Joseph Blandisi hopes he can find the right blend with Penguins
Is it Joe or Joseph?
“Joe is fine.”
For Joe Blandisi — listed as “Joseph” on all of the NHL’s and Penguins’ official guides as well as websites — the formality of his first name doesn’t define him.
The nomenclature which really explains who he is, is his nickname.
“I remember when he came over last year, he said that’s what everybody called him,” forward Teddy Blueger said. “He gets in dirty areas. He gets in guys’ faces. He’s hard to play against.
“That nickname fits him well.”
“I’ve had it for a while now,” said Blandisi, who the Penguins acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 17. “It’s somewhat similar to Blandisi. But I think just the way I play on the ice — I like mix things up a little bit — ‘Blender’ is pretty fitting for me.”
Through two games since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday, Blandisi has fit in well on the Penguins’ fourth line between fellow call-ups Adam Johnson and Sam Lafferty. In two games, Blandisi has two points, including the winning goal in Saturday’s 7-4 road win against the Minnesota Wild.
Johnson chased down a dump-in behind the Wild’s net and fed a pass to Blandisi, who pulled away from a backcheck from Wild forward Luke Kunin and jabbed in a forehand shot from the right of the crease.
It was his first NHL goal since March 21, 2017, when he scored with the New Jersey Devils.
“It’s been hard,” said Blandisi, a sixth-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2012. “There’s lots of ups and downs. If you look at my list of transactions, it’s not the easiest road to get here. Every time I get sent down, there’s more motivation to get back up and prove people wrong. That goal is definitely a big one for me, and hopefully I can get on a roll.”
Whatever direction Blandisi takes, he usually does it with speed. Much like his goal Saturday, his assist Sunday was generated in part because of his skating.
Chipping a puck up the left wing, Blandisi recovered it and fired a wrister that deflected behind the net. The puck caromed off the end boards to the right of the net, where Lafferty banged in the rebound.
“That’s what we tell our defensemen when we’re out there: We’d rather them put us in footraces,” Blandisi said. (Kris Letang) was able to put me in a footrace there. I got to the puck first. I was able to get a shot off, not where I wanted it to go, but it ended up working out in the end.”
“Just even over the last five to 10 years, I’ve noticed the league is trending to a faster direction,” Blandisi said. “They’re starting to weed out the bigger guys that can’t move. Now, it’s all speed. You see a lot of young guys having success in this league. That’s a pretty good thing seeing as I’m a pretty good skater.”
In addition to being quick as a hiccup, Blandisi is about as annoying as one, too. Against the Wild, he drew the ire of Wild forward Marcus Foligno and defenseman Carson Soucy during a scrum in the second period.
“We’ve seen that quite a while with ‘Blender,’ ” said Lafferty, who spent most of last season with Blandisi after he was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton following the trade with Anaheim. “He mixes it up and he plays a hard, fast game. He’s hard to play against.”
The Penguins have had their fair share of those types of players over the years, such as Bryan Watson, Paul Baxter, Gary Rissling, Matthew Barnaby, Jarkko Ruutu, Matt Cooke and Steve Downie. They were almost strictly defined by their ability to agitate. But not since the 18-game tenure of Bobby Farnham during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons have the Penguins regularly deployed a player who did that almost exclusively.
That doesn’t mean it’s a characteristic coach Mike Sullivan doesn’t have a use for.
“It’s still prevalant, for sure,” Sullivan said. “You can point to a number of guys around the league that have that attribute. Joseph does tend to have that attribute. He tends to get under people’s skin. That’s part of what makes him the player that he is.”
Said Blandisi: “I actually think we have two really good guys that do it in here that I’m actually trying to learn off of. You get (forwards Brandon Tanev and Patric Hornqvist), they’ve been making a career off being a pest to the other team and drawing penalties and things like that. The first couple games I’ve played, Tanev has drawn (a couple of) penalties just by being that agitator.
“There’s definitely a place in the game for that. It’s definitely useful to any team if you can get your guys on the power play.”
Blandisi appeared in six NHL games with the Penguins after the trade last season, then was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He had no points and seven shots during that tenure and wasn’t nearly as effective then as he has in two games this season.
“For me, it’s just being comfortable, ” Blandisi said. “Knowing everybody that’s around you, the staff and teammates. You can develop a relationship with them. That’s something that’s pretty important to me, to be a good teammate and be a part of the dressing room. Once I feel comfortable in that role, it will translate on the ice, for sure.”
Recalled last week because of the injuries among the forwards, particularly at center, Blandisi wants to prove there is a place for him on the NHL roster. Despite the organization’s depth at center, he opted to re-sign with the Penguins on a one-year, two-way contract because he feels there are opportunities to develop in ways that can’t be illustrated on a lineup sheet.
“The depth isn’t something that really bothered me,” he said. “Just being around these guys and the talent that’s around here and the type of professionals that (are) in here, it’s an experience that you won’t get on a lot of other teams.
“If I can just soak in everything I can, learn as much as I can from this group of core guys and even the staff here … Lots of guys have Stanley Cup (rings) in here, so it’s definitely something I can learn off of and bring into my future.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .