Recently, the Canucks signed another university hockey player out of New York State. 21-year-old Michael Zalewski was playing hockey for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers. He is a bigger (6'2", 220 pound), skilled winger and I gave as much info as I could about Zalewski in my post here, including stats, videos, and quotes. But, if you really want to know about a player, you need to ask someone who has closely watched him play. This concept worked well with Chris Tanev in June of 2010.
When I asked a fan of the Engineers team on Twitter to answer a few questions (@ReillyHamilton), he forwarded me to a site called Without A Peer, which covers the RPI Engineers team as well as the rest of the East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC). Tom Reale, the Editor-In-Chief And Men's Hockey Correspondent for that site, stepped up to the plate to answer my 5 questions about Zalewski. Let's get to it!
Sean Zandberg: First off, introduce yourself! Why do you follow RPI and what is your favorite team?
Tom Reale: I graduated from the Institute in 2004 and I was the 4th member of my family to go to school there - so it's pretty much in my blood. I grew up watching the Engineers play and I've enjoyed writing about them for a number of years now. I never really had a NHL team that I followed until I got married to a Sabres fan recently... so no one can really get away with ever calling me a bandwagon fan!
Zandberg: What are Zalewski's strengths?
Reale: Mike has a solid amount of vision for the game, he's frequently in the right place at the right time because he puts himself not only where he needs to be at any given time, but where he's going to be the most useful given the way the play is progressing. His last goal as an Engineer a couple of weeks ago illustrates that perfectly - he hung back well on a 2-on-1 and was in a perfect position to pick up a rebound all alone in the slot. He was solid at the faceoff dot for RPI as well. He's a hard worker, and just a good guy overall on a personal level.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Zandberg: What are Zalewski's weaknesses?
Reale: He's going to be a project, that's for sure - don't expect him to step in right away and make a big difference. Zalewski certainly projected to be one of RPI's leaders offensively next season, his signing came as a bit of a surprise to us. The Canucks certainly got in ahead of the game by signing him this year, but the early signing pretty much guarantees that he'll need a year or two in the AHL before he's ready to go in Vancouver. He needs to be a little more consistent with his puck-handling, I think, and while he doesn't really take bad penalties, he frequently puts himself in a position where he's going to be called for a penalty. He needs to use his size more but that will come in the next couple of seasons the way he works.
Zandberg: SBNation has Zalewski rated as a bottom 6 power forward. Would you agree with that assessment?
Reale: That's a fair assessment, I suspect. He doesn't project to be a star by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly has the capacity and size to eventually hold down a regular gig in the NHL. The last two years we have had him as one of the better NHL prospects on the team, he was surpassed this year only because Ryan Haggerty had a ridiculous season as a sniper (the Rangers signed him last week), but long term we still think Zalewski has a future in the league.
Zandberg: If you could compare Zalewski to an NHL player, who would that be?
Reale: I had to ask another one of WaP's writers about this one since I don't follow the NHL as closely as he does - my colleague Gary Russinko suggests that Ryan Callahan may eventually be a good comparison if he reaches his potential, comparing his value as a lower-line scorer and on the penalty kill.
I want to thank Tom Reale for taking the time to answer my questions. I would say that this is excellent insight on the newest Canuck, and so Tom's knowledge is appreciated! What? Zalewski won't be a STAR? Damn it! It appears we will need some patience with Zalewski, barring a big surprise at camp. Reale talked about Zalewski being good at faceoffs, so I am assuming he plays both wing (as he was listed) and center position. I also liked the point that he will be playing close to home when playing for the Utica Comets.
-Check out the Without A Peer website here. Man, there's so much hockey out there.
-Without A Peer on Twitter: @without_a_peer
From what I am reading, Zalewski was with the Canucks on their road trip that just ended, likely watching the fading Vancouver product on the ice from the press box. Hopefully realizing that he already can contribute more to this team than David Booth.
LOSING YOUR BEST PLAYERS
It'll be tough replacing Haggerty, Zalewski, and Higgs all at once, but it's straight up pride right now. So happy for these guys.— Without a Peer (@without_a_peer) March 14, 2014
I have mostly watched NHL hockey my whole life. I just cannot imagine what it's like cheering for a team that serves as another team's farm team. You lose your best players! But I think this tweet sums it up, with class: