By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Pittsburgh forward Anthony Angello was running around Friday night in a Prospects Challenge game against the Bruins at KeyBank Rink.
It was early in the first period and Angello made sure to deposit Boston forwards Ryan Donato and Cedric Pare on their rear ends.
Over the course of Boston’s 4-2 win, Bruins defenseman Wiley Sherman had several bone-crushing, glass-smacking hits of his own against Penguins puck carriers. And then in the third period, Sherman finally had his chance at Angello and took it. Pare and Donato were avenged.
Such is the role the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Sherman is going to have to play as he begins his pro career after four seasons at Harvard.
The 23-year-old is much shier with his words than he is with his actions when it comes to addressing the physical aspect of his game.
“For a big guy like me, I definitely want to be physical, use that reach, play the body when I can,” he said.
There were fewer chances for Sherman to play the body in Boston’s 6-2 loss to New Jersey on Monday. But he continued to work on the other aspects of his game, retrieving the puck deep as quickly as his long legs would allow; carrying it with mobility at times, tentativeness at others; and making efficient first passes.
General manager Don Sweeney was more than willing to use the word “project” to describe Sherman and accepted that there could be a Hal Gill comparison to be made. Of course, Gill played 1,108 NHL games, which may be a Gill-sized reach for the Bruins’ fifth-round pick (No. 150) in 2013. The game has changed immensely since Gill’s day and it’ll probably continue to evolve toward smaller and faster players, regardless of position.
“I know that the game has changed in a certain way with regards to defensemen. But there is still room in the game for a big guy that can defend,” said Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach, who coached Sherman for two games last spring and during the Prospects Challenge. “And if he can make plays where it’s just on his stick, it’s off his stick, he’s inside his ice and he’s effective in front of his own net and he’s safe, he can still eat pucks, he can still penalty kill, he can still play 12-14 minutes a game for you down the stretch.”
Everything Leach mentioned remains to be seen for Sherman as a pro. But there’s no doubt that the way he hits people, he’s going to have to answer for his actions more as a pro than he had to as a college player. Heck, his size alone is going to inspire a rugged veteran or two to test the rookie’s mettle.
In college where fighting is forbidden, Sherman said he had his share of guys getting under his skin without a means to make them pay. The pro game could unleash his temper and his gloves.
“I mean honestly I haven’t put too much thought into it. But I guess so, we’ll see,” Sherman said.
Donato, Sherman’s teammate at Harvard, describes the blueliner as a “teddy bear” off the ice, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Sherman hasn’t been plotting his fight card for the start of the season. But on the ice, Sherman can get furious. Donato recalled being on the receiving end of several slashes during practices when things weren’t going the way Sherman wanted them to go.
Leach isn’t too concerned about Sherman handling himself in fisticuffs or any other physical confrontations in the AHL.
“I believe we’ve actually talked about it a little bit with getting in situations where he’s going to have to maybe defend himself once in a while,” Leach said. “He seems to be very confident with that fact. I don’t know if he’s got a ton of experience with that, but we’ll make sure that he’s ready. A lot of that is just ‘protect yourself’ and just to be on guard for stuff like that.”
For however long as body contact is allowed in hockey, every lineup is going to need at least one big body the way the Bruins rookie team needed Sherman against the Penguins. He plans on being that guy as he tries to work his way up the Bruins’ system.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.