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June 29, 2009 - Image 12

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2009-06-29

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Monday, June 29, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

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From Page 11
and a coach's best weapon. It's what
every coach, at any level, looks for.
And it didn't take long for Simon
to recognize the offensive talent he
had on his bench.
"(Aaron) was just a punk when he
showed up (in Des Moines)," Simon
said. "He was a real young kid, fresh
out of Midget Minor in the Honey-
baked (AAA) system. He was under-
developed physically but most kids
are at that age, but you knew he had
the body to grow. ... The determin-
ing factor of having him on that team
was thathe just always scored goals.
"Even as the second-youngest
player in our camp (in 2005), he still
As a rookie, Palushaj had to prove
to Simon and the rest of the Bucca-
neer coaching staff that he belonged
in the lineup. Whether it was in off-
ice workouts, practices or the weight
room, he needed to show thathe was
driven and committed in his new
environment. And he did.
But his second year in the United
States Hockey League was a differ-
ent story.
"He definitely played more of a
leadership role," Simon said. "Aaron
also had a little bit of pressure on him
to perform well because he was a
highly recruited player at Michigan."
The more experienced Palushaj
played on the first and second line
for the whole season while register-
ing 67 points and finishing second in
scoring. The same kid who used to
pour endless buckets of pucks onto
the ice had solidified himself as one
of the top Wolverine recruits for
Size is a luxury in hockey.
And for Palushaj, his5 foot, 11 inch,
175-pound frame makes him an aver-
age-sized player. It's clear Palushaj's
not goingto be one ofthe biggestskat-
ers on any team he plays on.
But being big is not really one of
the components that characterizes
an exceptional hockey player.

Without a size advantage, he has
developed an intangible ability that
can't often be taught and few players
truly posses: outstanding hockey IQ.
And while Palushaj's hockey IQ is
superior to many players, it'll need
to develop even further according to
Peoria coach Davis Payne.
"The developmental timeline for
him is very steep," Payne said. "Play-
ing inthe AHL against guys who have
been playing pro or who have played
in the NHL is a definite step up. His
competition will be tougher which
will force his level of play to come
up and with that, the developmental
curve willbe forced to steepen."
This upcoming season will be
Palushaj's first full year with the
Rivermen, and while he is looking
to cement a permanent place in the
lineup, he will also hope to revert
back to his old ways: simply putting
the puck in the back of the net.
Still, it wasn't as if Palushaj didn't
score at Michigan. He had 23 goals
in his 82 games in Ann Arbor. But he
was just more of a shoot first, pass
second kind of player.
"I'm a goal scorer," Palushaj said.
"But my first year at school - the
first powerplay unit was me, (Max)
Pacioretty, (Chad) Langlais, (Kevin)
Porter and (Chad) Kolarik. Play-
ing with those guys, you're really
intimidated - going into college as
a 17-year old and you're playing with
guys that put up 55 points in a season
in NCAA."
Payne mentioned that he would
like Palushaj to drive to the inside of
the ice more and play to his offensive
strengths. Whether that includes
passing the puck to an open team-
mate in the slot, rifling a snap shot
from 20 feet out or sliding the puck
back door on the powerplay, Payne
wants offense and plenty of it.
"There's something that goes on
inside their brain that says, 'Hey,
I need to make a difference when
I've got the puck,"' Payne said. "We
want guys thinking that they need to
score, they want to score, they love to
score. We want Aaron to continue to
be one of those guys."

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-ormer Wolverine Aaron Palushaj shoots the puck against Niagara last October.

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