As Pens player development coach Mark Recchi said on Wednesday, he doesn’t think a team can have enough puck-moving defensemen on their blue line.
And in the spring, the Pens added two more – Ethan Prow and Lukas Bengtsson – into the organization as free agents.
Recchi said they were similar players, calling them skilled puck-moving guys who play with composure. Not to mention they’re both right-handed, something the Pens are lacking on the back end as Kris Letang is the only right-handed shot under contract for next season.
Here’s a look at each player…
ETHAN PROW Prow joined the Pens after finishing his senior year at St. Cloud State. There, he served as team captain, led the Huskies to the league championship and was a Hobey Baker Award Finalist after posting 30 assists and 38 points – totals which led all NCAA defensemen.
The 23-year-old had put together an impressive college career, making him a highly sought-after free agent. His decision to sign with the Penguins organization was because of, quite simply, the organization as a whole.
“Just knowing that they’re a world-class organization and that they treat everybody right,” Prow said. “Being a right-handed defenseman too (helps) as well. You really just look at the way they treat their players and the organization as a whole is world-class, and that’s a big key.”
Prow went on to play in five games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, saying the experience was invaluable to him moving forward into this next season.
“Just getting in some games, knowing the speed, the other guys’ strengths of opponents that you’re going to face is big,” he said. “It hopefully gives you that little jump going into next year where you can keep getting better and you know what’s going to come so you can accept it and perform better.”
Another takeaway Prow took from his short time with the Pens is that his style certainly fits in with how they want to play.
“Everything that you hear is how fast they’re playing,” Prow said. “You can see it in the NHL, when we would watch games, just how quick and how fast-paced they would move the puck and transition pucks. So being able to get that puck off your stick to the next guy is key, and if I can keep doing that and even get a little better it’ll help my chances.”
Prow, who measures 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, also said moving forward he wants to continue working on his physicality.
“At this level you’ve got to be able to bump guys and get in their way and play that physical aspect while still being able to make sure I’m playing my role to the best of my abilities,” Prow said. “Hopefully that can land me a spot somewhere and I can perform well.”
While Recchi said Prow is still ‘a little ways away’ from the NHL – saying they want him to continue to get stronger and add a half a step to his skating, which they believe is going to come after a good summer of training – they’re certainly excited about his potential.
“Great puck-moving defenseman,” Recchi said. “Very composed. Very good on the power play. Runs the power play well. His first pass is tremendous. We expect big things from him. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
LUKAS BENGTSSON Meanwhile, over in Europe, Bengtsson signed with the Pens after a terrific playoff performance with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League, where he finished with 7 points (2G-5A) in 12 games as his team captured the championship.
“It’s an honor. It’s a dream,” he said of joining Pittsburgh. “It’s a big organization and I’m really excited. When I signed, I was really happy and wanted to practice hard this summer to be ready for this season.”
Speaking of this season, Bengtsson plans on doing everything within his power to challenge for time in Pittsburgh.
“It’s up to myself to be ready and practice hard,” he said. “In the end, it’s up to me to show what I’m going for and I will do whatever it takes to take a spot.”
Bengtsson said he likes watching the more offensive-minded defensemen that are also right-handed shots, like Letang and Erik Karlsson.
“I try to watch as much as I can and learn from them,” Bengtsson said. “I’m an offensive, skating defender that likes to move the puck quick and follow it up. Play decent defense, too. Be in the right spot and read the game as much as I can.”
While Prow is focusing on his strength and physicality – something that Bengtsson will surely be looking to do as well at 5-foot-10, 172 pounds – the 22-year-old is also focused on adjusting to the smaller rink size here in North America.
The only time Bengtsson ever spent over here was last summer when he was invited to the New York Rangers prospect development camp. With such miminal experience, he reached out to a friend for help.
“I talked a little bit with a guy that I practiced with who played in Toronto, Viktor Loov, and tried to get tips from him,” Bengtsson said. “He said that you don’t have to skate as much as you do in Europe and you’ve got to be more precise and stuff like that. It’s probably going to take a while to learn. I try to get as many tips as I can and listen and hopefully I can bring my game from Sweden from here.”