by Joe Roberts | AHL On The Beat
Maybe they’re burning sage in the locker room.
Or maybe they’re just avoiding a sophomore slump due to their tireless work, dynamic skills, and newfound level of comfort with the pro game.
For the Utica Comets, the second-year duo of Jonah Gadjovich and Kole Lind have been on top of their games after rookie seasons that saw well-documented struggles, and their play is a big part of the team’s success throughout the season.
For Gadjovich, who was the 55th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, keeping confidence has been one of the keys to a quick start after a rookie year that included four goals and 10 points over the course of just 43 games played.
“The biggest thing for me was sticking with it,” he said. “I put a lot of work in and I think it’s just starting to click.”
As is the case for many young prospects, there is very little attention paid by the public to the challenges of transitioning from playing against teenagers in junior to the best of the best in pro hockey.
“People aren’t in the dressing room. They’re not on the ice with me,” the Whitby, Ontario, native said. “They don’t see a lot of the work that we are doing back there. All of that starts to show on the ice and it’s beginning to pay off.”
In just 12 games this season, Gadjovich, who was a gold medal winner with Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championship, has earned five goals, already passing last year’s total. But what doesn’t show up on the scoresheet is the type of game he plays. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Gadjovich is a prototypical power forward who has learned that he has to get dirty if he’s going to get the puck.
“It’s a role I had success with in junior, but coming to pro it’s a lot different,” he mentioned. “Establishing an identity took a little bit of time and once I understood and found the right way to play that role, I started to contribute and play better. I usually work best within a few feet of the net.”
For Kole Lind, who was picked 25 selections before Gadjovich at the same 2017 draft, a rookie year of 17 points was frustrating. Especially considering he had earned 1.63 points per game during his final season of junior in Kelowna.
There was a lot of noise surrounding Lind, who turned 21 in October, in regards to his difficulties during his first season of pro hockey. And it was tough for the native of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, to ignore all of it.
“It’s something I take with me and use it as motivation. I think last year I got really down on myself and, obviously I expected more of myself,” Lind said. “This year I’m being positive with things and when the struggles come I’m just going to stick with it and play my game.”
But the thing is, the struggles haven’t come, as Lind has been on a tear to start the campaign. He’s blown past last year’s point totals in half the games, and he’s currently on pace to finish the season with over 60 points.
“When the chances are coming, I know I’m doing something right,” he added. “I’m going to get better and try to prove people wrong because that’s something I grew up my whole life doing.”
Maybe in the case of Gadjovich and Lind it’s more of a sophomore surge than a slump.