By A.J. Atchue || for NHL.com
When Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti was selected by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, it marked the beginning of a dream come true.
Of course, it’s the dream of every serious young hockey player to eventually step onto the ice in the National Hockey League. But for Sanguinetti, his selection by the Rangers brought with it the unique opportunity to suit up for the team that he spent his childhood watching and cheering on.
The 21-year-old Sanguinetti hails from Trenton, N.J., a relatively short train ride away from Manhattan and Madison Square Garden, where his father owned season tickets to the Rangers and would frequently take Bobby along to the games.
Sanguinetti, who started skating at the age of 4 and who began playing organized hockey when he was 7, grew up admiring the play of two-time Norris Trophy winner Brian Leetch and immediately wanted to play defense himself.
Years later, Sanguinetti didn’t hide how special it was to be drafted by the Blueshirts and join the Rangers organization.
“It was real exciting for me,” he said. “It’s a great organization, an Original Six team, and the team is really taking steps in the right direction. It’s every kid’s dream to make it to the NHL, and to be drafted by your favorite team growing up is just a plus.”
Following his first-round selection, Sanguinetti returned to junior hockey for two more years but earned late-season call-ups to the Wolf Pack in both 2007 and 2008, experiences that he credits with adjusting to the faster pace and stronger players at the professional level.
After his first NHL training camp as a pro in the fall of 2008, Sanguinetti was assigned to Hartford and enjoyed a successful rookie campaign. He played in 78 of the team’s 80 games and ranked third among AHL rookie defensemen – and fourth overall on the Wolf Pack – with 42 points, earning him a spot in the AHL All-Star Classic.
“There were a lot of ups and downs,” Sanguinetti said of his rookie year. “That’s the biggest thing in pro hockey. You just have to respond the correct way and get yourself back on track. Playing 80 games (in the AHL), you’re not going to do your best every game, so it’s just about how you handle yourself in response to the bad nights.”
Sanguinetti’s good nights far outnumbered his bad ones, and his play earned him a midseason recall to the Rangers to serve as an extra body for a game in Ottawa. Even though he didn’t get into the contest, Sanguinetti appreciated his first taste of the NHL.
“It was really exciting, really emotional and obviously really big for my family as well,” he said. “They made the trek up to Ottawa just in case I did play. But it was exciting just to be around the guys and be part of it.”
Sanguinetti contributed five points in six Calder Cup Playoff games for Hartford last spring, but the division-champion Wolf Pack suffered a first-round ouster by the Worcester Sharks. With that came the offseason and a chance to regroup and fine-tune some of the skills that the young defenseman developed during his rookie year.
When the Rangers’ 2009 training camp broke and Sanguinetti was again bound for Hartford, a level of disappointment at failing to crack the NHL seemed natural. But Sanguinetti simply wants to build off the feedback he received from New York’s coaching staff.
“They said I had a good camp, and it was just a matter of a few little things that were holding me back at the time,” Sanguinetti said. “Moving the puck quicker, making my play a step earlier instead of holding onto the puck, working on little things like that.”
With that advice and one season under his belt, Sanguinetti burst out of the gate in 2009-10 looking like a player with something to prove. He hit the Christmas break among the AHL’s leading defenseman scorers with 23 points in 27 games, and his six goals had already matched his rookie-year total.
How does the 6-foot-3, 190-pound defenseman account for the fast start?
“I think a lot of it is just confidence,” he said. “When you come into the league, you don’t really know what to expect and you’re just trying to get comfortable. This year, I’m coming in knowing what it’s all about. (I’m) being more aggressive offensively, finding the right spots, and you have to give credit to the guys I’m playing with. I’ve got a lot of great players around me who can get me the puck, and that’s a big part of the game.”
Sanguinetti’s monster beginning to the year resulted in his first NHL action, a late-November recall to New York during which he appeared in three games, including his MSG debut on Nov. 30 vs. Pittsburgh. He was back in Hartford the next day.
With the Rangers’ defensive corps featuring the likes of 25-year-olds Dan Girardi and Matt Gilroy, 22-year-old Marc Staal and 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto, it’s not as though the big club is shy about giving young rearguards a chance to star on Broadway. Rather than become frustrated or impatient, Sanguinetti is choosing to bide his time and wait for his opportunity.
“You try not to worry about that too much,” Sanguinetti said. “It’s tough. Everybody wants to get the opportunity to play in the NHL. But I’m just going to put in my time here and make sure that if something happens, I’m ready to be called up and make an impact. That’s the only way you can look at it.”
Playing on a Wolf Pack team this year that features a strong front end should give Sanguinetti ample opportunity to improve his game and continue piling up points.
But the dream of a lifelong Rangers fan to put on that sweater as a regular for the Blueshirts is motivation enough to continue his development.
“For me to put on a Rangers jersey, it’s awesome,” Sanguinetti said. “I was lucky enough to play a couple preseason games at (Madison Square Garden) and get those nerves out of the way. So when I do get called up, I’ll just relax and play my game, and go from there.”
From a Rangers fan as a kid to a promising young Rangers prospect. Sanguinetti is soon hoping to complete his lifelong dream with the only NHL team he’s ever known.