Time for Tom Sestito to prove his NHL mettle
Canucks new winger a waiver-wire pickup, and plays with one speed — full throttle
BY BEN KUZMA, THE PROVINCE MARCH 3, 2013
Tom Sestito, here with the Columbus Blue Jackets, redirects a shot past goalie Roberto Luongo for his first NHL career goal during a game in December 2010 at Rogers Arena. The two are now teammates, as Sestito was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers off of waivers.
Tom Sestito has been called a lot of things. Some of them are flattering. Some aren't.
As a waiver-wire claim after the Vancouver Canucks lost Aaron Volpatti to the Washington Capitals in the same process Thursday, the hulking winger has a hard head and soft hands — he scored his first two NHL goals against Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider — but his long-term effectiveness as a fourth-line checker, grinder and fighter will be measured in the short term. The 6-foot-5, 228 pound forward knows he can't be a gentle giant in the Canucks' ongoing fourth-line experiments with Steve Pinizzotto honing his game with the Chicago Wolves.
Sestito made the right first impression Saturday.
After levelling Colin Fraser with a heavy shoulder check in the neutral zone that dropped the Los Angeles Kings centre, he had to answer a challenge from Jordan Nolan. Sestito got in the first four punches — popping the lid off the Kings winger — and also absorbed four punches. The fight not only got Sestito going, it energized his new teammates in a 5-2 victory at Rogers Arena. Sestito also nearly scored early in the third period and forced Jonathan Quick to make a shoulder save.
"You don't want to wait around to get into the game," said Sestito, who finished with three hits in 7:03 on a line with Jordan Schroeder and Dale Weise. "It was good to get that first fight out of the way and the first game out of the way and go from there. After the hit, I just looked around to see if anybody was coming and I was expecting somebody. I wasn't looking for a fight, but that's my game.
"It was great. An unbelievable atmosphere and the fans were great."
So was Sestito.
"He was physical when he had the opportunity and had a good scrap," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "He seemed to be comfortable with the puck and I think we've got some elements to work with there."
That doesn't surprise Scott Arniel. He enjoyed coaching Sestito in Columbus and hated coaching against him in the AHL and that says something. In this abnormal NHL season, waiver-wire claims have become the norm as teams wrestle with compacted schedules and expanded injury lists. Fourth lines are a factor, not an afterthought, because Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago proved as the last three Stanley Cup champions how effective the right fourth line can be. In that respect, Sestito took a step in the right direction.
"That's the one thing with Tommy — if anything you've got to calm him down and don't let him get too rattled," said Arniel, who now guides the Wolves. "He's one guy you don't have to wire up. He's not afraid and if he recognizes that fine line between taking a bad penalty or going after somebody, he can be a real solid player."
The book on Sesito includes 26 fights at the NHL level — including one against Zack Kassian last season just 11 days before the winger was traded from Buffalo to Vancouver — and an OHL resume with Plymouth that included a 42 goals and 135 penalty minutes in 2006-07 with linemate James Neal and a Memorial Cup semi-final appearance at the Pacific Coliseum. That came a year after he was selected by the Blue Jackets in the third round of the draft. There was also the growth spurt from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-3 the year before junior and the constant comparison to his older brother, Tim, who plays in the New Jersey system.
However, above all, there's the chance to expand a 35-game NHL career with Columbus, Philadelphia and Vancouver that includes four goals — two this season — to go with seven assists and 164 penalty minutes. He knows that. Just ask him about the waiver-wire claim.
"I was ecstatic," sid the 25-year-old Rome, N.Y native. "I was surprised because I had heard rumours about Edmonton and I've been here a couple of times and it's a great city."
Sestito can't let a recent charley horse injury slow his approach, even though he hasn't played in a couple of weeks. After all, Calgary has recalled Brian McGratton and Sestito may have to take on the Flames enforcer Sunday in the Saddledome.
"You've just got to get out there and it doesn't matter who I play, I play the same way with hitting bodies and fighting if I have to," added Sestito. "And I love playing in the away rinks because the fans get on you and under your skin and that's good to hear. I've got one speed and I go full all the time."
Had the Canucks known Ryan Kesler's right foot was broken before they placed Volpatti on waivers — an awkward two-hour window — then Sestito probably wouldn't even be here. The Canucks were hoping Volpatti would clear waivers and develop his limited game with more ice time in the AHL. And knowing Pinizzotto will eventually play his first NHL game because Volpatti was placed on waivers to activate Pinizzotto from injury reserve, there were enough fourth-liners in the fold.
"We liked what he (Volpatti) did here, but you need to be able to kill penalties and he didn't develop last year because he was hurt for the entire season," said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. "And we still want to have a player like that, so we selected Tom."