When he was 8 years old, Dylan Reese started playing hockey on roller skates at a local tennis court in the Pittsburgh suburb of Upper St. Clair. Led by captain Mario Lemieux, the Penguins had just won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and ‘92 and the region began booming with kids picking up hockey sticks.
“I’m a product of the Cups in the ‘90s and Mario,” Reese said. “I consider myself in the group of 6-11 year olds when the Penguins won the Cups.”
As an 8-year-old, Reese envisioned himself playing in the National Hockey League with a Penguins logo on his chest. Twenty years later, Reese’s vision has nearly become a reality.
Reese, 28, signed a one-year contract with Pittsburgh on the first day of free agency.
“Playing in front of friends and family would be a dream come true,” Reese said. “It’s an added bonus, but I didn’t make my decision based on the city.”
While Reese, who played for the Pittsburgh Hornets elite travel team in his youth, would relish playing in his hometown, that was not his sole reason for signing with the Penguins.
Reese, who was originally drafted by the NY Rangers in the seventh round (209th overall) of the 2003 NHL Draft, wanted to play for a team that would compete for a championship. He spent the past three years as a member of the NY Islanders (2010-12) and Columbus Blue Jackets (2009-10) organizations. During that span he appeared in 74 NHL games, all with the Islanders. His only taste of postseason action came with New York’s American Hockey League affiliate Bridgeport – five games in 2010.
“For me (signing with Pittsburgh is) just a great opportunity to play for a team that’s a winner,” Reese said. “I’ve played with three different organizations and they all were good organizations, but we didn’t do too much winning to be honest. The Penguins are a perennial powerhouse – a team that’s expected to win, with a couple of the best players in the world.”
Another reason the Penguins and Reese make a good match is how his on-ice play fits in perfectly with the team’s systematic approach.
Reese is a solid, two-way defenseman. He’s smart enough to know when to join the rush and create odd-man situations for his team, and has the speed to backtrack on defense when needed.
“He’s a very good two-way defenseman 5-on-5,” WBS head coach John Hynes said. “He’s tenacious. He’s a good skater and he has tremendous work habits.”
“I try to contribute to the offense,” Reese said. “With the power that the Penguins have up front, that’s what (the defensemen) need to do, get the puck up the ice. I think I fit that role.”
Reese, a graduate of Harvard, will likely play a vital role during his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. On a roster full of youth and inexperience, Reese can be a veteran mentor – a role with which he is familiar.
“It’s crazy to think how time flies. I remember my rookie season and playing with a guy that was 27 and thinking he’s been around forever. Now I’m that guy,” Reese joked. “Last year in the Islanders organization I was in the leadership role with the young guys and getting them used to pro hockey and comfortable.
“A lot of it is confidence for those guys. It’s the first time they’re playing with older, stronger, bigger guys. A lot of it is having confidence in yourself, so I try to instill that in them.
But Reese’s biggest impact will be on the ice, where he will wear many hats and fill many roles for the team.
“He’s played at a high level, he’s a high character guy, a leader, and he’s a guy on our D corps that we feel can fill multiple roles,” Hynes said. “He has an element on the power play at times – where he can help us there with his shot, use his skating and offensive reads – and killing penalties. It’d be a multidimensional role for him where we’d like to give him a little bit of everything and see how he continues to grow and develop.”
Right now Reese is suiting up for the WBS Penguins. But he hopes to suit up for the Pittsburgh Penguins sometime in the near future.
“The opportunity was here. The way the staff spoke it just seemed like a good fit,” he said. “And maybe I can play for my family and friends.”