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By Sasha Kandrach / New York Islanders
Bode Wilde's start to his pro career took an unexpected turn over the summer. The 19-year-old defenseman had a tough break, literally, just before the start of training camp that sidelined him for over two months. Wilde suffered an ankle injury while participating in the two-mile run portion of the fitness testing with the Saginaw Spirit, his former OHL team, in August.
The injury cost Wilde a chance to participate in Islanders Training Camp and delayed the start to what is now his pro career. Frustrating as that may be, Wilde made the most of the circumstances and worked to prepare himself. After a long wait, Wilde made his AHL debut with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on November 16 at Laval.
"I definitely have some jitters about playing and jumping into the middle of everything and jumping up a level too," Wilde said prior to making his AHL debut. "There's nerves there. But I've been getting to sit-in on practices, getting to watch the games, just battling against some of these guys. I still feel like I've gotten a taste of the pro-life so far. I feel confident going into the season."
Wilde has wanted to take that next step in his career since about midway through his first and only season in the OHL. (The reason Wilde is AHL eligible at 19 is because he was drafted out of the USNTDP team, unlike fellow teen Noah Dobson, who was drafted out of Canadian juniors.)
"Right around Christmas of last year, I felt like there was more I could give and more to my game," Wilde said. "That's when everything started to click for me and when my game started to take over."
His actions proved he was ready. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound right-shot finished the season in Saginaw with 70 points (19G, 51A) through 62 games and helped the Spirit reach the third round of OHL Playoffs before dropping in Game 7 to the eventual OHL champion Guelph Storm.
"He's a big body that moves pretty well," Bridgeport Head Coach Brent Thompson said. "He's got good hands and can make a great first outlet pass. I'm excited to see him in there. We don't want to put him in a place where he's not going to succeed. You want to make sure his conditioning and his strength is in the right place before you actually get him into a game. It's a bit of a process, but he's working hard. He's doing everything we ask. He's got a good attitude."
Wilde has embraced the opportunity to soak up the day-to-day of being a pro hockey player before receiving the green light to hit the ice.
"I think when you jump up a level you realize how much you still have to learn," Wilde said. "No matter how good you felt prior to that. Just learning from those older guys and the coaching staff, I still have a long way to go."
Off the ice, there will be an adjustment process as well, as Wilde transitions to the responsibilities of living on his own. That said, Wilde is no stranger to living independently or with a billet family, another consideration why the jump to the AHL at just 19-years-old seemed so feasible.
"I'm used to it," Wilde said. "I've been living away from home since I was 12. I'm used to having to live in hotels on and off. I've had a lot of moments of independence over long periods of time where I've had to do that sort of thing. It is new because I've had to be in hotels for a shorter period of time, but not a full season. So, I guess that aspect is new."
With an abundance of youth around him in Bridgeport with Arnaud Durandeau (20), fellow 2018 draft pick Oliver Wahlstrom (19) and 2019-first round pick Simon Holmstrom (18), Wilde has pals to share the experience and trials of living independently while breaking into the pro ranks.
"It's nice to see the future of the Islanders with all of these young kids and all of their potential of where we can be and where we're going to be someday," Thompson said. "They're building that bond and chemistry. Both here, in the locker room, whether they're living together, or here at the rink. They're starting to build that. It's nice to see that they are going through this together."