Nearly every day in July and August, Erik Christensen checked the Internet to see what was going on with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And, nearly every day, he was amazed at what he saw as big-name offensive threats like John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy and Sergei Gonchar were signed to contracts in addition to the selection of first-overall pick Sidney Crosby.
“My head was spinning every day looking on the Internet at all the movement,” he said. “It’s been a very exciting time for the organization and they are due. The last couple years they haven’t had the success that they should’ve had. It’s an exciting time for the city and the organization.”
Christensen, a 6-foot-1, 196-pound center, is delighted to be surrounded by such veterans as Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, Palffy and LeClair.
“I am thrilled,” said Christensen, a third-round pick in the 2002 draft. “There’s a lot of high-profile names here who have had a lot of success at this level. It’s nice to be around a lot of the veterans and just to watch them day to day and see how they act.”
Now, Christensen is in Penguins training camp fighting for one of the few open spots alongside those veterans.
“It’s a tight race. I know maybe I am not right up there with a lot of the prospects, but it’s a great organization no matter who goes where,” he said. “Both Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre are going to have very competitive teams. No matter where I am, I think the most important thing is that I get better year by year – that’s my biggest goal. Even if I do end up in Wilkes-Barre, my biggest goal is just to get better.”
So far, Christensen is enjoying a good camp. He led the Penguins’ annual training camp tournament with seven goals – including five in Sunday’s championship game – and finished tied for the tourney lead in points.
He attributes some of his success to being more relaxed. He spent last season playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and is putting that experience to good use.
“After playing with some of these pros last year, I was a little more relaxed coming into camp,” he said. “I was able to get a lot of ice time at Wilkes-Barre.”
Christensen scored 14 goals and added 13 assists and 33 penalty minutes in 77 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last year. However, much of his time was spent working his way up to the team’s top two lines. He hopes to continue that progression this season.
“I know my strengths. I know I am not going to be relied on as a checking-type player because that’s not what I am,” he said. “One thing at the end of last year, Coach (Michel) Therrien in Wilkes-Barre told me that I had to get a little stronger. I knew I have always had decent strength in my upper body, but I think what he meant was my lower body.
“Everyone talks about how Sidney Crosby has great lower-body strength and that’s why no one can knock him off the puck,” he continued. “I tried to work on my lower half and I feel like I am more comfortable handling the puck in the corner and taking the puck through high-traffic areas and driving past defensemen instead of trying to go through them.”
Certainly, defensemen found that out during the tournament.