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Payerl's physicality could earn spot with Penguins

Saturday, 07.20.2013 / 12:26 PM / Prospects

By Chris Adamski - NHL.com Correspondent

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Payerl's physicality could earn spot with Penguins
Adam Payerl is the biggest player under contract to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He hopes to use that size and his increased speed to earn a roster spot this fall.

PITTSBURGH -- One by one, mostly in an unsolicited fashion, high-ranking members of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization sung the praises of center Adam Payerl.

A relative unknown a year ago after going undrafted and exhausting his junior eligibility, Payerl is about six months removed from playing in the ECHL. His meteoric rise through the organizational depth chart has Payerl on the cusp of competing for an NHL roster spot this fall.

"He's a guy you believe could fill a role in the bottom of your NHL lineup," assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said.

"He's one of our guys who has taken the biggest steps ... something we can use [in Pittsburgh]," Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin said.

"He can compete for an opportunity to play in Pittsburgh right now," said John Hynes, coach of the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

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"Don't forget that name," Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant Alain Nasreddine said. "because you're going to see him at some point in the NHL."

To say Payerl was the breakout star at Penguins development camp wouldn't be accurate -- he had already turned the heads in the organization late in the AHL season. Payerl just seemed like a revelation because Penguins coaches and scouts finally went public with their effusive acclaim for the 6-foot-3  22-year-old.

"With [Hynes] and Nasreddine and Bill Guerin always in Wilkes-Barre, they're confident in me and confident in my size," Payerl said.

"They've definitely instilled confidence in me."

Payerl had three goals and seven assists in 44 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, then two goals and an assist in 15 Calder Cup Playoff games. He's not lacking in touch: He had 22 goals during his final season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Belleville Bulls. But there's no questioning that Payerl's size is what makes him so appealing as a possible NHL player.

"Adam Payerl, you can tell, looks like he's in great shape," Guerin said. "Six-three, 225, and has about 8 percent body fat. And he's moving really well."

Guerin pointed out that the combination of Payerl's size and relative speed make him a perfect fit for the Penguins' forechecking system. He's a player who can get in and make things difficult on opposing defensemen trying to retrieve pucks.

Payerl added strength during the past year or two. More important is that he's learned to maximize his size to its fullest potential.

"Just probably overall strength and confidence has improved," Payerl said. "I feel fast out there, and I just want to keep using my size to my advantage.

"I kind of got more confident as the [AHL] season went on and I kind of had a good playoff run at the end there. I definitely have had a very short offseason but [I'm] trying to maximize it as much as I can. I feel a lot more confident than I was last year at this time and I think I'm going to try to keep building off that."

The Penguins are loaded with prospects on defense but are thin across at forward. Combine that with the fact four forwards who were regulars during the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke -- have moved on, and it's obvious there are a couple of jobs open for the taking during training camp.

The element Payerl could provide is something the Penguins lack. Payerl weighs more than any Pittsburgh player signed to an NHL contract. No forward on the Penguins roster is taller. Judging by the subjective eye test, none is built as solidly as Payerl.

"Adam is a guy that if you look at last year, he had a constant improvement throughout the year," Nasreddine said. "When he started the year, he knew his role but he didn't really play it on a consistent basis. By the end of the year he was one of our better players up front, more consistent for sure.

"For him, it's pretty easy: He's got to play a big game, he's got to play a strong game, he's got to play heavy down low, he's got to make it tough for the other defensemen. At 222 [pounds] and 8 percent body fat?"

Payerl might be the most physically intimidating player in the Penguins' system, but he doesn't want to be known merely as a brawler. The Penguins appear to lack a true enforcer-type to protect the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Payerl said he will fight if necessary; he had 81 penalty minutes in his 63 regular-season and postseason appearances last season, and according to hockeyfights.com, that included seven fighting majors.

But Payerl said fighting isn't the only part of his game.

"I definitely see myself as a power forward kind of guy, bring a physical element to my game every night," Payerl said. "I think I can chip in in different areas as well ... be an offensive threat and play well in my D zone."

Payerl said it wasn't until the past couple of years that he finally was able to shed his inner "skill guy" to embrace a game centered more around size. But that emphasis on a power game -- to say nothing of the extra pounds -- haven't detracted from Payerl's skating. Part of the reason Penguins coaches are so enamored with Payerl is his speed for a player of his size.

"He's big, but he can skate, he can shoot the puck, he bangs and he is smart," Fitzgerald said.

Payerl spent his summers playing lacrosse all the way up until last year. Passed over in multiple drafts, unable to stick with the Columbus Blue Jackets after being invited to their training camp in 2011, and demoted to the ECHL as recently as January, Payerl has come a long way in a short period of time. He's on the cusp of an opportunity to earn an NHL roster spot.

"There might be spots there, but for me it's just I'm going to try to play my game and if the coaches see a spot for me that fits there, that would be unbelievable," Payerl said. "But I'm just going to try to keep getting better as much as I can."

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