While defenseman Brian Dumoulin was thrilled to sign his first one-way contract with the Penguins on Thursday, he knows there’s still a lot of work ahead to secure a regular spot on Pittsburgh’s blue line.
“I’m very thankful and happy to be back with Pittsburgh,” Dumoulin said. “It’s awesome to have that one-way deal, but in my mindset, I still have to make the team. I still have to come into camp and prove that I can be on the NHL roster.
"So that’s one of the main things I’ve been focusing on this summer is not just saying to myself, ‘well, it’s guaranteed.’ I have to earn it.”
The 23-year-old has been hard at work preparing himself to do just that.
Dumoulin, a two-time NCAA national champion with Boston College, lives in Beantown with two of his former roommates and Eagles teammates during the offseason, and began off-ice workouts at his alma mater under strength coach Russ DeRosa at the beginning of summer.
On the ice, Dumoulin started skating a few weeks ago with High End Hockey at the Breakaway Center in Tewksbury alongside players like NY Rangers’ Chris Kreider, New Jersey’s Joe Whitney, Winnipeg's Will O'Neil and more.
Dumoulin said he’s been focusing on a number of areas in his training: his shot (particularly getting it through traffic); adding more strength to his 6-foot-4, 207-pound frame; his decision-making on the ice; and overall, just keeping things simple.
“(I just want to) continue on the path that I’ve been for the past three years,” Dumoulin said. “I feel like my game each year has gotten better and better, so just want to keep it moving in all areas.”
Dumoulin gives a lot of credit for his improvement to former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes and assistant Alain Nasreddine, who both accepted jobs at the NHL level with the New Jersey Devils earlier this summer.
Dumoulin spent the majority of the last three seasons in the American Hockey League playing under those two, and said they were crucial to his development.
“They’ve taught me what it means to be a pro and how hard you have to work to become a professional player, whether it’s at the AHL or NHL level,” Dumoulin said. “Just kind of the pace that you have to play. John Hynes came in every day and was ready to work and focus and same thing as Alain Nasreddine, they really worked with me and they wanted me to get better. So I really thank them for pushing me.”
Now Dumoulin will be looking to take the next step under Pittsburgh head coach Mike Johnston, who loves the defenseman’s skating and puck-moving ability – which is a tremendous fit for his system.
“I really like the style that he plays,” Dumoulin said. “He really wants us to activate and get up in the play and create offense, so I really like that part about his system and I think that benefits me. Definitely wants us to get the puck and move it and jump up, so I really like his philosophy and the way he coaches.”
Dumoulin made his NHL playoff debut with Pittsburgh this past spring, where he saw action in all five of the Penguins’ postseason games. And he'll be looking to build off that experience as he looks to win a full-time job on their blue line.
“It was tremendous just getting that experience to play in the NHL playoffs,” Dumoulin said. “It’s something you dream about and you don’t really know until you actually play in them how intense and how important every shift is, so for me to getthat experience last year will definitely help me.”