Oskar Sundqvist turned heads last year with his performance at training camp, where he was one of the final cuts heading into the regular season. And while he hasn’t been as pleased with his showing so far this year, the 21-year-old forward feels his game is coming along.
“It’s getting better and better,” said Sundqvist, who played Monday in Columbus and Thursday in Detroit. “I was a little bit disappointed in myself, especially in the (first) game. I felt I didn’t play my own game, but yesterday it felt like it was getting better and better every period and every shift.”
Head coach Mike Johnston agrees, and explained why he believes Sundqvist has gotten off to a relatively slow start.
“He was injured a little bit in the summer, so there was a three or four-week period where he didn’t do a lot of training or on-ice stuff,” Johnston explained. “I think for him, it’s set him back just a little bit heading into training camp.
“But if you noticed the last two or three days, you’re starting to see what we saw last year. He’s starting to get back. So I knew it would probably take him a week or two just to get back to form after having that period off in the summer.”
Another difference for Sundqvist this year is that he spent the summer rehabbing and training in North America instead of reporting to training camp already in game shape after playing in tournaments with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League.
“It’s a big difference,” Sundqvist said. “I mean, last year I came here and I played between 6-10 games. Now I came here and haven’t played any games, so I feel a big difference.”
But the positive is that Sundqvist continues to improve, and the big, smart, defensively responsible center wants to show the coaching staff he has the ability to be a fourth-line player on this team -- and he'll have an opportunity Saturday against Columbus.
“I want to do what I did in the last game, especially the last two periods,” Sundqvist said. “Keep going from there because when I want to play like that, I felt like it’s going to come. My game is just going to be better and better for every game I get to play.”
There is an on-going battle for the few remaining forward spots in the Penguins’ lineup. Conor Sheary is certainly a contender for one of them.
“Sheary has had a very good camp,” Johnston said. “We believe he may surprise a lot of people.
“He’s skilled, small, quick, and can make plays. He’s dangerous and that’s the type of team we are.”
Sheary led the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in scoring last season with 20 goals and 45 points. He added five goals and seven assists in eight Calder Cup Playoff games to also lead the team. He doesn’t plan on changing any of what's made him successful during camp.
“You have to stick with what you’re good at,” Sheary said. “I think I’m an offensive player that can make plays and score goals. I’m going to try and bring that no matter what level I play at.”
The coaching staff has taken notice of his offensive abilities. Sheary had the second-highest ice time among forwards against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday with 21:44. That performance earned him a spot on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on Thursday against the Red Wings.
“It was pretty cool,” Sheary said. “Just to be out there with those guys, a great experience and I was really happy with it.”
Bryan Rust, also contending for a place on the Penguins’ roster this year, saw his first preseason game action in the Penguins’ 6-1 loss to the Red Wings on Thursday. He was especially excited to hit the ice in front of some familiar faces.
“It’s nice to get out there, especially in Detroit where I’m from,” said the Pontiac, Michigan native. “It was nice to have some friends and family there.”
Rust, who skated in 17 NHL games with Pittsburgh last season, totaled three shots over 15:45 of ice time. He’s looking to improve those totals, which can only lead to good things.
“I’m just going to keep working on taking pucks to the net,” Rust said. “That’s where I’m going to try using my speed to get the puck to the net and create scoring chances.”