isn’t the only player in the Penguins organization that is leading a league in scoring. Casey Pierro-Zabotel has posted 27 goals and 61 assists for a Western Hockey League-best 88 points through 49 games for the Vancouver Giants.
Pierro-Zabotel notched an assist in Vancouver’s 4-3 victory over Medicine Hat Wednesday night to register his 88th point of the season, setting a Vancouver single-season franchise record. Pierro-Zabotel sits alone in the Giants’ record books, besting Gilbert Brule’s 87-point effort in the 2004-05 campaign.
“It’s easy when you play with a lot of good guys who can get you the puck and who can score,” Pierro-Zabotel said. “It’s nice to play on such a good team. It shows how hard I’m working every day. My main goal is working on my consistency and getting points every night and not just every couple of nights. It’s been working out well.”
That wasn’t the first time Pierro-Zabotel has etched his name in the Giants’ record book. He broke Vancouver’s single-season assist mark (53, set by Darren Lynch in the 2002-03 season). Pierro-Zabotel’s 61 assists are the most in the WHL this season - 13 more than the next highest total.
There have been a lot of players that have come through Vancouver. It’s a good accomplishment to get that many assists in one year and the year is still not over yet. - Casey Pierro-Zabotel
“It’s a good accomplishment,” Pierro-Zabotel said. “There have been a lot of players that have come through Vancouver. It’s a good accomplishment to get that many assists in one year and the year is still not over yet.”
Giants head coach Don Hay is grateful to have such a talent on his Western Conference-leading and postseason-bound team.
“He’s got the ability to create offense,” Hay said. “He’s strong on the puck. He makes good passes. He has good vision. He’s got the ability to beat people one-on-one and has the ability to knock people off the puck. He’s a big centerman. He finds players and puts them in good situations with his ability to make strong plays with the puck.”
Pierro-Zabotel, a Giants alternate captain, isn’t just lighting the lamp on offense. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound forward improved his defensive game - as evidenced by his WHL-best plus-53 rating. The 20-year-old centerman is rounding into a solid player in both ends of the rink.
“I think I’ve become more of a complete player,” Pierro-Zabotel said. “I’ve been working on my consistency and quick feet. I worked on my defensive game. I think that it’s improved every year. It’s been really good.”
“He’s really become a good two-way player,” said Hay, who was the head coach of the Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes. “He’s a responsible guy. He’s got the commitment to play defense. When you have a guy that can play defense that can score, that’s a real big bonus. You have a guy that can move up and can be a No. 2 (center in the NHL) and play with top-end players. I think you have a real good player.”
The Penguins saw great potential in the Ashcroft native after he tallied 116 points (51G-65A) in 55 games with the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League. Pittsburgh selected Pierro-Zabotel in the third round (80th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
“It was one of the greatest thrills of my life,” he said. “I was really excited to go to Pittsburgh. It’s a great town and a great team. I’m really happy and looking forward to the future.”
After the draft, Pierro-Zabotel arrived in Vancouver but had a rough transition. He had a successful campaign last year by most standards. He tallied 19 goals and 29 assists for 48 points in 49 games and recorded a plus-19 rating. However, the Penguins expected more from Pierro-Zabotel.
“His tempo wasn’t high enough for our league,” Hay said. “His sense of urgency wasn’t high enough for our league.”
That’s where Penguins director of player development Tom Fitzgerald stepped in.
“I think Tom Fitzgerald with Pittsburgh came in and saw him a couple times,” Hay said, “and really worked with getting the message (across) that he had to get quicker and have a better sense of urgency to compete at the pro level.”
Pierro-Zabotel dedicated his entire offseason to improving his speed, skating and conditioning.
To give Casey credit, he worked hard all summer to improve. There’s a big improvement. He got quicker. He got lighter. He got in better shape...He worked hard and it’s really paying off. - Don Hay
“To give Casey credit, he worked hard all summer to improve,” Hay said. “There’s a big improvement. He got quicker. He got lighter. He got in better shape. He’s come in here and has been very consistent for us right from the start of training camp. He worked hard and it’s really paying off.”
“My skating has improved from last year and my conditioning,” Pierro-Zabotel said. “That’s really helped a lot. I feel really good.”
Pierro-Zabotel has come a long way in his development but there is still room for improvement.
“I would say that he has to continue to work on his quickness and his skating to get to the National Hockey League level,” Hay said. “I think that he could be a No. 2 or No. 3 centerman.”
For now, Pierro-Zabotel will build on his record-breaking accomplishments although his top priority is to help the Western Conference’s first-place Giants finish strong and make a deep playoff run.
“He’s going to continue to get better and better,” Hay said. “It’s not about records. It’s about our team winning and our team playing well and going deep into the playoffs. That’s his focus right now, helping us win and having success.”