by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Aaron Palushaj was a forward on the rise for the Hamilton Bulldogs near the end of the regular season, and he had a vision of where he was going to peak on the night of May 10.
That’s when the Bulldogs hosted Abbotsford in Game 6 of the North Division finals. Palushaj approached linemate David Desharnais and shared his sense of the way things were going to unfold.
"We said this is our game to step up," Palushaj said. "Tonight’s our night to bear down on our scoring chances."
Palushaj wasn’t asking his linemates for anything he wasn’t going to first contribute himself. The rookie came through with a goal and two assists in Hamilton’s 4-0 series clincher.
It was just another example of what Palushaj has picked up in what’s been an at-time trying inauguration into the professional ranks.
"Confidence is one of the biggest things I learned," he said. "No one is going to push confidence on you. You have to learn it yourself."
Palushaj, 20, was in the wrong classroom in Peoria. Hamilton picked him up in a trade from the St. Louis organization in March. As a depth forward with the Rivermen, Palushaj still had five goals and 17 assists in 44 games.
"’I don’t think the organization saw me as the player I was going to be," said Palushaj, a 2007 second-round pick by St. Louis. "They apparently needed more production out of me. I wasn’t giving them that. I was playing the third and fourth line. I wasn’t used to playing that."
Whatever Montreal thought it was getting in Palushaj, he’s turned into exactly the player the Bulldogs needed. As a capable complement to the team’s game-dictating defense, Palushaj moved up to a top-six forward spot and had three goals and seven assists in 18 games. He’s accelerated that pace in the postseason, with two goals and nine points in 12 games.
"It seemed to be Montreal and Hamilton both like me," he said. "I like to think I’m helping as much as I can on the score sheet. I feel like I came into my own. I started playing how they wanted me to play, what they thought they were getting in the trade. I can’t say I helped them win those games, but I like to think I’m a contributor."
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. Read today’s complete column here.