by Brian Coe || AHL On The Beat Archive
Some people might have seen Paul Bissonnette as a one-dimensional hockey player as this season started. But he didn’t seem to mind.
After all, it was Bissonnette’s ability to crash, bang and drop the gloves (and opponents) that earned him a spot on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster right out of training camp.
Bissonnette’s first foray in the NHL lasted about a month, and saw the rugged defenseman-turned-winger appear in six games with the Penguins. His most memorable moment came on Oct. 16, when he dropped Washington’s Matt Bradley in a knockout, as Pittsburgh dropped a 4-3 decision.
Upon his return to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Bissonnette continued his rough play, and squared off 10 times in 10 games with opponent fighters.
But a funny thing has happened since mid-December — Paul Bissonnette has turned into a scoring machine.
Bissonnette, 23, put together a six-game scoring streak from Dec. 10-20. He had never posted points in back-to-back AHL games before the streak, during which time he recorded three goals to equal his total from all of last season.
“I’m learning a lot. I’ve been doing a lot of work offensively with [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaches] Dan [Bylsma] and Todd [Reirden],” said Bissonnette. “They’ve been helping me out position-wise, especially like where to position yourself when you’re shooting. It’s just been clicking for me right now.”
A defenseman when he was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2003, Bissonnette began making the transition to left wing last season, and is still honing his new craft. But his comfort level with playing forward seems to have made a huge leap in a short time this season.
“I think it has a lot to do with your coach. Dan, he helps you have confidence,” he said. “And along with that, when I was in Pitt, there’s maybe something I wouldn’t try. Because if I turn it over and it’s in the back of my net, I’m probably getting sent down the last day, right? So, it’s just like earning that respect and confidence in coaches that helps you be able to do that kind of stuff. Dan’s starting to see that I can chip in offensively, and like I said, he’s been helping me as well. He knows that I have some skill, and obviously I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
Still, it’s a strange turn for a player who once got in a fight during an All-Star Game. Also, fighting and throwing big hits appeared to be Bissonnette’s ticket to the big time at the start of the season. Still, he doesn’t think toning down the rough stuff will affect his chances of getting back to the ‘Burgh. In fact, he thinks it will help.
“I think management up there has even been telling Dan that ‘he doesn’t have to go out there and fight some of the guys’. It’s not worth the trade off. I just basically want to come in, fight, show guys I’m serious about fighting, I’m going to do it if I have to. But as well, I’m going to use it as a tool. I’m going to go to the net hard, and it’s going to back guys off and get me room where I want to get room.
“I always use the example of Dion Phaneuf, his first year in the WHL, he fought 20 times. And that’s a tough league, and he’s coming in as a 16-year-old. And then the next year he starts putting up 20 goals, and he’s fighting maybe 10. You just get that respect. Guys know you’re a gamer, so you can play hard, guys don’t want to challenge you because they know you’ll do it. And he told me that, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a pretty good way to look at it.’ And now basically I’m just going to try to become a third, fourth liner who can stir things up, draw penalties, frustrate other teams.”
But even while he’s been putting up points, Bissonnette hasn’t abandoned fighting. When Trevor Gillies took a run at Adam Henrich during the Pens game against Albany on Dec. 20, the man formerly known as ‘Bizznasty’ jumped right in to defend his teammate.
“People know I’m not afraid to fight guys like that. If you were to hit one of my guys from behind, I’d go right over,” said Bissonnette. “Basically it comes down to this: am I going to let him be a factor or not let him be a factor? And that’s what it comes down to. If I feel the need to fight him, then I will. And if I don’t then I won’t.
“That’s another thing that Dan told me too, he’s like, ‘Listen, you don’t have to prove to guys on the team that you’re tough. We know. You don’t have to go out there every night and prove yourself toughness-wise. We want you to start playing.’
“And I’m not going to feel insecure about it either. I told [Jon] Mirasty no all game in Syracuse. Sure enough I helped out getting the boys going in the third with an assist, so it’s nice, it’s a good feeling to do that as well.”