Derek Nesbitt's role this season is similar to Josh Green's role last season.
Nesbitt, a 31-year-old veteran, has logged 330 American Hockey League games heading into the Oklahoma City Barons' two-game series Friday and Saturday night against the Chicago Wolves in the Cox Convention Center.
“Having a veteran point producer that probably is going to be here all year, those guys help steady the ship,” said Barons general manger Bill Scott. “They've seen it all before.”
Green was the Barons' thirty-something team captain a year ago, contributing leadership and occasional scoring. Nesbitt produces a little more offense. One of three alternate captains, Nesbitt has compiled 211 career AHL points, including 95 goals.
“He and Matthew Ford are sort of in the same boat,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “They're veteran AHL guys that add stability to the locker room. They can help younger guys adjust, be consistent voices.”
With Barons captain Anton Lander being recalled again Thursday by Edmonton, Nesbitt is the veteran anchor on the Barons' No. 2 forward line alongside Joel Broda and Andrew Miller. With Lander playing with the Oilers, Nesbitt is the Barons' pseudo captain.
“I have to help the young guys understand this is a developmental league, and there will be changes,” Nesbitt said. “This is such a young team. I tell them you can't get comfortable in this league; you work for the job you want, not the job you currently have.”
Nesbitt, 6-foot, 185-pounds, is hockey's version of a “Quad-A” baseball player, someone who plays well in Triple-A but lacks the overall skill set for the NHL.
“He's a proven 20-goal scorer in this league,” Nelson said. “I'll take 20 goals. Ten or 15 years ago, someone who scored 20 goals didn't seem like much, but it's quite a bit now. He was brought in to provide some offense for us.”
Nesbitt, who has eight points in the Barons' first 10 games, also excels in shootouts, an invaluable asset. Two years ago with Peoria (Ill.), Nesbitt was 7-for-7 on shootout chances. He's 1-for-1 for the Barons this season.
Nesbitt's value to an AHL playoff contender was apparent last season. Peoria, which was out of contention, traded Nesbitt in a late-season deal. He played in only one regular season game with Wilkes-Barre Scranton (Pa.) but had six assists in the Penguins' run to the Eastern Conference finals.
“You have to play the system,” Nesbitt said. “I've adjusted a lot of times in my career. If we play our system, are aggressive on the puck and the new guys buy in, we can be productive.”
Entering his ninth pro season, the Egmondville, Ontario, Canada, product has scored 451 professional points, including 181 goals, when you factor in 211 Double-A ECHL games, a league Nesbitt averaged more than a point a game.
Undrafted after four seasons at Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., Nesbitt is playing for his sixth AHL team.
The ultimate dream is to play in the NHL, which might never happen for Nesbitt.
“If you told me when I was 15 I'd be playing my 10th season of pro hockey, doing what you love to do as a job, I'd have been so excited,” Nesbitt said. “But it's a job. This isn't juniors. This isn't college. It's all on you. You have to work hard every day. Do that and you'll be successful and have fun.”