Melindy knows what it’s going to take to make it to the NHL

Robin Short
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James Melindy has size, can skate — though he may need to get a little quicker on his feet for the pros — plays the body and moves the puck sufficiently well enough as a defenceman to put a few points on the board.

Goulds native James Melindy made his pro debut on home ice earlier this week for the Portland Pirates. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Now the rookie rearguard needs to figure how to put it all together to make a run at NHL employment in two or three years’ time.

“That’s the –thing,” the Goulds native was saying this week at Mile One Centre, “at the end of the day, you have to figure out what kind of defenceman you’re going to be if you want to make it to the NHL.

“I know, for me, I’m not going to be one of those guys putting up a lot of points. For my first year, I want to focus on defending and when I can pitch in offensively, I’m going to try.

“But I think the biggest thing for me is playing smart and simple, reading the play, being hard to play against.”

Like my old high school teacher was fond of saying, Melindy looks to employ the KISS formula — Keep it Simple, Stupid — in this, his first season in the American Hockey League.

Melindy, 20, made his pro debut on home ice earlier this week for the Portland Pirates, a team that employs another St. John’s native — chap by the name of John Slaney — as its defensive coach.

Actually, it’s been a while since Melindy played at home.

He left St. John’s as a 14 year old to attend Athol Murray College, a.k.a. the Hounds of Notre Dame, the well-known hockey factory/school in Wilcox, Sask.

He spent two years on the Prairies before heading to Moncton, N.B., the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team which drafted him 34th overall in the 2009 midget draft.

Melindy had a settling in period in his first junior season, appearing in 40 games and collecting five points.

It was a different player in a Wildcats jersey the next couple of seasons, however, as Melindy became a top three rearguard on Moncton’s defence.

In 2012, the 6-3, 190-pound player showed enough to convince the Phoenix Coyotes to select him in the third round, 88th overall, in the NHL Draft.

His first full season in Portland — he had a two-game audition last spring after his junior season ended — hasn’t gone without its moments.

He injured his left knee in the Pirates’ second game of the year against the Providence Bruins and missed the next 13 games.

He returned to the lineup in Hartford Nov. 27 and, wouldn’t you know it, hurt the same knee again.

This time, he was out for eight games.

“I probably came back earlier than I should have,” he said. “It happened on the second shift.

“But now everything is feeling good, and it’s just a matter of playing and getting more confidence.”

He scored his first and only goal of the year four days before Christmas against the Bruins, at a game in which his parents — Glenn and Sharon — were in the stands.

“That was pretty neat,” he said.

In the meantime, it’s also neat that one of his coaches in Portland is Slaney, one of the best Newfoundlanders to strap on a pair of blades, and a player who carved out a fine 268-game NHL career while crafting an award-winning term in the AHL.

“It’s nice to have a little connection in the organization and in a big hockey world,” Melindy said.

“He’s telling me all the stories when he came up through, and if I can pick up little tidbits of information and helpers from him, great.”

Slaney, just as he does with all the Portland D-men, has been working extensively with Melindy, but don’t think for a minute the red-haired rookie gets off easy because he’s a fellow Newfoundlander.

“Yes, he’s been really good with me, helping with my game and telling me what it is I need to work on, but he’ll put me in line when I need it.

“There are no grey areas with John. It’s black and white. He expects a lot out of me, which is exactly what you want from a coach.

“Hopefully it will pay off.”

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: Athol Murray College, NHL, Portland Pirates Bruins Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Phoenix Coyotes

Geographic location: Goulds, Moncton, Portland Notre Dame Wilcox Hartford

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