Sheldon Rempal was one of the AHL’s hottest commodities in the first half of the season.
He scored at over a point-per-game pace, earned a pair of NHL callups, was named as the AHL Rookie of the Month for November and selected as an AHL All-Star.
Not a bad resume for an undrafted free agent signing playing at the professional level for the first time. Rempal showcased the dynamic, offensive ability that came as advertised.
Silky Smooth, Remps.
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) October 16, 2018
Then came the wall.
The Clarkson University product fell victim to what can be dubbed as the “college wall”, slowing down in what is uncharted waters in the second half of the season. Collegiate players play 30-40 games in a season (Rempal played in 39 during each of his two NCAA seasons), which is nearly doubled at the professional level. Rempal finished the season with just ten points (4-6-10) from his final 27 games played and spent time as a healthy scratch down the stretch, in the midst of on a ten-game scoreless drought to conclude the season.
Ontario Head Coach Mike Stothers spoke multiple times about the speed, dynamic skill and playmaking ability that Rempal brings to the ice, but noted that the forward may need to adapt his game a bit as he progresses into a more evolved professional player.
“I think this was a good first year for Remps, to experience that,” Stothers said. “He had a taste of some success, which is great. He had a little bit of adversity, in the sense that the points weren’t coming as easy for him in the second half and I think it’s a matter of altering his game a little bit. The things he was able to do and get away with in college were great to get him to this point, but to take him further, he might have to change or alter the way he plays the game and not take on so much 1-on-1 contact and use his skating ability and his flash and dash with his skill, maybe work more give-and-go’s, and stuff like that.”
Rempal was candid in the toll that the professional schedule took on him after the season, pointing out that the extra games and overall schedule begins to wear you out more than you might realize. He added that the upcoming summer is a big one for himself to be prepared to handle that workload better as a sophomore.
“After I was used to playing 30-40 games, where here it’s basically doubled and you’re playing every other day it feels like, plus obviously the guys are bigger and stronger,” Rempal said. “Those extra games start to wear on you a little bit more, even though you might not feel it at times, it is creeping in on you and fatigue becomes a factor. Now, I know what to do in the offseason to help avoid some of the roadblocks I hit this year and come back stronger.”
While he noted the fatigue factor, Rempal still was nonetheless unhappy with how his season ended. The rookie forward set his first-half performance as the marker for success and was frustrated down the stretch when he wasn’t able to produce at that same level.
Let’s not let the ending define his entire season, however. Rempal still finished as one of just 20 rookies leaguewide with 40 or more points in their first AHL season and he led the Reign in scoring by a first-year player, while finishing fourth on the team overall.
At his best, Rempal was a forward that drove the play offensively, posting several multi-point nights with key goals and game-changing playmaking ability. One of the keys moving forward for him is contributing in different ways, especially in games or stretches when the points aren’t there.
“Definitely, I’m going to be leaving here a little bit salty, with the way things played out in the last little stretch,” Rempal said. “I did start well and that’s where I set the bar and that’s where I want to be all the time. I just have to go through that learning curve of it might not go in every single night and you have to find other ways to help the team and come to the rink with a positive attitude every day and make sure that consistency is there. I think that’ll be a key thing going forward.”
Rempal sees the summer to come as a key moment for his development. He knows he needs to get faster and stronger as he heads into his second professional season and feels that improving in both of those areas can help him to hold up throughout the course of a lengthy campaign, as well as continue to improve his game in the new era of the way hockey is now played, with the heavier emphasis on speed and playing fast.
The Calgary native skated in seven NHL games during his rookie season, a testament to the success that he experienced in the first half of the season. A third recall did not present itself in the second half of the season, and Rempal feels that how things shook out down the stretch will serve as motivation for his summer of training.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “It’s going to be salty for a little bit here, I’m obviously not happy with how things finished out for myself and team wise, so I’m definitely going to use it as motivation for next season.”
Rempal enters the summer coming off of his entry-level contract as a restricted free agent. The 23-year-old believes that with a summer of proper training, while also putting a focus on proper nutrition, he can challenge for an NHL roster spot come September.
“You have to pay your dues, you have to learn a lot, it’s hard for a young kid to come in right away and know everything and be so comfortable,” he said. “I think coming back next year, I’ll be familiar with all of the systems, all of the guys and I’m definitely going to be making a push for that roster spot next year.”