Rob Scuderi's play might go mostly unnoticed, but he is a major contributor.
October 14, 2013 4:00 AM
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rob Scuderi has made a pretty good living playing hockey.
He's just getting started on a four-year contract with the Penguins that will pay him $13.5 million, and that's the sequel to a four-year, $13.6 million deal he had in Los Angeles.
Like so many of his peers, Scuderi owes much to the coaches who taught him the game, and the finer points of playing his position.
But he might be most deeply indebted to the one who made him aware of what he couldn't -- or, at least, shouldn't -- try to do.
"It was my freshman year at Boston College and, like just about everybody else, you've had a pretty stellar high school career," Scuderi said. "I carried the puck up [ice] during the first couple weeks of practice, made a real nice rush play, dished it to a guy and we ended up scoring a goal.
"It was just practice, but I remember feeling pretty good about myself. [Eagles coach] Jerry York came up to me and said, 'We'd really like you to head-man the puck when you can.'
"I remember thinking to myself, 'Well, that's OK.' We had offensive defensemen on the team at the time and if I wanted to play a little more, I was going to have to do the defensive side of things, penalty-kill.
"When I look back, that was probably one of the best things to happen to me in my entire career."
Scuderi embraced his role as a defensive defenseman years ago, and was a major contributor to the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship in 2009.
He earned another ring with the Kings in 2012, again by playing a solid, reliable style that produces a lot more victories than headlines.
Breaking up passes, blocking shots and boxing out opposing forwards is no way to get airtime on the highlights shows, but they receive rave reviews when coaches analyze game tapes.
Asked to cite an early season sequence that captures the essence of Scuderi's game, assistant coach Todd Reirden, who works with the defensemen, cited not a breathtaking end-to-end rush or some blur of a slap shot, but a sliding breakup of a two-on-one rush in a 4-1 victory Oct. 5 against Buffalo.
"A real big play," Reirden said.
Just not a real flashy one. Which figures, since there's probably not a single spectacular corpuscle in Scuderi's entire body.
"He's the opposite of flashy, but he's really steady," said Matt Niskanen, who is filling in as Scuderi's partner while Kris Letang recovers from an apparent knee injury.
"Very steady. Consistent in his approach, how he plays. He's a really good defender, position-wise. He has a long stick, he's strong and he ties up sticks, boxes out around the net.
"He's always there for an easy outlet pass if you're in trouble. As your partner, that's nice."
Personnel people around the league certainly think so, which is why Scuderi attracted so much interest as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"There's no shortage of suitors for what he does, as we saw when it came time to sign him," Reirden said. "Pretty much every team in the league wanted to have him, so we consider ourselves very fortunate to have him back in a Penguins uniform."
It didn't hurt the Penguins' chances that Scuderi had grown up in their organization, but he probably wouldn't have come back if he wasn't certain the Penguins wanted him to fill the specific niche in which he specializes.
"I wanted to make sure that they knew what they were getting," Scuderi said. "I know I was very excited for the opportunity, but you also want to make sure you're a good fit for the team, that it will be good for you as an individual and for the team as a whole."
It certainly seems to have been through the first five games of the season, and the Penguins probably have benefited as much from Scuderi's poise as they have from his sound defensive work.
"When we start running around a little bit, he's standing right next to his guy, completely under control," Reirden said. "And when he gets the puck, he executes coming out of the [defensive] zone. There's no panic in his game, there's no scramble. I've thought more than once, 'That's why we got him.' "
And while a lot of people might not notice all the things Scuderi does, his teammates do.
"From game to game, play to play, he makes the simple, efficient play," Niskanen said. "And executes it very well."
Just as Scuderi has focused on doing since that long-ago practice at Boston College.