It was all but guaranteed that Penguins prospect Kenny Agostino would be one of the 29 players named to the preliminary roster for the 2012 U.S. National Junior Team.
After all, Agostino absolutely starred at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp this August, finishing the week as Team USA’s leading scorer with 10 points (3G-7A) in six games.
But while that performance helped him get to this point, the Penguins’ fifth-round draft choice (140th overall) in 2010 has put it behind him and turned his sights to Team USA’s World Junior Championship tryout camp from Dec. 17-23.
Because right now, there’s nothing Agostino wants more than to make that final roster.
“It’s a huge honor just to be invited to this final camp,” Agostino, 19, said. “It just makes you that much more motivated to know you’re just one step away from making that team. It’s certainly a little surreal, but it really just wants to make you work that much harder to make that final team.”
After a successful freshman season at Yale University – where Agostino notched 11 goals and 25 points in 31 games as the Bulldogs came within one win of advancing to the 2011 Frozen Four – Agostino has settled into a larger role for his school this season.
He’s gone from being more of a third and fourth-line grinder to a player who’s relied on for offense, which will be key for Agostino next week at camp. Because much like you would expect from an Ivy League student-athlete, Agostino has done his homework on the type of player that U.S. head coach Dean Blais is looking for.
So while Agostino plans to utilize his strengths, which are his playmaking ability and on-ice vision, to make himself stand out, he’s also going to make sure Blais knows he’s willing to do whatever it takes to earn a spot on that final roster.
“I’ve been listening and reading up on some of coach Blais’ remarks post-tournament back in March, and it seems like they want guys that can play all different kinds of roles,” Agostino said.
“When you get down to these final guys, everybody is good. Everybody’s got skill. It’s really guys that can play any type of role and won’t mind being a hard worker or a grinder. That’s what I’ve got to bring to the deal.”
For a player who grew up a Devils fan in Flanders, N.J., and models his game after Minneapolis native Zach Parise, the chance to represent his country would mean everything to Agostino.
The opportunity to showcase himself on such a big stage would also be key for Agostino’s development. The tournament continues to get more exposure here in the United States, especially after the Americans scored a stunning 6-5 overtime victory over WJC superpower Canada in the 2010 championship game.
Team USA will be looking to get their third-straight medal this year after earning bronze in 2011, and Agostino wants badly to be a part of that.
“In the past few years, this tournament has definitely gotten bigger in America,” Agostino said. “That definitely makes you want to make it that much more. It really is the biggest stage you could play on if you’re not playing in the NHL, for my age. It’s a real special tournament and I just really hope I can be a part of it.”
It’s certainly going to be a tough challenge for Agostino when he departs for camp next week. But Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin, a Massachusetts native who represented the U.S. numerous times during his playing career, gave Agostino a solid piece of advice that he’ll take with him to camp.
“He congratulated me and just told me to play my game,” Agostino said. “I think that’s all you can do in a situation like this.
“It really is going to be an exciting time come next week when I fly out there. I’m just going to try and enjoy myself and make the most of it.”