The Pittsburgh Penguins’ top prospects gathered at Pittsburgh’s UPMC on the South Side Saturday morning to conduct physicals and strength, conditioning and fitness testing, before traveling to Kitchener, Ontario to take part in a Rookie Tournament against other NHL prospects.
The 20 prospects are over a month removed from attending the team’s conditioning camp, which was held in late July, and the tests will provide the Penguins organization with an idea of the players’ improvement since the conditioning camp.
“They want to see how you're improving and how you're working hard during the summer,” 2009 first-round pick Simon Despres
said. “You try your best.”
“It's as tough as you make it,” defenseman Brian Strait
said. “I've been training all summer, these guys have been training all summer so it really shows up whether you've been putting the work in (during) the summer. I think that most of the guys will say that it's not any tougher than what you do in the gym four days a week.”
After testing, the team enjoyed an early lunch and then boarded a bus destined for Kitchener. The Penguins will compete in a Rookie Tournament at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium against prospects from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins.
For many of the players, the tournament will be their first game action since the end of their respective 2008-09 seasons.
“It's definitely different going in and playing games,” forward Dustin Jeffrey
said. “You're not just doing drills and the system stuff, or even skill stuff. After practice you actually go out, and your starting to play to win again. For any hockey player, the chance to compete and the chance to win games, that’s what everybody really thrives on.”
The Penguins will hit the ground running in Kitchener, playing four games over the next five days. The team plays Toronto Sunday, Ottawa Monday, Toronto (again) Wednesday and Boston Thursday.
“We only practice once, and then we play four games with each other, so that's the hard part about it,” forward Luca Caputi
said. “But we have a good group of guys. So we're confident we'll do well up there.”
“It's going to be a lot of fun,” forward Eric Tangradi
said. “This is our chance as a young group to get some unity and get to know the habits and stuff like that. We're all kind of glad to get the physicals done and put the pads on and just do what we're good at.”
I'm really excited to be back behind the bench. That's an exciting time for me heading into this season, but also a good chance for the guys to watch and really compete, because as often as you want to do drills, when it comes down to it, it's a competitive game, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of our guys in some game action. - Todd Reirden
“I'm really excited to be back behind the bench,” said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden, who is running his first rookie camp. “That's an exciting time for me heading into this season, but also a good chance for the guys to watch and really compete, because as often as you want to do drills, when it comes down to it, it's a competitive game, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of our guys in some game action.”
The games will also provide the players a chance to finally showcase their skills against the top prospects of other NHL teams.
“You want to show what you can do on the ice,” Despres said. “Some (in the organization) have never seen you play. So you want to do your best, and show them what you've got.”
“In the past, the knock for me was they didn't know if my speed was ready for the NHL level,” Tangradi said. “I did a lot of work with explosive, and quickness in my skating. I'm really looking forward to showcasing my speed and my quickness and carrying over the positives in my game. This is a big opportunity for me and I'm really looking forward to it.”
“I think it's a great situation for players,” Reirden said. “Some of them, it's their first time playing in games against other teams. It gives them a great chance to step into a situation and have success. They're playing against players of equal experience levels.”
The tournament will also provide the Penguins coaching staff and management a chance to see all of their prospects competing at a high level against other team’s top prospects.
“We looking for a certain energy and a certain way that we want to play,” Reirden said. “The success that (Penguins head coach) Dan (Bylsma) had here in Pittsburgh and things we talked about in Wilkes-Barre, and that's playing a real aggressive style of hockey that makes us a difficult team to play against. I'll be looking for the guys to be competing and battling in all areas of the ice, and are prepared to play a 200-foot game.”
The tournament also gives the prospects a chance to get some game experience before the start of Pittsburgh’s 2009 training camp, which kicks off Saturday, Sept. 12.
“I think (the tournament is) a chance to shake off the rust from the summer, get in a few games before you come in here and you're battling for an actual roster spot,” Jeffrey said. “I think the evaluation from the coaches and the staff here started already with the fitness testing. I think it's a good start to your training camp to get this under your belt.”
“I think that's the point of it, iron all the kinks out, it's going to be full-stride next week when we come back,” Caputi said. “It’s pretty hard to line up in your first day and play with Sidney Crosby
and not be nervous. So hopefully you get all those jitters out and put on a Penguins jersey and play hard and get ready for next week.”
“I'm nervous, like any other guy in there,” Strait said of training camp. “Nervous, excited. You're going to be playing with guys like Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
. Those guys are obviously the best in the game. It's going to be a real treat to be on the ice with them.”
But before the players can look ahead to training camp, first they must handle their business in the Rookie Tournament.
“I think that we laid a lot of groundwork during our development camp in terms of establishing a way that we want to work and some habits that we want to pay attention to in our games,” Reirden said. “Now we get a chance to put it into action against an opponent. We're real excited about this week.”