By Mike Dougherty
It would be all too easy for Brett Pesce to get distracted by the Internet.
A couple of purposeful keystrokes instantly produce a tidal wave of praise capable of altering the approach of an 18-year-old who aspires to play in the NHL. The experts believe he will be selected in the first three rounds of next Sunday’s draft.
The detailed scouting reports indicate great potential.
“He’s one of the best defenders I’ve seen at his draft age in a long, long time,” Central Scouting’s David Gregory told NHL.com. “He does a great job keeping the puck to the outside, and when you think you’re by him, he uses his stick and body positioning as well as anybody.”
There are mentions of an obvious need to add more bulk in short order, but the Tarrytown resident who is the top-ranked collegian in this draft class is getting impressive reviews.
“Brett Pesce is the type of defenseman who flies under the radar almost on a nightly basis,” Islanders scout Trent Klatt said on the team’s website. “He’s diligent in responsibilities, work ethic and habits. Pesce gives his team a sure thing from the back end. He makes a good first pass and has stick skills.”
And yes, there are flattering comparisons to NHL players. More than one site invokes the name of Torey Krug, a free-agent defenseman out of Michigan State who’s had an impact on the Boston Bruins’ playoff run, which only fuels Pesce’s determination to look the other way.
The longtime dream is not yet a reality.
“I don’t focus on all of that stuff,” said Pesce, a rising sophomore at the University of New Hampshire. “My ultimate goal is to play in the NHL. … The praise is nice, but I’m not a professional hockey player yet.”
No matter what happens next Sunday at the Prudential Center, he’s likely to return to UNH.
Pesce showed up on campus a year ahead of schedule after spending last summer rehabbing a shoulder injury that required surgery. There was a rare opportunity for a freshman to step right into the lineup, and he took full advantage.
“The adjustment was tough at first,” said Pesce, who starred for two seasons in high school with Sleepy Hollow/Irvington and played for the North Jersey Avalanche before moving up to the Jersey Hitmen. “It’s a faster game in college, a lot more physical, but like anything else, you get used to it over time.”
Pesce got regular shifts and was part of the Wildcats’ penalty kill. He appeared in 38 games, finishing with a goal and five assists.
“He stepped right in and played at the Division I level very, very well,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile, who sees an even bigger role on the horizon. “Brett is a guy who can play on the power play. He’s a very skilled player who sees the ice very well. He concentrated this year on just being a solid defenseman, but he’s got offensive skills, and we’ll see more of that from him next season, no doubt.”
Pesce lit up scoreboards in high school and travel hockey, but did not have any qualms about curtailing his time with the puck.
“I consider myself a shutdown defenseman,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity, I can join the rush and create. But I obviously couldn’t jump in here and be offensive-minded like I was before, so I focused all year on the defensive end.”
And the size issue?
Pesce is 6-foot-3 and currently weighs in at 190 pounds, give or take. He’s made protein shakes a big part of his routine.
“He will develop and get thicker,” Umile said. “You’d never know size was an issue by the way Brett plays. He is very aggressive and handles himself out there. He fills out a uniform well, so it’s not a concern for us.”
Pesce was ranked 40th by Central Scouting on the final list of North American skaters. He’s got a few games with USA Hockey on his résumé, and reportedly helped improve his standing with a good showing at last month’s draft combine in Toronto.
That was a new experience.
“With all of the interviews and the physical testing, it was hard,” Pesce said. “It was an honor to be invited, though. The interviews were pretty standard; you talk a lot about yourself, which kind of seemed excessive.”
After finishing up summer-course work at UNH, his summer will be filled with personal training sessions and ice time with old friends in New Jersey. There will be a family outing next week in Newark, too.
“I’m definitely excited for this,” Pesce said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that my family and I are really looking forward to.”