The Journey of Joe Blandisi

Joe Blandisi has his whole career in front of him, and won’t turn 23-years-old until this upcoming July. Last season Blandisi was a midseason call-up to the New Jersey Devils and racked up 17 points (5g-12a) over his 41 games. Many expected he would stick in the NHL this season, but that wasn’t the case as he was assigned to the Albany Devils in the AHL just before the 2016-17 season started.

“A lot of time it comes from what their performance is, with Joe, we talked to him in training camp when we wound up sending him down,” Devils coach John Hynes explained when The Hockey Writers asked if there is a plan in place regarding Blandisi’s development.

“He needs a little bit more seasoning in the AHL and he did a good job; he played really well from my communication with Rick (Kowalsky, Albany’s head coach). His attitude and some of the things we asked him to work on have gotten better and now he’s worked his way here to earn another opportunity to get called up, and he’s played well since he’s been here.”

For a player that news could be crushing — that after getting his chance, his big break last season he was being demoted or banished to the minor leagues. But Blandisi admitted while it was disappointing to hear that news, he is trusting the process and the plan the Devils have for him, as well as his development.

Waiting is the Hardest Part

“The hardest part for me is just trusting them; I think they have a plan for me. Obviously, I want to be here (in New Jersey) and that’s goal to be here,” he told THW. “But I think maybe if you pull me up too soon it’s not good for my career in the long run. I think I’m just trying to trust the staff and hopefully, things work out in the future for me with this organization.”

Throughout this season, the Devils have recalled numerous players from Albany: Miles Wood, Nick Lappin, Steven Santini, Karl Stollery, Seth Helgeson, Blake Coleman, John Quenneville and Blake Pietila — all before Blandisi finally got his chance. That can be frustrating, and maybe even demoralizing, but to his credit that wasn’t his attitude towards things as he explained to us.

“I’m the type of person that’s going to be happy for guys like that, especially when you play with them in Albany, you’re teammates and you create that close bond. I had a good opportunity last year, I played 41 games (in the NHL) and I think everyone deserving of a fair chance,” Blandisi said to THW.

“I think the call-ups that they made this year were well deserving — Quenneville, Coleman, Woody (Miles Wood) — and you see them excelling in their roles. The coaching staff knows what they are doing and I’m just going to stick to the process and believe in them.”

Friends For Life

One of his best friends in the organization is Coleman and when he finally got his first chance to play in the NHL, instead of being jealous, or upset that he was passed over, Blandisi’s reaction was the exact opposite.

“I lived with him last year and we created such a good friendship,” he explained, “when you see someone achieve their goals it’s rewarding for everybody that is involved around them. So I was really happy to see Blake get a chance, I was happy for his family – we’ve created a close bond, our families as well. I know my mom was texting him when he got called up,” he added with a smile, “it was definitely a happy moment for everybody.”

Blandisi admitted that he’s still learning the game, learning his game and how to be a pro. Instead of sulking in Albany he worked his butt off and put up seven goals/23 points in 28 games and was named an AHL All-Star. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the weekend in Allentown as he and a few teammates had been sick with a virus and the league didn’t want to risk exposing the other players to any lingering germs.

“That was tough, obviously you want to play in the All-Star Game. You work so hard at the beginning of the season, to become an All-Star – it’s a good opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said a frustrated Blandisi, “you never know when you’re going to get that opportunity again. So it was tough to not be able to go to that, but I think I used the rest to my advantage and I’m trying to use my fresh legs now.”

Negative Turns to Positive

In just about a year’s time Blandisi seems a little different; in talking to him he seems like he’s not as wide-eyed as he was as a first-year pro. “Maturity and responsibility. Physically he’s more mature; I think he understands the little things in the game mean a lot. Whether it’s wall plays or shot lanes, stick detail,” Hynes said when asked what is the difference between last year’s version and this year’s.

“Understanding that at this level if you’re an offensive player, lots of times you can create offense from good defense. You don’t have to cheat the game. That’s nice to see with him. I think he’s stronger, he’s one year older, stronger in his battles, stronger on the puck and stronger mentally. He’s a little bit more focused than he was last year on doing the right things and it’s nice to see that a player in our system – whether he’s playing in the NHL or the AHL – continues to develop into a quality player.”

Over his first six games with New Jersey this season he has yet to register a point but the team has gone 4-1-1 and he has averaged about ten minutes of ice-time per game. “I feel like I’m still growing, still learning a lot. I think in the OHL I was able to get away with lots of parts of my game because of my offensive ability,” he told THW. “Now that I’m learning different parts of my game it’s going to make me a well-rounded player and hopefully makes me a big part of this team.”

What happens from here on out is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure — his game has definitely progressed, and as Hynes said, matured. He may finish the season in New Jersey, he may return to Albany…he may even be used as trade bait at the upcoming March 1 NHL trade deadline. However, it pans out he has made a name for himself thus far after joining the Devil organization and he has the potential to be a contributor one day on an NHL roster if he continues to evolve as a player.