NORTH SMITHFIELD, RI Garnet Exelby is right out of the veteran pro hockey defenseman handbook.
The 31-year-old has 408 games of NHL experience over seven seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and Toronto Maple Leafs, and established himself in Atlanta as a sturdy, tough blueliner with the ability to drop the gloves when theres a need for some hockey violence.
Hes seen and done everything at this point in his pro career, and that allows him to be a good veteran influence on a decidedly young P-Bruins defenseman corps in need of some graybeard tutelage. Exelby called that paying it forward after current Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins took him under his wing during the defensemans early NHL days in Atlanta.
I love it. Its a great way to see the other side of things. It wasnt that long ago that I had some great mentors and veteran guys that helped me when I was first breaking in, said Exelby. I really used that to my advantage when I was younger. Anything I can do to help I definitely will. Anything thats going to help the team is going to make us look better individually.
My first D partner in the NHL was Dallas Eakins and I played almost exclusively with him for two years. I just sponged up as much as he could tell me. I was very close with Brad McCrimmon, and Brad told me to stick close to Dallas and listen to what he said. It helped me a lot, so I anytime I can pay it forward with a tip or two Im going to do that.
But Exelby also hasnt been an NHL regular since registering 51 games for a bad Toronto Maple Leafs outfit in 2009-10, and has a deep hunger to get back to The Show after a couple of years in the American Hockey League. The 31-year-old knew that the Bruins were down a veteran defenseman when they didnt resign Greg Zanon in free agency, and that pushed him in the direction of Boston and a three-way battle with Aaron Johnson and rookie Dougie Hamilton for that sixth spot among the Bs blueline crew.
I know that a guy like me fits well with this organization, said Exelby. Last year I was in the Detroit Red Wings organization last year and that was exactly the opposite in regard to being a good fit. I know they lost one D-man to free agency, so there were some holes up there where they might need a veteran guy up in Boston.
Thats always a part of the decision-making, but Im always trying to get back to the NHL. Thats my No. 1 priority and No. 1 goal. Ive played most of my career and I just want another shot to get there again.
Clearly the 19-year-old Hamilton has the inside track given his first round cachet and the dominance hes shown at the junior hockey level, but that also leaves a potential extra defenseman role for Johnson who couldnt report to Providence after ending the season on an NHL roster with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Exelby. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder will happily play the role of veteran defenseman on an AHL team full of young talent, and then wait for a chance to show that hes still NHL-caliber when theres an opening in Boston.
It also doesnt hurt that his particular set of hockey skills meshes nicely with the blue collar mantra of the Bruins organization.
The physical part of the game is a big part of my game as well, said Exelby. The Bruins are a big, gritty team with a lot of tough, physical players. Thats exactly how I like to play and how Ive always played.
If that chance opens up for me in Boston to step and prove myself or re-prove myself I am willing and ready.
Meanwhile Exelby will wait out the NHL lockout like all the other members of the Providence Bruins roster and try make a good impression as the Big Bs brass is watching.