OSHAWA, ONT. – The Penguins prospects didn't get the start they wanted at the 2011 rookie tournament, falling to a deeply talented crop of Ottawa Senators prospects 4-0 on Saturday.
But despite the loss, the Penguins’ 2011 NHL Entry Draft picks – defensemen Joseph Morrow
and Scott Harrington
and forward Dominik Uher
– were impressive in their first-ever professional hockey games.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, who is behind the bench for the Penguins for the duration of the tournament, was particularly pleased with the way Uher played.
“I would say that Dominik Uher
played well,” Hynes said when asked who had stood out to him on the ice this afternoon. “For a younger, first-year guy, he came in and had a very good work ethic. He played well.”
Uher, a gritty 6-foot, 188-pound forward from Ostavava, Czech Republic, admitted he had plenty of nerves heading into the match. But he certainly played like he felt completely at ease, throwing his body around as much as he could while playing hard at both ends of the ice.
“I knew it was going to be hard, but I think it was faster, more physical than I expected,” said Uher, who posted 21 goals and 60 points through 60 games last season with Spokane of the Western Hockey League (WHL). “I think I’m going to be better tomorrow.”
Uher played right wing on a line with free-agent invitees Brandon DeFazio and Daniil Tarasov. He credited his linemates with helping him get acclimated to the speed and the physicality, and hopes to improve his game as the week goes on.
“I’ve got to carry the puck more and I’ve got to be more aware of what’s going on on the ice because it’s faster,” he said. “I’m trying to hit everything that moves. I’m just trying to be myself, be physical and be a power forward. I still think I can improve.”
It also took Morrow and Harrington to get their legs underneath them, but Hynes liked what he saw from the pair as the game progressed.
“I thought that early in the game, there was a little bit of an adjustment period for them as far as the physical presence and the lack of time and space on the ice,” Hynes said. “But both of those guys, as the game went on, started to make more plays and feel more comfortable. For two young guys to be in their first professional game, I thought they did very good.”
While both defensemen are used to facing high-caliber athletes in major juniors – Morrow has spent the last three seasons with Portland of the WHL, while Harrington has spent the last two with London of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) – they said nothing quite compares to playing at the professional level.
For example, 19 of the 23 prospects on Ottawa’s roster were all taken in the NHL draft, with five of those being first-round selections.
Add that to the fact that they’re all competing for a chance to play in the Senators’ main camp, and that makes for some fierce competition.
“Everyone’s pretty equal in juniors, but there are kind of some guys you can capitalize on,” Morrow said. “But out here, everybody’s extremely fast, extremely strong. There’s no good or bad players, there’s just extremely great players.”
Morrow, who was paired with Brian Strait
, and Harrington, who skated with Carl Sneep
, both thoroughly impressed their fellow defensemen with the way they performed.
“They’re both very, very good hockey players,” Strait said. “I think as they progress, they’re going to go on and really open a lot of eyes.”GRANT GETS THROUGH
During his first shift of the first game at last year’s rookie tournament (against this very same opponent, nonetheless), defenseman Alex Grant
suffered a badly broken wrist just 2:22 into the first period when he was hit from behind into the boards by Ottawa prospect David Dziurzynski.
Thankfully, history did not repeat itself this year.
Grant made it through the game without a hitch, skating alongside Philip Samuelsson
for the duration of the game and seeing time on both the power play and penalty kill.
“Just to get that first one over with without any major issues is good,” he said with a smile. “I’m just looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”
Grant even got into a fight early in the second period to back up a teammate, who had taken a hit up high from a Senators prospect.
Fighting isn’t something Grant normally does, but when it comes to supporting his teammates, he won’t hesitate to drop the gloves.
“I definitely don't mind fighting, especially if it’s to back up a teammate,” he said. “I tried to get a spark for the boys. Unfortunately it didn't work tonight, but we’ll be back for tomorrow night and Tuesday.”