Blake Comeau likely won't make anyone forget James Neal. Or even Petr Sykora. But for the time being, he's Evgeni Malkin's new right winger and he's been productive in that role.
Teamed with Malkin at center and Pascal Dupuis on the left wing since a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings Oct. 23, Comeau has produced five points (two goals, three assists) in five games.
Recently, Comeau talked about that line and his abilities as a shooter.
What's it like playing on the second line with Malkin as opposed to last season where you primarily had fourth-line role with the Blue Jackets?
"It's exciting. He's obviously one of the most elite players in the NHL. I feel like me, him and [Dupuis] have some really good chemistry together. We compliment each others' games really well I think. Last year was frustrating. I don't think I'm playing any differently than I was last year. Different eyes I guess on me this year that see different things. It seemed like last year, whether I had a few good games, it just seemed like I was stuck there without any role. It's nice to be rewarded for good play."
How do you describe playing with Malkin?
"He wants the puck on his stick. As a guy that’s playing with him, I hear him a lot on the ice calling for the puck which is nice. You always know here he is. There’s going to be times where I’ve got to decide if the best [choice] is to pass or to shoot. So far things have gone well. We’ve generated some good chances and scored some goals five on five. So hopefully, we can keep going."
Is he comparable to anyone you've played with before?
"He’s a pretty happy guy around the room. Pretty funny, goofy guy. On the ice, I think he’s one of the best in the world. You can’t really compare him to anyone because he does have his own style that he plays. Skill-wise, I played with [Islanders captain/forward John] Tavares in Long Island a little bit there. They've both got great vision. Great playmakers. And obviously, two of some of the best players in the world."
"He just plays hard. Gets in on the forecheck, creates turnovers. We play a lot of a similar style with getting in on the forecheck. I think we're both responsible defensively and that's going to create some more chances for us. We're taking care of things in our own end."
Can you pinpoint any one thing which has led to your early success thus far?
"The big thing is just confidence. The coaching staff has done a good job of going over video with me. Giving me confidence to make plays with the puck. But like I said, I don't really feel like I'm playing different this year than I was last year. It's just I'm getting a really good opportunity with some really good players whether it's [Malkin] or other guys, there's a lot of depth up front. It's good to be here."
How conscious are you of the fact that you're scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and making the most out of playing on this line could benefit you next summer?
To be honest, not at all. Ten games into the season, I'm enjoying my time. A great group of guys here. I always I felt I had the skills to produce like I did earlier in my career. I just think I was in different opportunities with different roles on different teams. The coaching staff here has given me a lot of confidence to go out and make plays and obviously, playing with guys like [Malkin and Dupuis], I really can't complain. I think [Dupuis] plays hard. We compliment each other really well. Obviously with [Malkin's] talent and the way he sees the ice, things have been going well so far.
Describe the goal you scored Saturday against the Sabres.
"I passed it out to [Malkin] in the [defensive] zone and he's the kind of guy when he has the puck, he's going to make things happen. I just tried to drive down the middle of the ice. He made a great pull-up play at the blue line and got it to me. I had a little more time than I thought. I just tried to put one over [goaltender Jhonas Enroth's] glove and it went in."
That was a pretty precise shot you scored on. How do you approach shooting the puck?
"For myself, I want to try to get it off as quick as I can. Obviously, that shot I had a little more time than maybe what you're used to. It's still something I want to focus on is getting my shot total up. I feel like I'm getting pretty good shot attempts. I feel like I'm getting a few blocked and a few are missing the net. If I can maybe get a few more on net, a few more might be able to in for me or I might be able to create some scrambles and I can get some goals that way as well."
Coach Mike Johnston has used the phrase "volume of shots." Is it fair to say you've bought into that mentality?
"Yeah. It is for sure. I remember when I was in New York, I was talking to [former Islanders executive/forward] Bryan Trottier, he said [former Islanders forward] Mike Bossy had a goal of having seven shots a game. Some are going to get blocked, some are going to miss the net but if you have a goal going in of having [seven] shots - maybe that's a little bit to high for myself - but I want to try to get five or six shot attempts a night and hopefully I can get most of them on net. I feel like I look at my shot attempts and if I'm getting chances to put the puck on net, I think I'm involved. That means the puck's on my stick."
A lot of teams hired people to look at analytics this past offseason. Many the primary advanced statistics involved shot attempts for and against a player. Do you pay attention to those numbers at all?
"For me, I'm not. I'm not too aware of my analytics. I look at the stat sheet. I like to look at my shot attempts, my hits. If those numbers are up, that means that I was involved in the game. Obviously, if I come out of a game with no hits, no shots, that's not what kind of game I need to play to contribute to this team. So that's something I take a look at personally."
(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)