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Pirri finding stability with Golden Knights

Forward set to contend for roster spot after signing two-year contract

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Brandon Pirri believes he has found his place in the NHL.

The 28-year-old forward signed a two-year, $1.55 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 1 after agreeing to one-year deals the past two seasons with Vegas.

"It was opportunity," Pirri said after the Pro Am for TAM charity game at Fifth Third Arena on Friday. "The decision going back there was, I want to play in the NHL, I want to have that opportunity and having the familiarity with the guys, especially how deep the three lines are. They're all really good. The opportunity is there on any of those lines."

Last season, the Golden Knights (43-32-7) finished third in the Pacific Division to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the Western Conference First Round after losing the 2018 Stanley Cup Final to the Washington Capitals in their inaugural season. They've had little turnover this offseason, which Pirri said should be beneficial. 

"Expectations are high," he said. "Guys have chemistry so there's not going to be a gelling period. It's just, 'let's go to work.'"

The new contract provides some stability for Pirri, who has 119 points (72 goals, 47 assists) in 259 NHL games and played for three teams the two seasons prior to first signing with the Golden Knights on Oct. 4, 2017. He has played for five teams in his NHL career: the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers and Golden Knights.

Last season he had 18 points (12 goals, six assists) in 31 games for the Golden Knights and 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 29 games with Chicago of the American Hockey League.

In 2017-18, Pirri regained his confidence and set the stage for his strong play last season with 52 points (29 goals, 23 assists) in 57 AHL games.

Video: VGK@CGY: Pirri goes top shelf on Rittich

"I think being in New York, it wasn't opportunity-wise the right fit for me," said Pirri, who had 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 60 games with the Rangers in 2016-17. "I was fortunate to play there and it's a fantastic city and organization, but it wasn't the right fit for me. With the [Chicago] Wolves the next year I got back to playing that offensive game, having confidence, being put in positions to succeed and it just kind of snowballed."

Pirri knows about having offensive success. He scored an NHL career-high 22 goals in 49 games for the Panthers in 2014-15 with Gerard Gallant -- now coach of the Golden Knights -- as coach.

"He's honest," Pirri said of Gallant. "He's going to tell you exactly what he wants you to do, and as a player that's what you want. If you don't do it, he's going to tell you you're not doing it and you're not going to play, which is fine. But it's black and white. I'm a grown man. If I don't do it, I'll sit myself down. I understand that. For a coach to be honest, I think that's why players like playing for him so much. He likes to have fun, he jokes around during practice, but when it's time to work, it's time to work."

Pirri spends his summers in Chicago, where he does on-ice work with Brian Keane of Prodigy Hockey. His scoring ability has long been a strength and he and Keane continue to work on that. But Pirri is also working on his defensive play.

"We want to allow him to be able to utilize his shot as much as possible," Keane said. "Some of it is continuing to be really good away from puck and getting to spots where he can be an option, and then also creating his own shot with his possession, which means holding onto the puck a little bit longer and creating space for himself to get that shot off.

"[Defense] is a whole other skill set of anticipation, of reads, and I think he's really spent some time on it," Keane said. "He's studied film and is just trying to be better within the system he's in and then, you know, just strip pucks better and in those 1-on-1 defensive situations, he'll make more plays."

Pirri is also in a good place mentally, which he credits to parenthood -- he and his wife Elyse have a 1 ½-year-old son Luca. He's struck a healthy balance between home and work, and it's benefitted his game.

"When my son was born in Chicago, it was just like, you know what, I get to play a game and at the end of the day, I leave it at the rink," said Pirri, who also no longer takes part in social media.

"It's not so much for myself, but I'm trying to be the best person and player I can be and help the Vegas Golden Knights. I'm fortunate they believe in me and I want to pay them back for investing in me."

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