After exploding offensively in the second half of the 2014-15 season, Brandon Pirri overcame injuries to finish the year with 22 goals. Newly engaged, Pirri has enjoyed his summer, but is itching to get back to South Florida and pick up where he left off. FloridaPanthers.com recently sat down and spoke with Pirri about the upcoming season, Reilly Smith and more.
How has your summer been?
It’s been good. It’s gone by really quick. It’s an exciting time because it ended off really strong, so it’s easier to get back to work. Summer has flown by, I’m excited to get back to Florida.
Last season, going from working to get into the lineup to scoring 19 goals in the last 30 games, how do you feel about your progression as a player last season?
My whole career, I’m going into my sixth year pro…so it’s always kind of been a grind, I’ve had to prove myself a lot. Going into this [past] year, I knew I had an opportunity for a spot. There were injuries, so there were ups and downs, but I think when I finally got an opportunity and a clear role on the team, I did a great job. Obviously, the coaching staff put me in that really good position to succeed. I was lucky. There was a lot of hard work that went into it that helped me produce for the team.
This offseason, what areas of your game are you working on to come back at a higher level next season?
I think just getting stronger and faster, but also doing the right things so that I don’t put myself in a position to have injuries, like I did last year. That was frustrating, missing a lot of time. Being in the best shape I’ve ever been physically and mentally so that when I come in this year there’s nothing that can get in my way to help the team succeed.
What’s your confidence level like right now going into this season, now knowing that you are capable of contributing in the NHL?
The confidence is there, the confidence in myself has never wavered. It’s more so…I’m still hungry. I know that being a guy that was trying to make the team, whether it was Chicago or Florida, or trying to get in the lineup, there’s always someone trying to take your spot. For me it’s now that I do have a spot, I have to work that much harder to keep the spot and help the team succeed, because when the team succeeds, all of the guys in the lineup succeed.
Last year, bringing Jaromir Jagr into the fold, there was a game against Buffalo when he got in your ear a bit and you wound up scoring two goals. What has Jagr brought to the table for someone like you?
I think just his confidence…he always talked about in the locker room how our team is so good.That we have so much talent and we just have to believe that we are meant to win. We are supposed to. If we get a couple of wins here and there that’s not acceptable. I believe, and I think everyone in that locker room does, that we can be a really good team. I think believing in that and visualizing that us winning and going deep into the playoffs is something that we should do. It wouldn’t be a surprise, we have enough talent,we have a lot of guys who have won before that can help the younger guys, but also the younger guys believe in ourselves that Dale and Coach Gallant put us in the place to work hard and carry the load.
This offseason, the Panthers acquired Reilly Smith from the Boston Bruins. Playing together as kids what was your reaction to Smith joining the team?
Me and him grew up playing on the same line for about five or six years. That was pretty cool…them trading away Jimmy [Hayes], who was one of my best buds on the team was tough, but it’s funny how it worked out, getting one of my best buddies growing up. I think he’s going to do really well.
I talked to Reilly and Reilly’s really pumped about getting down here. I’m going to head down there early because I have a place and he’s going to stay with me so we can get him comfortable in Florida.
What are your expectations for yourself next season?
For me, any way I can help the team be a really solid team, make the playoffs and go deep. Putting a stat line out there doesn’t mean anything. I think just contributing the way that I can, being an offensive threat, being consistent every day, helping my team, whatever I can do. Whatever my role is on the team, that’s what I’m going to do and I’m prepared to do. It’s a really exciting time for me to be a part of the Panthers family so I’m just really excited to get back to Florida.