The New York Islanders announced another low-on-the-radar signing today that may have you asking yourself, "Who?" As is typical in these late-bloomer additions to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, his history and path to the pros is an adventurous one.
The signing is Chris Bruton, who is essentially an undersized AHL fighter with some modest hockey skill. (See his ample fight card at hockeyfights.com, going back to Spokane in the WHL.)
But he gets a two-way contract -- i.e., an NHL deal -- so he at least potentially could see time with the big club. This is part of the annual rotation of muscle guys we see in the AHL, with some of them receiving that added carrot of a two-way deal.
From the team release:
Bruton, 26, scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 69 games last season with the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League. The Calgary, ALTA, native led Peoria with 134 penalty minutes, while posting a plus-2 rating.
He split his first professional season (2011-12) between Peoria and the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, totaling 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 65 games.
You'll note two things there: 1) Don't expect much offense, and 2) His ECHL Alaska Aces ties likely led to positive references for the Islanders, who have previously dipped into Alaska, where they recruited current assistant coach Brent Thompson into the organization (first as head coach at AHL Bridgeport) after his success with the Aces.
However, the other thing that stands out is at the end of the release: After juniors, Bruton played Canadian university hockey at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. That's why he didn't play his first pro season until age 24, where AHL Peoria noticed him and called him up in 2011-12.
They then re-signed him for this past season, with this in mind according to the Peoria Journal Star:
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Bruton earned a call-up from ECHL Alaska during the season and made a big impression on the parent club St. Louis Blues while in Peoria.
He fought nine times in just 38 games, and also bagged his first two goals at the AHL level.
"We've been around Chris Bruton for a while and we're glad to have him under the Blues umbrella," said Blues assistant general manager, director of pro scouting and Rivermen GM Kevin McDonald. "He joins a long line of players who have earned a chance to come up from the ECHL to Peoria during a season, got the job done and earned an AHL deal to stay there, then earned a full contract to return another year.
"We think he has a big ceiling and we want to see what develops."
Now at age 26, I doubt anyone sees "a big ceiling" for Bruton, but he undoubtedly ingratiates himself to his teammates and fans if his Peoria experience is any indication. You'll also see him as the first testimonial in this Riverman "You Can Play" project video.
With Peoria being abandoned by the Blues and scrambling to field a SPHL replacement for the Illinois town, it was time for Bruton to find a new location if he was going to continue chasing moves up the pro ladder.
Now, suddenly, that chase include an outside shot at appearing in an NHL uniform.