, he’s going.”
Setoguchi has nine goals and three assists in 29 games for San Jose this season, and learning to judiciously apply his explosiveness could be his final barrier to full-time NHL residence. Coming out of juniors, he has the understandable predisposition to try to take over in AHL games. He’s smart enough to understand that’s not going to happen in the NHL, though, and backs off a bit out of fear of making a mistake.
“You never want to make that mistake that can change the game and swing the momentum in the other team’s favor,” Setoguchi said. “In the NHL, a lot of times you don’t have the puck much. You want to get the puck in other people’s hands. If you give them the puck, you get to the open spaces and use your head. In the American League, I have that confidence. I haven’t quite established that game in the NHL.”
In the meantime, Setoguchi sets his mind to establishing chemistry with his teammates despite all the interruptions. There are limits, though.
One of his hobbies is playing guitar, and he claims to have a passable voice. His word will have to do on this matter, because he recoils at the notion of helping to carry his weight as a roomie by providing a little entertainment.
“Oh, no,” he said. “It’s definitely something I keep between myself and that special someone, if it comes to that day.”
No problem. Armstrong has another idea, one that should give Setoguchi even more motivation to stick in the NHL for good. If the rookie hangs around Worcester much longer, Armstrong said he plans to start putting his hand out for some rent. The luxury of a thin layer of foam bedding placed atop a couch won’t come cheaply.
“Yeah, for sure,” Armstrong said. “I’m definitely going to have to approach him about it. It depends how long he’s going to stay. I don’t think he’s going to be here long.”
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.