T he last name and number on the jersey are the same, as is the style of play. • Despite the similarities, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Philip Samuelsson said he is different than his father, former NHL-great Ulf Samuelsson. • To a degree.
“I have some of my dad in me for sure, but I don’t think it’s quite up to his level,” Samuelsson said. “He was a little more aggressive. I’m aw little bit of a toned down, modernized version of him because you can’t get away with as much as you could back then.”
The elder Samuelsson spent 16 seasons in the NHL and posted 2,453 penalty minutes in 1,080 games. He was the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins defense, playing there for five seasons including both Stanley Cup championship teams in the early 1990’s.
But what Ulf Samuelsson is remembered for most is his physical play - a style that created fear in opponents and plenty of controversy.
Some may say Philip Samuelsson is headed down the same path. Like his father, physical play is the key to his game, but its not the only focus.
Now in his second AHL season, Samuelsson headed into this weekend’s road trip as the team’s leader in plus-minus with a plus-10. It’s evidence that Samuelsson has made great strides in his defensive play since last year’s rookie season when he often found himself a healthy scratch.
He spent the summer working on his strength and foot speed, and the improvement has translated into better play this season, Samuelsson said. He’s also worked to add a bit of an offensive element to his game and has shown a willingness to shoot the puck that may not have been apparent last season.
But the biggest improvement, Samuelsson said, has come from within.
“In this organization there are a lot of good players up and down the depth chart, and you can’t get frustrated with where you’re at,” he said. “For me, the main thing is to keep positive and keep the same even keel.”
That’s not to say physical play is taking a back seat in Samuelsson’s game. He understands it’s the key to reaching the NHL and Samuelsson’s ability to crunch an opponent may be what sets him apart from other blueliners.
It’s an attribute that his father warned him not to stray away from.
“He’s always talking to me about not losing that part of my game. I know I have to have a sound defensive game, but at the same time I don’t want to be glued on the blueline and not do anything. The main thing is for me to be physical and solid defensively.”
Head coach John Hynes is glad that Samuelsson is aware that his physicality is the key to his game. He acknowledged that being a well-rounded player is also important, but not at the expense of giving up the one attribute that sets a player apart.
“To make it to the NHL you better play to what your strengths are,” Hynes said. “In Philip’s case it’s defending and being tough to play against. Being a well-rounded player is important, but there has to be one element in your game that’s desirable at the NHL level.”
Having physical play as a strength can be tricky for a young player. Avoiding the dirty hits is imperative, but there has to be enough of an edge to still create a bit of fear.
It’s a line that the elder Samuelsson crossed at times, but there was always plenty of fear when an opponent ventured into his defensive zone.
“You have to be right on that edge of clean and dirty without getting caught or putting someone else in danger,” the younger Samuelsson said. “My dad thinks I’ve come a long way since last year, and I have to agree with him.”
It’s been 18 years since a Samuelsson nameplate with the number five graced the back of a Pittsburgh Jersey. Philip hopes his turn to renew the family tradition is on the horizon.
“It’s always been my dream to carry it to the NHL, and for that to be in Pittsburgh would be very special,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having that happen someday soon.”