EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — Early in the first period on February 27, when the Los Angeles Kings hosted the Buffalo Sabres, a video played on the Staples Center scoreboard, honoring a player from their not-so-distant past.
But this player is also a part of their present and foreseeable future—veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, who was acquired by the Kings on February 26 from the Chicago Blackhawks, in exchange for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.
As the video tribute ended, Scuderi, who was on the ice, waiting for the puck to drop, turned and waved to acknowledge the crowd as they stood and roared their appreciation.
“It was pretty good,” Scuderi said about the ovation from the crowd. “I’m not an overly emotional guy. I don’t show a whole lot, but it was pretty special. Like I said, I was looking for an opportunity to go to the NHL. It’s a privilege to play in this league, but it made it a lot sweeter to come back to the Kings, so it really meant a lot. I appreciated it.”
Being familiar with the Kings from his previous stint with the team, from 2009-10 to 2012-13, helped Scuderi jump right into the Kings’ style of play.
“It feels good,” he said. “I know exactly what’s expected of me. [The way the Kings play] suits my style. It felt pretty natural. I think it’s a pretty good fit. I thought it was one good game, and the idea is to do it continually over the course of time.”
“I thought I fit in pretty well,” he added. “There’s probably something I’ve been doing differently with other teams in the last ten weeks that, maybe, they’ll iron out and show me on video. But for the most part, I felt pretty good for the one game.”
“It’s easy to slide in because there’s probably still, what, 14 guys or 15 guys that you know he’s played with,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “It’s easy to come back in when you’re comfortable with your teammates.”
Scuderi had good reason to feel good about his play against the Sabres, as he was not only thrust right into the lineup, playing a little more than 19 minutes on 26 shifts. But he also saw time on the penalty-kill and was on the ice in the critical, final minutes of the game, helping secure the Kings’ 2-0 win over the Sabres.
“It’s a big confidence boost,” Scuderi said about already having so much trust from the coaches. “The biggest thing that’s been hurting my game for a couple of months isn’t so much the physicality as it’s been the confidence, so anytime you can be used in those types of situations, it gives you a little boost to know that the coaching staff trusts you to do those things. It goes a long way.”
On top of all that, Scuderi even contributed an assist.
“Points [are] not going to be my forté, but any time you can chip in and help out, it’s always a good feeling,” said the 37-year-old native of Syosset, New York. “More importantly, I thought it was a tough win. Buffalo played well. It was a bit of a grind for awhile, but good teams find a way to win.”
For Scuderi, going to work on February 27 was probably a lot like returning home, with the only difference being that his seniority in the NHL earns him the right to use the dressing room stall reserved for the most veteran defenseman at the Kings’ practice facility, instead of the one he used during his first stint with the Kings, two or three stalls to the left.
Don’t forget…during that first stint, Scuderi helped the Kings win the 2012 Stanley Cup Championship, at the time, the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in their 45-year history.
“It’s pretty special for me,” Scuderi said about his return to the Kings. “It’s been kind of a long ten weeks since my first trade out of Pittsburgh, getting bumped around a little bit, so it’s nice to come back to some familiar faces, to a familiar environment where I had some success, and where I’d like to have some more.”
“The fact is that people took a chance on you,” Scuderi added. “When they bring you in they want you to do well, and even though I’ve been here before and had success, there’s no guarantee of that in the future. You have to work for it, and you have to earn it.”
Shortly after being traded to the Blackhawks by the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 14, 2015, Scuderi was assigned to the Rockford Icehogs of the American Hockey League. He was with the Icehogs, preparing for a game in Cleveland, Ohio, when he got the news about being dealt.
“I was in Cleveland,” he explained. “I was with Rockford. We were going to play Lake Erie for a couple of games. They called me in the afternoon. I guess there was a pretty good chance it was going to happen—you’re always a little nervous—it’s going to happen, or it’s not going to happen. But then, I got a call an hour later that it was pretty much official, so I packed my stuff and started to go.”
“I was definitely the happiest guy in Cleveland, that’s for sure,” he elaborated. “I was hoping for an opportunity anywhere in the NHL. But to come back to a place where I know people, respect people, and have a chance to regain some success is very special for me.”
Scuderi has been a stay-at-home defenseman throughout his career, and that won’t change now.
“[I’ll bring] the same thing I’ve always had,” he noted. “I’ve never been a guy who’s going to rack up points, or make a flashy play—smart, dependable defense, in position, and trying to do the right thing, shift by shift. I think I’m still a good penalty-killer, I can [still be] a good role player. I’m looking forward to getting started.”
“There’s some teams where [my skills] might work better than others, depending on the personnel that you have,” he added. “Here, the coaching staff knows exactly what they’re going to get, game-to-game. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to make adjustments or get better in certain areas. But for the most part, they know what they can expect from me, and what I’m going to deliver.”
Indeed, Scuderi has been told not to change a thing about the way he plays.
“[They want me to] be the defenseman I am,” said Scuderi. “When I think back to the first year I came here, that’s what made it so comfortable being here. It’s because they said, ‘we don’t want you to be anything else just because we’re bringing you in on a fairly big contract. We just want you to be yourself.’ That’s what made me feel comfortable then, and that’s what makes me feel comfortable today. I don’t have to try to be anything that I’m not.”
Scuderi indicated that his family is already with him in Southern California, but added that the two trades he’s been through this season have taken a toll.
“It’s tough,” he noted. “You don’t want to be part of it if you don’t have to be, so we got the kids together in Chicago, just after New Year’s. I think it’s always odd for them to be the new kid in school, things of that nature. But they’re young. They’ll live. It’s good experience for later. To have to turn around and do it again can be tough, but wherever you have your family with you, that’s home.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi. >Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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