CHICAGO -- Prospects of the Chicago Blackhawks never want to hear coach Joel Quenneville assess their play in a game as "just OK."
That's Quenneville's nice way of saying they weren't good enough in one or more aspects of the game.
Yet, that's how 20-year old Brandon Pirri's most recent game with the Hawks was described by Quenneville after Monday's 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. One game earlier, against the Montreal Canadiens before Christmas, Quenneville raved about the improvements Pirri had made at Rockford of the American Hockey League -- especially defensively.
Is Pirri's play in three games this season (2 assists) merely evidence of the turbulent nature of trying to find your way in the League as a rookie?
"Absolutely," Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "That's part of the process for young guys. He's still 20 years old and working his way here and trying to find a place and a niche. I think technically he's improved, but I think that's probably the learning curve to be expected of a young guy."
Often, getting a "just OK" assessment from Quenneville means a prospect is likely headed back to the minors very soon. In Pirri's case, the lingering upper-body injury of fellow rookie center Marcus Kruger (believed to be a concussion) has given him another chance to center the Hawks' second line between stars Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
Pirri knows it's a golden opportunity that not a lot of young centers get this early in their career.
"You don't want to waste it, because you're only up here as long as you're playing well," he said. "So, I'm just trying to come to each game and play well just so I can stay up here. I’ve got to create space for (Sharp and Hossa). It’s about giving skill guys like them opportunities and also still play my game of puck possession and speed.”
As for that inherent pressure to play well in order to stay, Pirri said there's only one good way to deal with it.
"You try not to think about it, because then you're worried about stuff other than the game," he said. "I've got a job to do and I know that it's the same for everyone else. If you're not playing well, you're going to be switched up and down the lineup or not in the lineup. That's part of being a pro."
If it sounds like Pirri is sounding more comfortable dealing with life in the NHL -- on and off the ice -- it's because he is. One of the things he's worked on down in Rockford was developing confidence in his own ability to make plays at a high level.
"It's just confidence and playing my game, not being timid," Pirri said. "Down in Rockford, my confidence is real high and I'm playing good hockey down there. I'm just trying to bring that same game up here."