LONDON, Ont. – “He shoots the puck a ton,” Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin said of forward Tom Kuhnhackl earlier this summer.
In Saturday’s rookie tournament game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Budweiser Gardens, that shot tied the score 3-3 with 19.6 seconds left in regulation, forced overtime and nearly won the ensuing shootout. But it ended up dinging off the post, and the Penguins eventually fell to the Leafs, 4-3.
Kuhnhackl’s tying goal was just absolutely gorgeous. With goalie Eric Hartzell pulled for the extra attacker, Kuhnhackl drifted to open space on the left side of the ice and received a pass from defenseman Derrick Pouliot. Kuhnhackl took a second to tee it up and then just ripped the puck so hard it actually tore through the netting on the side of the cage.
“I guess it was just luck. I just tried to put it on net,” Kuhnhackl shrugged. “Luckily it went in.”
Kuhnhackl then went first in the shootout, where he had the Leafs goalie beat but his wrister was just an inch or two high as it clanged off the crossbar.
In addition to putting him on the ice late in third period with the Penguins down by one and in the shootout, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes also used Kuhnhackl on the top power-play unit. He showed a lot of confidence in Kuhnhackl by repeatedly using him in different situations throughout the game, and that in turn gave a lot of confidence to the young forward, especially since he didn’t feel he played his best game.
“It just felt great,” he said of his goal. “I didn’t have a good game, so it was just good to get on the board and at least make it to OT and the shootout. It’s nice just to be out there and coach Hynes gives me the confidence to be out there and just try to help the team.”
No one would blame Kuhnhackl for being rusty, as his last season – his first at the pro level – ended on Dec. 2 after he sustained an upper-body injury. That happened after his season before that was derailed by injury and a suspension. So it’s been frustrating for Kuhnhackl, but Hynes knows the kind of player he is capable of being. The tall, athletic winger scored 39 goals in 63 games for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League in 2010-11, before all the frustrations of the last two seasons. And that’s why Hynes kept putting him out there.
“It was real important for him,” Hynes said of Kuhnhackl’s goal. “He’s a guy where that’s what we expect him to do. He has the ability to be a high-end offensive player, so for him to be out there in that situation and then have the puck on his stick to be able to score a goal, he made a great shot. And I think that’s great for him. That’s part of what this tournament is about, is for these guys to be able to play in those roles and kind of get their confidence and get the experience before they head into main camp.”
Forward Jayson Megna and defenseman Scott Harrington also scored for Pittsburgh.
Tom Kuhnhackl - Jean-Sebastien Dea - Carter Rowney
Dominik Uher - Jayson Megna - Cameron Brace
Liam O'Brien - Matia Marcantuoni - Adam Payerl
Scott Simmonds - Connor Rankin - Richard Nejezchleb
Brian Dumoulin - Clark Seymour
Reid McNeill - Derrick Pouliot
Olli Maatta - Scott Harrington
Matt Murray played the first half of the game in goal. Eric Hartzell took over with just under seven minutes left in the second period.