But for 21-year-old Trenton Devils forward Jack Combs, he’s already gone through more ups and downs in his career than some of his more experienced teammates.
After a prolific run in juniors that saw him tickle the twine 74 times in his last two seasons, Combs started the 2009-10 season with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces.
But the goals that seemed to come so effortlessly with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit weren’t as easy to come by in Alaska for the talented winger, as he managed only one tally in his first eleven contests.
Combs went from having lofty expectations after having attended the St. Louis Blues prospect camp to being out of the mix entirely in Alaska, eventually being dealt to Trenton in an early season trade.
“Alaska wasn’t such a great start to my pro career,” Combs said.
Part of the reason could be that he had to adjust to an Olympic-size ice surface with the Aces, playing on a 200 x100 surface instead of the standard 200 x 85.
“That was a little different,” Combs said. “Out there, there’s a little less scoring because there’s so much ice and it’s hard to get to the net. But it wasn’t a huge difference.”
Another change Combs has experienced in the Devils organization is being relieved of any pressure that might have come from playing for his hometown organization. Combs was born in the shadow of the Gateway Arch and dreamed of one day putting on that Bluenote sweater.
So was it tough to have that opportunity taken away?
“You know what, not at all,” he said.
“I want to go where I’m wanted, so I welcomed this with open arms. New Jersey’s been nothing but first class for me. I’m so thankful to Killer (Rick Kowalsky) and Dubs (Vince Williams) for bringing me here. It’s been nothing but a blessing. They’ve given me every chance to succeed. I’m having a great time here, and I feel like I’m playing good.”
Adjusting back to calling an NHL-sized rink home and with the Devils defensive oriented system, Combs struggled early, but seems to have responded to the post-game pleas of Kowalsky for some of his young players to step up. With four goals in his last four games, the soon-to-be 22-year-old is nipping at the heels of some of his new organization mates in Lowell, working hard for his first AHL call-up.
“I know I have to work my way up and I’m not going to be given anything, but that’s obviously a goal for me, to keep moving up,” Combs said.
“I hope I can do that by the end of the season.”
As is the case with many young players at this level, they’re here for a reason. Many players have holes in their games, and many players have things to work on. And Combs himself will be the first one to tell you what he needs to improve in the second half of the season.
“Definitely my skating,” he said.
“I know I’m a little bit of an awkward strider. If I lengthen out my stride and get a little quicker, I think it’ll bolster my game.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com