DESIMONE FINDING STRIDE IN HIS SECOND YEARJan 19, 2019
By Nick Nollenberger (@NickNollen)
The difference between college hockey and the pros is drastic. You hear the clichés from players all the time when they make the leap.
“There’s less space, the game is faster, players are bigger and stronger.”
Barracuda defenseman Nick DeSimone knows that transition intimately. He did it following his junior season at Union College in 2016-17.
There’s a lot of truth to hockey-speak. The game is faster and the players are stronger. Decisions are made at a quicker rate and the pressure is increased. It’s easy to overanalyze, overthink and lose confidence quickly.
Equally as difficult as going from college hockey to the pros, is transforming from a student-athlete to a full-time hockey player.
“At school your main focus is hockey but you’ve still got to worry about classes, too, so there’s always four or five hours a day that your mind is completely off of the game,” said DeSimone. “When you’re a pro, it’s all you’re thinking about, it’s all the time, so it can be easy to overthink it at times.”
No longer is your day completely scripted from early morning classes to afternoon practices. When you’re a pro, after practice, players are left to their own devices. No study halls, group projects, all-nighters at the library, etc. Just hockey.
In 2017, the Sharks signed DeSimone to an entry-level contract. Following his junior season, DeSimone joined the Sharks AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda on an ATO (Amateur Tryout Offer), which allows a player to play out the remainder of the pro season without burning years on his contract.
At the time DeSimone joined the Barracuda, San Jose had already secured home-ice advantage throughout the first three rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs and were ready to make a deep run in the postseason. The plan, have the rookie play a couple regular season games and get him ready for next year.
But it was quickly realized that the skilled puck-moving d-man could be another tool in Head Coach Roy Sommer’s toolbox. Fresh out of college, and learning on the fly, DeSimone was paired with fellow rookie Jake Middleton as San Jose’s third blueline pair. During the Barracuda’s run to the Western Conference Finals, DeSimone finished with six points in 13 games, placing him only behind current NHLers Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed for the team lead in scoring among defensemen during the postseason.
San Jose was eliminated in five games in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins, but the experience gained during the playoff run for the entire Sharks prospects pool involved was invaluable.
“I didn’t expect to play at all when I first came in, but it was a huge learning experience for me,” said DeSimone. “All the guys on that team made it really easy to learn from. All of them are having lots of success in the NHL right now and there’s a reason for that so it was huge to be around that environment.”
Just a month after the Barracuda were ousted in round three, Dezy, as he’s called in the locker room, was back in San Jose for development camp. Bubbling with confidence and ready to begin his rookie season that next fall, it was a near foregone conclusion the East Amherst, New York, native would be a vital piece of San Jose’s 2017-18 squad.
But the adjustment to the AHL proved to be a steeper climb than anticipated. The rookie struggled to find the offensive touch he’d displayed the previous spring.
“After all that experience of playing in the playoffs, I came in and I had a lot of confidence. I didn’t not realize how good the league was but maybe I thought I had a step and had the experience excel at this level,” said DeSimone. “But you come in after a playoff run and it’s an everyday thing and you’re in the grind of the season and some days you just don’t have it and you lose confidence and it spirals from there.”
Over the first two months of the season, DeSimone was healthy scratched five times and didn’t score his first goal until his 15th game. In the end, he finished with six goals and 14 assists in 59 games.
“Defense it a tough position to come into the AHL and have success. Not a lot of guys come in their first year and are outstanding back there. Kind of like how a goaltender takes a while, defense take a while, too,” said Sommer. “There’s so much to learn back there, and he's been a sponge back there this season.”
In just 33 games in 2018-19, DeSimone has already surpassed his point (21) and assists (15) totals from last year and matched his goals (6).
In addition, the sophomore has been used in all situations including on the league’s fourth-best penalty killing unit (84.6%).
“You’re not going to play at the next level until you can defend. His stick is a lot better, he ends plays. He’s not always trying to hit a home run but instead hitting singles and moving pucks up ice,” said Sommer. "What we like the most is he’s joining the rush when we are starting to get things going and he’s been really creative offensively.”
Known for his offensive prowess, DeSimone is become a complete player, leading San Jose in blocked shots-per-game (1.76) and is third in defensive-plays-per-game (10.94).
“The latter part of last season he really picked up his game after being in and out at the start. Defensively he was killing plays and doing all the things you need to do to be successful at this level and then he took that into training camp this year. He played a couple NHL exhibition games and really opened up some eyes with the guys up top.” Said Sommer. “From then on out, he’s been one of our go-to guys all season. We’re starting to see all the things he did in college that made him successful here at the pro level.”