This is neither news nor all that funny, but it’s August and there are some tangential Islanders ties.
Summer free agent signing Tom Kuhnhackl has former Islanders captain Billy Guerin to thank for making him aware of what, you know, might be required to make it in the NHL.
Early in his pro career, the German-born Kuhnhackl was coming out of the Canadian junior leagues and playing for the Penguins’ ECHL affiliate, of which Guerin was the general manager as part of his executive duties for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A scorer in juniors with Windsor, Kuhnhackl was...not going to be that in the pros.
As he described in a story in The Athletic from January about players learning the ropes in the ECHL, Kuhnhackl had bounced between the AHL and ECHL.
(By the way, that article about how the Penguins use the ECHL highlighted how many from their NHL roster spent time there, in part because the Pens can use it with their AHL and ECHL affiliates so close to the NHL parent. In theory, that’s what the Isles are doing with AHL Bridgeport and ECHL Worcester.)
Kuhnhackl certainly says he learned from the Penguins’ ECHL-AHL-NHL setup:
“Anytime someone gets sent to [ECHL] Wheeling, it’s always frustrating,” Kuhnhackl said. “But at the same time, you get a lot more ice time. They only have three lines there. You get put out in all kinds of different situations. You can work on your play. You can get your confidence back. When I played there with (former Nailers and current Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach Clark Dontaelli), he put me out there on the (penalty kill) without even telling me and I was like, ‘What am I doing?’
“That’s where I started to play that role which I’m in right now.”
That role, you likely know after the run of similar Isles summer signings, is of a defensively responsible bottom-six forward. Who told him he might need to learn to do that?
“It was Billy,” Kuhnhackl said. “He was the guy that told me first. He was like, ‘Yeah, the way you’re playing right now, this is not going to work in this organization. You’re going to have to learn a few things, how to play defensive hockey.’ My first year, I started in Wilkes-Barre, got sent to Wheeling, called back up, had my shoulder injury. That was obviously a tough year. The year after that, that’s when I learned how important it is to play defensive hockey.”
Billy Guerin, purveyor of much hockey wisdom, including lessons in leadership wrapped in shower urine etiquette.