Coming off a 50-goal, 116-point season in junior hockey, Adam Hughesman saw his production plummet in his rookie year with the Wranglers last season, when he compiled just 13 goals and 31 points.
But the left wing said he was a better player in his first professional season than he was in juniors.
“This summer, I was sitting down with my dad and he said, ‘You had 120 points the year before and 30 points last year, and last year was a bigger success,’ ” Hughesman said. “He said last year I improved so much as a hockey player, and I totally agree with him.”
After compiling 89 goals and 197 points in his last two seasons with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, the Winnipeg native said he had to adjust his playing style when he reached the ECHL.
“These are men playing against men. You’re not playing against 16-year-old kids anymore,” Hughesman, 22, said. “You’ve got to try to battle in front of the net to get your chances. In juniors, you get five chances a game. Here, you get one or two, so you’ve got to make sure you bear down when you get those chances.”
Despite missing the first 10 games of this season as he recovered from offseason knee surgery, Hughesman is well ahead of his rookie scoring pace, with 13 goals and 24 points in 34 games.
He’s being counted on to help carry the scoring load for Las Vegas, which lost most of its top scorers from last season.
“I’ve been given a bigger role and taken it upon myself to help out,” he said. “I wish I had more. I wish the team had more, so it doesn’t really matter. I look at the wins more than anything.”
Hughesman has been one of the few bright spots for the reeling Wranglers (11-29-5, 27 points), who suffered their sixth straight loss Sunday in a 3-1 defeat to the Bakersfield Condors (21-20-4) before 4,290 fans at Orleans Arena.
“He’s a true professional,” Wranglers coach Mike Madill said. “He’s a machine off the ice — he’s in amazing shape — and on the ice he’s got a gift of how to score goals.
“When he works to get open, if you get him the puck, it’s in the back of the net. He’s got such a quick release and he already knows where he wants to shoot before he gets the puck.”
Incredibly, Hughesman played the past six seasons with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Doctors didn’t discover the injury until after Hughesman’s knee gave out on him in Game 1 of Las Vegas’ first-round ECHL playoff series against Stockton, which won in seven games.
“That was tough, but I had to get it fixed,” he said. “It sucks I had to miss some time this year, but it’s healthier than ever and only getting stronger and I’m really excited about that.”
Hughesman, who worked out four hours a day in the gym over the summer to accelerate his recovery, returned to the ice for the Wranglers in October ahead of schedule, a mere six months after surgery. While his production hasn’t suffered, Hughesman said he’s still not 100 percent.
“I’m at 85 to 90 percent right now. I probably won’t be (completely) healthy until the end of summer next year,” he said. “I feel good on the ice. I don’t feel it’s hindering me at all. It’s just maybe that extra gear that’s going to come still.”
Despite being a prolific scorer in juniors, Hughesman wasn’t drafted by the NHL and uses the slight as motivation.
“I have a little chip on my shoulder,” he said. “That’s kind of why I dedicated myself. I want to prove people wrong.
“I think about how hard guys are working (in the NHL) and I try to work harder than them. I feel when I’m ready I’ll get my chance.”
Hughesman is at a loss to explain why he was overlooked by the NHL. It wasn’t due to any off-ice issues.
“I hold myself to a high standard and don’t try to let myself off the hook ever,” he said. “That goes for at the rink, off the rink, at home and in every aspect of your life.
“I just try to be a good person.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.