The Penguins’ Rob Scuderi is 35, has won two Stanley Cup titles, plays the selfless role of a shutdown defenseman, is vocal among his teammates at times, and is the type of veteran who offers a candid assessment of himself and his club when speaking publicly.
This season, though, Scuderi has a new top priority: Rob Scuderi.
He went as far as saying Friday that he plans on being “a little bit selfish” when training camp opens next month and into the season. It’s what Scuderi thinks he needs to do to be the player the Penguins expected when they signed him a year ago, bringing him back to his original NHL team after four seasons in Los Angeles.
Scuderi, a guest instructor at a Penguins youth camp at RMU Island Sports Center, said things went awry last season after a significant injury. A broken ankle from a fluke play in Toronto in late October required surgery and knocked him out of the lineup for two months.
In fact, Scuderi was expansive on the subject.
“I didn’t come back well,” he said. “I don’t mince words and I don’t lie to myself. I didn’t play as consistently well as I expected myself to.
“Looking at it in hindsight, it was very frustrating to be hurt. … It was the longest time I’ve ever missed in my career. The mental side of it just didn’t go well for me coming back. I was out of sync — my reads, my footwork, everything was just off, and I didn’t feel like myself. You start to press when it doesn’t come back around, and then one problem turns into two, and it just snowballs on you.”
Scuderi said he recovered physically but still struggled. He had not missed a game the previous three seasons.
In 11 games before the surgery, Scuderi had a plus-minus rating of plus-5. In 42 games after his return, he was minus-13. In the playoffs, he was minus-4 in 13 games.
There were obvious lapses. Add to that the fact that he has this plus two more seasons on a contract with an annual salary cap hit of $3.375 million, and Scuderi became the target of a lot of venom in public forums such as social media.
No one is more keenly aware of him falling short than the man himself.
“I feel like I need to have a bounce-back year,” Scuderi said. “I struggled after my injury, after coming back. So I’m a little bit more focused on myself this year, on the things I have to do.”
He’s not as concerned about adjusting to a lot of Penguins offseason changes — from the coaching staff to faces on defense. Scuderi figures he can adapt to whatever first-year coach Mike Johnston asks of the defensemen — a group that lost Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland to free agency, added Christian Ehrhoff and could be joined by a rookie or two.
Johnston favors an up-tempo game, though perhaps with a little more patience initially from the defensemen in their end, and it’s expected that he will ask the defensemen to join the offensive rush consistently.
All of those things and how he might be deployed are fine with Scuderi — “That’s totally a coach’s decision,” he said. That includes joining the rush, even though he has just seven goals in 638 NHL games.
“I’ll try,” he said of joining the rush. “I don’t have a problem with the skating part; it’s the finishing part that’s been a major problem for me.”
The Penguins just might have a few other players who have some skill at finishing.
Scuderi has far bigger priorities. He still plans to be there for his teammates, particularly without Orpik and Niskanen, who were key figures in the locker room.
“The [off-ice] stuff just comes naturally as you’re a veteran,” Scuderi said of a leadership role. “I know I can handle that part of it.
“Having some time off in the summer and getting myself physically back to where I want to be, I’m looking to have a big start in training camp and get my game back to where I think it should be.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.