Prospect Profile: Colby Armstrong

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    Colby Armstrong had high hopes as he entered his first season of professional hockey in 2002-03. The former first-round draft pick (21st overall in 2001) finished his junior career with 185 points (76+109) in 205 games with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, and capped his Canadian Hockey League stay by captaining the team to the Memorial Cup championship in 2002.

    Hopes were high for the then 20-year-old right wing. His pedigree indicated an ability to put the puck in the net while not shying away from the physical aspects of the game (393 penalty minutes). But Armstrong’s rookie season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton fell well short of his, and others’, expectations.

    “I think I started off pretty good. I thought I was doing really well,” said Armstrong. “Then all of a sudden my ice time got cut. There was nothing I could really do about it, just keep working hard.”

    Armstrong began the season by recording two goals in his pro debut, but netted just five more goals and 18 points total for the year. He also finished with a minus-13 rating, one of the worst marks on the roster.

    “It was a hard year for me, but looking back on it I think it was good to go through what I went through.”

    “The rookie year is always tough,” said Wilkes-Barre assistant coach Mike Yeo. “Not many guys come in and really stand out in their rookie season. I think that last year he came in and got some good experience. This year he used it to better himself.”

    Armstrong made modest improvements in scoring, upping his production to 10 goals and 27 points in 67 games. Those numbers could have been even better had it not been for a broken bone in his foot suffered in the third game of the season. That injury put Armstrong out of action for more than a month, and prevented him from establishing any momentum in his game.

    “The season’s a lot like the games sometimes, momentum goes a long way,” said Yeo. “I think that things were going well for him. After that it took a little bit of time for him to get back in the flow of things, and get the conditioning and the timing back where it was.”

    “It took me a while to come back,” said Armstrong, who recorded two points (1+1) before going down with the injury against Syracuse, “but I started feeling better the last couple months of the season and I started to pick my play up to where I want. I just felt a lot better this year once I was healthy and going.”

    A year of pro experience under his belt was one reason for Armstrong’s improvement this season. But perhaps just as important for the youngster were the coaching changes with both the American and National Hockey League Penguins.

    Eddie Olczyk took over the bench duties in Pittsburgh this season, while former Montreal Canadiens’ head coach Michel Therrien replaced Glenn Patrick in Wilkes-Barre. Armstrong said the opportunity to show his stuff to two new coaches was a motivating factor.

    “Going into camp with a new coach, new coaches…it was a clean slate,” he stated. “I think that was a big thing for me and for a lot of other guys too.

    “I think it’s a little bit of excitement that you could catch their eye somehow. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something else about it that gets guys excited. Guys were excited at camp this year. It’s just something that sparks you to get going. It’s like a second chance.”

    Armstrong’s offensive numbers weren’t the only ones to see improvement this season. His plus-minus rating went from fifth-worst on the team in 2002-03 to fifth-best this year at plus-6. Yeo said that dedication to defense and a well-rounded game will benefit Armstrong for years to come.

    “He’s taken pride in different areas of his game,” Yeo said. “It’s not just statistically that he’s improved. He’s also improved defensively and in a checking role that he’s going to have to be effective to play in the NHL.”