It has been a struggle for the Pittsburgh Penguins to find consistent goal scoring during the past couple weeks. Help could be on the way though as the Penguins recalled second-year pro Luca Caputi from their minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday.
Caputi, 21, has been one of the most consistent performers on the Baby Penguins roster with a team-high 13 goals through his first 36 games. His 26 points are third-most on the team.
This will be the second call-up of Caputi’s career, as he first made his National Hockey League debut last season, scoring a goal on his first shift on his first shot against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 3. He went scoreless over his next four games and was returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he finished the season.
Caputi knows exactly what he needs to do in this go-around if he wants his stay to last longer than his time in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season.
“I have to pretty much work on my consistency,” Caputi said. “When you are (in Pittsburgh) you are pretty much under the microscope so you have to do all the little things right and play to your strengths.
|Caputi has a team-high 13 goals through his first 36 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins |
“I think when you combine that then you force them to make tough decisions and that is really what anyone wants to make them do when you get called up – force them to make a decision and put it in the back of their heads that ‘I can’t really send him down right now because he is playing really well.’”
The 6-foot-2 Caputi’s fast start in ’09-10 can be traced to a good showing at training camp and during the preseason. Although he went scoreless in two contests Caputi was able to record six shots on goal, including four against Toronto on Sept. 18 when he took shifts as the left winger on Evgeni Malkin
Caputi, along with fellow power-forward prospect Eric Tangradi
, has been considered a prime candidate to flank either Malkin or Sidney Crosby
in the future ever since he posted 111 points (51G-60A) in his final season of junior hockey back in 2007-08 with Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League. To his credit Caputi doesn’t back away from such expectations, but rather embraces them.
“I thought I played pretty well when I was given the opportunity (to play with Malkin) and hopefully if I get a chance again I can mesh well with (him or Crosby),” Caputi said. “I think it is something I think about because it is a goal of mine to play with either one of them and for the team in general. It is always in the back of my mind because it is a goal that I want to achieve and something I look towards every day.”
The Penguins would be thrilled if one day Caputi was able to fill such a role but for right now they will keep their expectations for him a little more modest. Caputi will be asked to step into the lineup and help the Penguins get back to playing the way head coach Dan Bylsma expects them to – i.e. dominating the action in the offensive zone for extended periods and creating an abundance of scoring chances from their work.
Both Caputi and Baby Penguins head coach Todd Reirden believe Caputi’s game is tailor made to fit that job description.
“Luca Caputi’s strength is below the goal line in terms of his down-low play,” Reirden said. “Offensive-zone time is something you hear often from coach Bylsma and I think that is something Luca brings to the table every day.”
“My strengths are my down-low play in the offensive zone and being able to create traffic and finish in front of the net,” Caputi said. “That has worked well for me this year.”
Finishing scoring chances has worked well for Caputi because of two reasons. First, as a second-year pro he now better understands everything that goes along with being a professional hockey player, and that has allowed him to be more comfortable on and off the ice. Second, he has been able to produce when the Baby Penguins head to the power play, as he leads the squad with seven man-advantage scores, and if he could supply the big team with help in this area.
“He is continuing to grow in terms of his consistency on a night in and night out basis,” Reirden said. “That is something I think he has added this year. I think he is becoming more consistent and he is generating a lot of chances every night.
“He plays on our first power play and is in a situation where he is able to go and lead our team in power-play goals.”
With players such as Crosby, Malkin and Bill Guerin it is doubtful Caputi will get the opportunity to lead the big team in power-play goals. What he will get, however, is a chance to add some much-needed punch along the wings. If he is able to do so at anywhere near the level he has done so in both juniors and the American League then Caputi might just be able to realize his ultimate dream.
“I just want to keep making improvements overall – offensively, defensively, playing off the rush and defending off the rush,” Caputi said. “I just want to be a sound hockey player.
“Hopefully I make it a permanent call-up. That is everyone’s goal and dream so I am looking forward to getting an opportunity and working every day with that opportunity.”