December 23, 2009

Big improvement

by Dan Hickling

You can't teach size, and at 6-foot-5, Lowell Devils rookie winger Nathan Perkovich obviously has an abundance of that.

You can't teach heart, either, and judging by the pounding Perkovich takes each night while planting his big frame in front of enemy goalies, he's got plenty of that, too.

What can be taught, especially at the AHL level, are skills like technique and timing. And looking at the results so far, it would seem that the rookie from Lake Superior State is getting the hang of things.

Drafted in the eighth round by New Jersey back in 2004, he was taken more for his promise than for his production.

However, a good training camp followed by an even better rookie start has made that pick look like a steal.

“I'm a humble first-year guy who was just trying to earn a spot on the team,” said Perkovich. “(Coach John MacLean) has given me every chance to play.”

Every team covets a tough, big-body winger who can blot out a goalies' vision (we refer you to Boston behemoth Byron Bitz as proof).

However, even if the size is present, the skill and the know-how often are not. Naturally, Perkovich has had to get up to speed on the professional game.

“When I was in college, I could get away with some stuff,” he said. “You can get kind of lazy. But here, you've got to take it day by day and work really hard.”

MacLean has given Perkovich every opportunity to succeed by playing him with skilled forwards such as Ben Walter (UMass-Lowell) and Stephen Gionta (Boston College).

“Playing with those guys is a treat,” Perkovich said.

He's responded by popping in eight goals (one behind team leader Tim Sestito) and assisting on 10 others, all while checking in as a plus-10.

“I've seen my game improve,” Perkovich said. “Everybody's faster and stronger, so I've been trying to work on that in the weight room. Doing extra things after practice has helped me a lot. And listening to the coaches has helped me a lot.”

Although he's heartened by the progress he's made, Perkovich said he knows his game has plenty of room to grow (pardon the pun).

He can also stand to put a little muscle on his 195-pound frame.

“I'm just taking it a day at a time,” he said. “I'm here in this league right now and trying to get better. Trying to play well at this level before making the jump to the NHL. One thing I need to work on is my strength. I'm a big guy, and as long as I get stronger, I think that will help me.”

Around the AHL

The rehab assignment of New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro (Winthrop, Mass.), which was documented in this space last week, has not gone according to plan. DiPietro pulled himself out of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers goal crease after the second period of Friday night's game with the Springfield Falcons, complaining of leg stiffness. The Isles are taking a wait-and-see approach to any further on ice work for the former BU standout … Another ex-BU star, defenseman Matt Gilroy, has started swiftly for the Hartford Wolf Pack since being sent down by the parent New York Rangers last week. Last year's Hobey Baker Award winner racked up three assists in as many games over the weekend. ... Portland Pirate winger Kyle Rank notched his first-ever hat trick, Saturday, in the Pirates’ 7-1 win at Springfield.