The Atlanta Gladiators hosted the Jacksonville Icemen on MLK Day, the second meeting between the two teams in the last nine days. The Icemen are second in the South division, fourth in the conference. The Gladiators… well they’re dead last in the division and conference, but they are second to last in the league, so you know, silver lining.
But the last time these two teams met, the Gladiators beat the Icemen 6-3. Milton, Mass native Nick Bligh stood out during the game with four goals in the first period- two at even strength, one short-handed, and one on the power play- and would make his presence felt again on January 21.
Bligh, a 26-year-old forward, played his college hockey at Dartmouth. His best season was his senior year with 10 goals for 18 points in 22 games. His career stat line reads like this: 96 games, 19 goals, 23 assists, for 42 points. Not overly impressive, but Bligh was honored as one of only 10 NCAA players, and the only ECAC player, listed on the 2012 Central Scouting preliminary list.
After a little digging, I found a 2011 scouting report from writer Kirk Luedeke that sums Bligh up as a good skater, shifty through traffic with great ice vision, great on face offs, and solid play in all three zones of the ice.
Throughout the game, Bligh looked to be a head above his peers, specifically in regard to his speed. Even another member of our party who was there, who is a casual hockey fan at best, mentioned how Bligh stood out with his skating compared to every other player. He is fast, not just on his skates, but in seeing the game as well. Cue that great ice vision.
Despite those traits, he was relatively quiet on MLK Day, minus getting his head nearly chopped off along the boards in the first period and taking a high-sticking penalty in the third. But Bligh showed his skill in the shootout, patiently avoiding a poke check by Icemen net minder, Mikhail Berdin, and scoring on a wide open net, giving the Gladiators the 2-1 victory for their fifth straight win.
In all seriousness, I’m not here to tout Bligh as the next big thing that 30-31 NHL teams got wrong. What I see is a player who has improved his stats each season, and a player that looked like he could take the next step up the hockey ladder.
With pending free agents, and some of those players needing to move up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, I think Bligh could be the exact kind of player the Baby Pens love having in their organization. The speed, the open ice play, the playmaking ability, that’s what drives the Penguins hockey engine.