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Bonino Looking to Bring Two-Way Game

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

About a year after being acquired by Vancouver from Anaheim as part of the Ryan Kesler trade, Nick Bonino and his wife Lauren were in the car on the way back from visiting his parents on Cape Cod when his phone rang.

“We were driving back and I saw (Canucks president) Trevor Linden’s number on the Bluetooth,” Bonino said. “And I said to Lauren, ‘what, am I getting traded again?’’”

Bonino was just joking, but he quickly learned that was exactly what was happening. Linden was calling to inform Bonino that the Canucks had traded him, defenseman Adam Clendening and a 2016 second-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third-round pick (full details of the trade are here).

“It was a bit of a shock,” admitted the 27-year-old forward. “We couldn’t speak for a little bit. Then I just started getting calls from Penguins staff and from family, friends and buddies. It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind.”

When Bonino called for a phone interview, he hadn’t had a lot of time to process the trade – only about two hours – so it’s understandable he’s dealing with a lot of emotions. One of those is excitement, both to join the Penguins and for the Connecticut native to be closer to his family.

“It’s a star-studded lineup, it’s a team that’s won a Cup recently, so it’s definitely fun to know you’ll be on a team that has a history of winning and has the chance to win next year,” Bonino said. “Going from the West to the East will definitely be a little bit different for me, but it’ll be nicer to have a little bit easier travel (schedule) and to play with world-class players.”

After turning pro following three seasons at Boston University, Bonino played the first four-plus years of his career with Anaheim. He had his best NHL season in 2013-14, establishing career highs across the board with 22 goals, 27 assists, 49 points and a plus-14 rating.

And despite dealing with the first trade of his career that offseason and acclimating to a different role with a brand-new team, Bonino continued to produce in Vancouver. He totaled 39 points on 15 goals and 24 assists in 75 games played – with all three totals representing the second-highest offensive numbers of his career.

Stringing together his strongest seasons with two different teams shows that Bonino is coming into his own as an NHL player. He said maturity has helped him find that consistency.

“The more years you play in this league, the more confidence you get,” he said. “I think for me especially and probably most players, when you’re confident you end up playing your game and not the game you think you should be playing or the game that’ll get you more minutes.

“You’ve got to do what you do best and I think the last couple years, I’ve kind of understood that and played the game I wanted to play – a strong two-way game and it just worked out for me.”

In addition to that two-way ability, there’s a lot to like about Bonino’s game.

“Nick is a very smart player,” Pens general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He really has good hockey sense. He can play in all situations. He can play the half wall on the power play. Obviously it would be difficult for him to get on the first unit (laughs) but potentially a second-unit guy. He also kills penalties.”

And while Bonino is capable of playing wing, Rutherford said his strongest position is center and they would prefer to slot him in there.

“We really like Nick as a center-ice man,” Rutherford said.

That all being said, Bonino, who was Vancouver’s No. 2 center during his one season there, is hesitant to pencil himself onto a particular line at this point. He just wants to chip in regardless of where he plays.

“Labeling, for me, doesn’t matter too much,” he said. “I mean, in Anaheim I was technically playing fourth-line even-strength minutes and I had a great year my last year there.

“It’s pretty well known that (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin are two of the best centers in the NHL, not just on the team. I would imagine that I’d be in what I guess you could call a third-line center role right now. But at the end of the day, teams have four lines that need to be able to score in this league. So I’ll definitely be looking to contribute as best I can.”

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