Palushaj in a ‘Good Spot’ With Phantoms

Friday, October 2, 2015

Aaron Palushaj sets a screen in front during an NHL training camp practice in Voorhees, NJ, in September. Photo credit: Nina Weiss.
After splitting last season between two teams in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), forward Aaron Palushaj has returned to North America to pursue his dream of being an everyday NHL hockey player. Signing with the Philadelphia Flyers organization over the summer, Palushaj finds himself back in the AHL this season - beginning the 2015-16 season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

“I was a little disappointed being sent down so early, but I think it's a good spot,” Palushaj said of being among the first cuts at Flyers training camp, adding, “I'm just excited to play meaningful minutes and help this team. I'm in Allentown right now. I want to help the Phantoms win hockey games. That's why I'm here.”

Palushaj’s last season in the AHL came in 2013-14 with the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes), a season which saw the veteran forward record 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in 68 games. He’s posted good numbers in his AHL career too - spanning across parts of five seasons with the Peoria Rivermen, Hamilton Bulldogs and Charlotte Checkers - recording 194 points (76 goals, 118 assists) in 258 regular season AHL games.

Career numbers like that has to be part of the reason Palushaj has been on a line with third year center Nick Cousins, who last season had a breakout year and led the Phantoms in scoring. The two were together at the Flyers’ NHL training camp and have been re-united at Phantoms AHL camp as well.

“I think we'll be good line,” Palushaj said of potentially being line mates with Cousins this season. “It's going to take some time to really be able to know where we are going to be on the ice. It could take a few games. I think we are definitely getting there.”

Cousins, too, didn’t seem to mind at all if the two were on a line together this fall.

“He’s a fun player to play with. He’s always talking out there on the ice,” Cousins said with a smile. “He’s got hands, good speed – he’s fun to watch out there.”

Ultimately, Palushaj is excited to be playing hockey again. It was clear in the way he spoke after Monday’s training camp practice at the PPL Center that he’s optimistic with his new team entering the 2015-16 season.

“I really like the system coach Gordon has in place for us, Palushaj said. “I think it's going to benefit us. I think we're a pretty fast team. We can skate pretty well and move the puck well. I'm just excited to play some meaningful games. It's been a long summer.”

Learning a new system under a new head coach and on a new team certainly comes with growing pains, and Palushaj clearly understood that as he talked about learning a whole new way to play in under two weeks.

“I think it's just a process throughout the season. We are not going to know everything game one,” Palushaj said, adding, “If we know 90% of what the coaches are asking of us I think it'll be good for us. I think he'll make it clear that it's X's and O's but it's also the effort. We go out there, we execute and make our passes, play hard and everything else will come.”

In the end, Palushaj has the same dream every professional hockey player playing in the AHL has – make it to the NHL on a full-time basis. Entering his seventh year of pro hockey, Palushaj has had a taste of NHL life with 68 career NHL games under his belt. He’s confident and ready to work towards that starting this fall with the Phantoms.

“I'm going to start here and it's not going to change my end goal and that's to be an NHL player this season. That's what I'm striving for and I think I can achieve that this year.”


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