Last July, the Pittsburgh Penguins were sure they needed to add some toughness to their lineup even if they were unsure there would be a hockey season.
Pittsburgh signed Ryan VandenBussche to bring some added grit, but he will have to wait until Oct. 5 at New Jersey to make his Penguins debut since the NHL lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season.
“I am very excited,” VandenBussche said. “It’s a great organization and a great team on paper and on the ice.”
Of course, the Penguins’ makeup changed dramatically from when VandenBussche signed until the start of the training camp this year. The team won the NHL Draft Lottery and picked super-prospect Sidney Crosby, followed by the additions of Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, John LeClair, Andre Roy, Steve Poapst, Lyle Odelein and Jocelyn Thibault. In addition, the Penguins signed Mark Recchi five days prior to VandenBuscche’s deal on July 9, 2004.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I had some chemistry with (Coach Eddie Olczyk) in Chicago and I know he had something to do with getting me here and I appreciate that,” VandenBussche said. “I am just happy to be here and it turned out great winning the draft lottery and signing some other key free agents. There’s a good mixture of young talent and older veterans here.”
The movement has built the Penguins into a Stanley Cup contender.
“It was very exciting. We expect nothing less than to be a team that contends for the Stanley Cup,” VandenBussche said. “It’s a long year, but with all the talent and as long as everyone stays healthy, we should be fine.”
While VandenBussche, a forward, brings a different element to the Penguins – grit and muscle – he knows he will have to alter his game slightly to adapt to the new, offense-friendly NHL.
“I worked on my skating a little more this summer because it’s going to be more of a skating game and a free-flowing game,” he said. “(Skating) is going to be key for many guys, including me. I am a guy who can move pretty well; I am a good fore checker and with those obstruction calls that are going to be called, apparently, that should help my fore-checking game.”
VandenBussche, a nine-year NHL veteran, is looking forward to skating with Mario Lemieux.
“Mario Lemieux is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. I am fortunate enough to play with him,” he said. “I can now say I played with two greats – (Wayne) Gretzky in New York and now here with Mario. So, I am very fortunate.”