Forward Brian Gibbons
and defenseman Simon Despres
were both on the ice for Monday’s practice at CONSOL Energy Center after being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
After spending Pittsburgh’s first 25 games in the American Hockey League, Despres was first recalled on Nov. 26 and played 18 games with the Penguins before being re-assigned on Jan. 16. Penguins assistant coach Todd Reirden said Despres’ play there over the last month earned him the call-up back to the NHL with Kris Letang and Paul Martin both sidelined indefinitely due to injury.
“We were real happy to add Simon back to our roster today,” Reirden said. “His play in the American League speaks for itself, leading the team in plus-minus, playing in all situations. He’s gone down with a great attitude and a commitment to playing Penguins hockey. All the reports, and we’ve had quite a few of them during the Olympic break, were very strong for him to be the first guy who gets called up here. So he’s going to get that opportunity.”
And that opportunity, said Despres, is a big one for him.
“(This is) where I want to be,” he said. “It’s the best league in the world and I’m going to enjoy every day and work hard every day to try to be the best out there. I come to the rink every day ready to go and ready to play. I’m happy to be here right now.”
Over the last few weeks in WBS, the 22-year-old Despres continued to work on what has been his focus and the biggest key for him all season – consistency.
“I think since I came back I worked on my defensive game, playing smart, making plays when it’s there,” he said. “Every aspect of the overall game I’ve been trying to get better at every day. That’s my goal going into practice.”
Gibbons was re-assigned to WBS for the Olympic break, where he collected three points (1G-2A) in five games. The 25-year-old also participated in the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic, where he registered a pair of assists for Team AHL in a 7-2 win over Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League.
“It was a good honor. It was pretty cool,” Gibbons said. “One of my best friends, Joe Whitney, who plays for Albany, was there. He was my roommate in college, so it was good to hang out with him and see him and I had a lot of fun. (A lot of catching up), for sure. He got married this summer, so I was in the wedding there. It was good to see how things are going there and stuff.”
Gibbons hopes that having the chance to play games in the AHL while the NHL was on break will be beneficial to him as the schedule gets started up again.
“Sometimes some rest is good, but hopefully I’ll be in game shape and good shape conditioning-wise, so I think that will help,” he said. “I think it’s good both ways, depending on which way you look at it. I got a few days off and was able to relax a little bit, so that was enough. So it was good.”
Gibbons had been playing on a line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz before the break, and he was pleased for both the gold-medal winners and all the other Penguins Olympians who played in Sochi.
“I don’t think you have to worry about ('Sid' and 'Kuni') being in form,” he said. “I think they’ll be fine. But it was good to see them win, and good to see (Olli Maatta) and (Jussi Jokinen) get the bronze there.”
Notes: None of the Penguins' Olympians were back for practice. Assistant coach Todd Reirden said "I would not plan on them being on the ice until Wednesday." That means in addition to Despres and Gibbons, the same 14 Penguins that skated Sunday also skated again today: Chuck Kobasew, Tanner Glass, Brandon Sutter, Taylor Pyatt, James Neal, Craig Adams, Joe Vitale, Matt Niskanen, Rob Scuderi, Deryk Engelland, Robert Bortuzzo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jeff Zatkoff, and Tomas Vokoun.