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Aston-Reese on track to future success with Penguins

Undrafted forward prospect aims to follow paths of Guentzel, Sheary to NHL

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Zachary Aston-Reese has been compared to forwards Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary.

Aston-Reese, 22, signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Penguins on March 14 after completing his collegiate career at Northeastern. That has him on a similar trajectory to Guentzel and Sheary, who each signed an entry-level contract with Pittsburgh after playing in college and now play wing on Sidney Crosby's line.

Guentzel, who attended the University of Nebraska-Omaha, capped his rookie season by winning the Stanley Cup in June and led the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 13 goals. Sheary has won the Cup in each of his first two NHL seasons.

Aston-Reese, who grew up in New York City, isn't prepared to declare he'll have the immediate impact of Guentzel or Sheary, who attended the University of Massachusetts. That said, he wouldn't mind following their lead.

 

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"That's what I'm working for," Aston-Reese said during Penguins development camp. "It's going to be my goal coming in next year and trying to earn a spot on the team."

Aston-Reese led the NCAA last season with 31 goals and tied for the lead with 63 points in 38 games as a senior at Northeastern. After signing with the Penguins, he had eight points (three goals, five assists) in 10 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Video: Aston-Reese speaks after practice

"I just learned that the closer you make it to the NHL, the harder it gets and the more work you have to put in," Aston-Reese said of taking the step from collegiate hockey to the AHL. "It was fun. The whole team down there was great. … The biggest [difference between college and professional hockey] was that guys are a lot stronger. Guys are older and they've been doing this for years."

That knowledge seemed to do Aston-Reese some good. He was one of the standout young players throughout the camp, along with forward prospect Daniel Sprong. General manager Jim Rutherford said he's looking forward to seeing how the two perform during training camp in September.

"Aston-Reese and Sprong are both tracking very well," Rutherford said. "I think they're going to have a real impressive camp, which will put themselves in the conversation with where they should start the season. … We'll see how it goes. Injuries will dictate how much of a chance they'll have at the big camp and, of course, their play."

In the past, Rutherford compared Aston-Reese to Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist, who is known for playing a physical game, particularly around the opponent's crease. However, Aston-Reese said he's been compared more often to former Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz, who signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 1.

"He was a college free agent too and kind of a goal-scorer his last couple of years in college," Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, who played at Ferris State. "He made a career for himself just playing with good guys and getting the puck in the net."

"Zach, he's got to work maybe on his first three or four steps, but he's a man," Penguins assistant coach Mark Recchi said. "He's ready. He's a big strong guy. A very high-character guy who's going to be a good Penguin at some point."

Aston-Reese (6-foot, 204 pounds) wants "some point" to come sooner rather than later.

"I kind of set my own goals," he said, "and that's for me to come in and just prove that I belong up here."

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