The road of a veteran American Hockey League player is a long, winding one. There are often multiple stops with AHL teams, a stint or two in the NHL and an ever continuing goal of finding a home there.
Hartford Wolf Pack forward Ryan Potulny is a prime example of this, as he still hopes to return to the NHL, albeit struggles the past few seasons. After spending the last three years with the Hershey Bears, Potulny signed with Hartford in seek of a new beginning.
“For me I wanted to sign with a team that would be a good fit after last season,” Potulny told The Hockey Writers. “Being injured and not having the season I wanted, I looked forward for finding a team that would be successful and help my progress of playing hockey.
Potulny played in 165 games the past three years in Hershey, collecting 116 points during that time. He’s amassed 412 career AHL games, recording 309 total points, an average of .75 points per contest.
“Hershey is an unbelievable place for guys to play in the minor leagues,” said Potulny. “10,000 (fans) a night pretty much, the management there ‘they want to win’. As a player that’s all you can really ask for guys going to a team in the AHL, it’s important that you want the chance to win. Hershey has been successful at that obviously, their numbers speak for themselves. My time there was fantastic, I got along with the GM (Doug Yingst) really well in Hershey there. We still talked even this summer – just the way they treated me – they treated me like family.”
Potulny joined the Bears mid-season last year, after working out at the University of Minnesota in preparation for signing with a club. He had his KHL contract terminated after suffering an injury overseas. Potulny played under one time Bears coach Mike Haviland, who has since moved onto Colorado College after a year in the Washington Capitals organization.
“It was tough for me coming in with a different coach and trying to get to know him as quick as you can,” said Potulny. “He was a great guy, he called me before and we had a talk. He knows the game pretty well, for me to go there it helped out.”
Hartford, AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, has a mix of youthful skilled forwards along with a solid group of veterans. Potulny joins former teammate Chris Bourque in Hartford, along with Rangers prospects Danny Kristo, Ryan Haggerty, Oscar Lindberg, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Dylan McIlrath.
“I did a lot of research before (I signed),” he said. “The team had signed some good players and they had good young guys coming up, you take that into consideration. We want to win the Calder Cup and if not you shouldn’t be playing hockey, you shouldn’t be here. You have to look at the big picture also, I don’t see why we can’t make a run in the playoffs. Obviously that’s a ways from now, but if you put in the hard work with the skill that we have we’re going to have a good chance.”
— Hartford Wolf Pack (@WolfPackAHL) October 2, 2014
Potulny’s an experienced player who has enjoyed extreme highs, including a 26 point playoff performance that helped the Binghamton Senators earn the 2011 Calder Cup championship. He’s always possessed a lethal shot, but his skating has dropped in recent years, partly due to injuries and the wear and tear of long seasons.
“I wanted to get my strength back and get my weight back to where I wanted,” said Potulny of his plan this past summer. “I lost a lot of muscle mass and lost some weight after the injury. Last season I got cleared to play and pretty much signed right after that, I should have taken a little more time to get myself healthy and prepare to sign after Christmas. For me the important thing was getting that strength back and the weight back, that affects everything – your skating, your shooting, your battle level.”
Having played in 126 career NHL games, Potulny has had a good end result for a third round pick, but he wants to be remembered for more than that. While only on an AHL deal with Hartford, Potulny eyes an opportunity that could return him to the greatest league in the world in the near future.
“I want to get back to the NHL,” he said. “I don’t think I’m done playing there, I put up good numbers when I was there and my goal is to get back there again.”