Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
Dec 3, 2007, 4:41 PM EST
By now, every hockey fan in the Silicon Valley either has seen or knows about the car. Yup, we’re talking about that old, beat-up, rented Toyota Corolla that San Jose Sharks rookies Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell were toiling around town with.
So much for the lavish lifestyle of a professional athlete, eh?
“Hey, I got my own car now,” Setoguchi, a 6-foot, 205-pound right wing, told NHL.com. “My dad drove my car down here. It’s a 2006 Chrysler 300C.”
That’s a little better. Goal scorers, after all, always should be stylin’.
And if there’s one thing Setoguchi has proven so far in his brief, 13-game NHL career it’s that he is, in fact, quite the goal scorer. So much so that this rookie from Taber, Alberta, now finds his name among the candidates for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Since debuting with two goals in a 4-2 win at the Dallas Stars on Oct. 29, Setoguchi has pumped in five more and added an assist. The Sharks, meanwhile, went 6-2-1 in Setoguchi’s first nine games before losing three straight, all by one goal – including two in a shootout – prior to Friday’s 3-2 win over Colorado.
“He has great speed and a really, really heavy shot. For goal scorers I find most have a heavy shot, and for a 20-year-old kid that is unique,” said Joe Thornton, who centers San Jose’s top line, with Setoguchi on his right. “He just has a knack for the net and a great release. I do think he’ll be a 40- or 50-goal scorer in this League, for sure. He’s close. He should probably score 30 this year. For a young kid to score 30, that’s quite an accomplishment, but I really believe he has it in him.”
Setoguchi doesn’t need anyone telling him to stay grounded. He’s been through enough adversity over his short career to understand any moment of fame, any feeling of self-importance and accomplishment, can be quite fleeting.
This, after all, is the same player who was on the cusp of making the Sharks’ roster only three months after being the eighth overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He subsequently was returned to Saskatoon of the WHL.
“It’s not lip service,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “Devin was very, very close to making the team, but we made the decision that he was 18 and going back to junior would be good for him. And, in fact, it was.”
Setoguchi spent two more seasons in the WHL, last year with the Prince George Cougars after missing Sharks training camp with a knee injury, before entering camp this past September.
Fresh off of scoring 72 goals in 120 WHL games since being drafted, Setoguchi, who turns 21 on New Year’s Day, was primed to make the big club.
He was earning his spot… until turning his ankle in the final preseason game.
“I had been waiting 15 years for that night and to get hurt was definitely disappointing,” Setoguchi said. “But it makes you want it more. I got myself back in shape and I got my chance.”
It took close to a month before Setoguchi finally made his long-awaited and long-anticipated NHL debut, but oh, how he stole the show!
He scored the game-tying goal and the game-winning goal within a 2:34 span midway through the third period in his debut against Dallas.
Of course, both goals came via pretty, behind-the-net passes from Thornton.
“It was a little bit surreal that it was all thrown into one game,” Setoguchi said. “After that night I kind of just relaxed and reflected on what had happened. I’m not going to lie, it was a great feeling, but it was just one game.”
That one game, though, gave the Sharks’ top line a new look.
Thornton, arguably the League’s best play-making center, has been teamed with Setoguchi ever since, and has assisted on six of Setoguchi’s seven goals. The rookie’s only other goal was unassisted.
“It’s been a very easy adjustment for me,” Thornton said. “I like playing with fast players who have the right shot with the one-timers, and it’s been very easy for me to play with him.”
“He’s a pretty confident kid, on the edge of cockiness, which is good and unique for a young player,” Thornton added. “He wants the puck. I like playing with players like this. Even though he’s a young player he’s going to tell you, ‘Hey, I was open there.’ ”
Setoguchi isn’t blind to the reasons for his success. He knows having Thornton as a linemate has made all the difference in his adjustment to the NHL.
In fact, he hinted that maybe the most difficult part of his transition to the NHL has been adjusting to Thornton and his otherworldly ability to find even the slightest slab of ice to pass the puck.
“You have to be ready at all times because he’ll find you,” Setoguchi said. “When you think he won’t, he’ll put the puck on your stick. My first two goals were great passes from behind the net. It wasn’t very hard for me to put them in the net.”
Having overcoming the initial challenge of earning his spot, Setoguchi now has to keep it, and to do that Wilson said he’ll have to impress in all phases of the game, including the penalty kill.
“He’s a gifted guy, but you know as well as I do that 10 or so games is not going to make a season,” Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov told NHL.com. “You can just see when a guy is a pure goal scorer, and that’s what he is. He’s just going to have to learn how to stay that way.”
Rule No. 1: No more Corollas.