It has been a season of adjustments for the 22-year-old rookie Zach Sanford. First to life as an NHLer and then to the rough weekend stretches and bus rides of the American Hockey League. Sanford seems to be handling the adjustments quite well so far.
“I was talking to (Sanford) about the three-in-threes and he actually said he liked them. Obviously, it’s paid off because I thought he was excellent last Sunday against Syracuse and had four points tonight (against Rochester),” said Hershey head coach Troy Mann after Sunday night’s game against rochester.
Sanford was an important piece of the Bears offense this past weekend as he registered two points in a win at Wilkes-Barre on Friday and added two goals and two assists on Sunday. With the Atlantic division as tight as it is, Sanford’s six points were crucial in ensuring the Bears got four of six possible standings points over the weekend.
The 22-year-old was drafted by Washington in the second round (61st overall) of the 2013 NHL entry draft. He enjoyed a productive two-year collegiate career at Boston College with 63 points (22 G, 43 A) in 79 games.
The Capitals were impressed and convinced him to make the jump to the NHL. A great summer and training camp earned him a spot on the Capitals opening night roster. He played primarily on the third and fourth lines where ice time was at a minimum. After 19 games in the NHL with just one assist, Washington felt assigning him to Hershey would be best to get him some confidence and more playing time.
“(The assignment) is good for him, when you’re not getting many touches in the NHL and you’re not getting a lot of ice time it’s a tough role to play especially as a young kid,” Mann said.
Washington’s goal for Sanford in Hershey is to get about 15 minutes of ice time a night compared to just about eight that he played in the NHL. He’s utilized up and down the lineup and is playing on the penalty kill and powerplay units. He has scored as a member of both special teams including Hershey’s first shorthanded goal of the year seen above. With the benefit of the extra ice time, Sanford has exploded for seven points (3 G, 4 A) in six games.
“For him to come down and get six games and end up with a point per game and feel good about himself. When (Washington) makes the decision to bring him to take him back I’m sure he’ll feel confident getting on that ice for the first time,” Mann Said.
Not to be lost in Sanford’s game is his ability to make plays. Sanford does a great job of out waiting the defender and threading a perfect feed for Nathan Walker to tip into the net.
Sanford also has an advantage over most that can’t be taught, his size. A perfect example is this encounter with 6-4 Brady Austin. After a Rochester miscue, Sanford out muscles the 234-pound defender for the puck and ends up creating a grade-A scoring chance off the turnover.
Sanford is not afraid to mix things up if he needs to. With things getting out of hand against Wilkes-Barre this past Saturday, Sanford got involved with Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot is admittedly undersized compared to Sanford but it goes to show that Sanford won’t shy away from physicality if necessary.
The additional playing time has proved to be beneficial to Sanford so far. With Jakub Vrana playing well in his NHL audition and the Capitals crunched for cap space it remains to be seen when Sanford will return to the NHL.
In the meantime, Sanford only makes an already tough Hershey offense even more dangerous with his all around game. He and the Bears will look to continue rolling Friday night on the road at Lehigh Valley.