09-12 Phil Bourque with Penguins G John Curry
The Pittsburgh Penguins prospects are back in Kitchener.
The prospects, led by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant Todd Reirden, departed Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon for the trek to Ontario, Canada, to take part in a four-team rookie tournament involving the Maple Leafs, Panthers and Senators.
The Penguins first participated in the tournament last year and won the event. This year’s tournament is a round-robin format and there will be no championship game, but the Penguins want to win all three games they play over the weekend and on Monday.
“I don’t think any coach goes in planning to lose a game,” Bylsma said. “We’re going up there to win hockey games and we’re going up there to play a certain way so that we have a good chance to win and the intention is to do that for the first game and carry it over from there.”
While winning is a goal, Bylsma knows the real reward the Penguins prospects receive from participating in the camp and the practices leading up to the event is experience. It gives the young players the chance to go against their peers rather than jump right into the main NHL training camp, which starts next week.
“I think participating in this tournament is huge. I think it’s a difficult time to go test yourself on your first day with Sidney Crosby in the room. I think it’s a difficult practice or first three practices when you’re going out and doing drills with Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar,” Bylsma said. “You’re nervous and you’re worried about passing – you’re more worried about the NHL players than you are about doing the drill right. So, it’s not set up to have success. You’re flying under the radar and you’re almost happy when you’re not going into a drill with them and that’s no way to go through training camp for a young kid.
“This is a chance for a Dustin Jeffrey or a Luca Caputi to be in charge. They are the guys first in line and the guys who know the drill and are leading the way as opposed to taking the third or fourth fiddle to the NHL players,” he continued. “So, it’s a great time for them to get their feet underneath them and to get going. By the time they do get to camp, now they are full stride and now they have been a little more confident with their passing and it’s not such a big deal to go with the NHL guys. I think it’s a great thing and it’s huge for them. It’s great for the players to compete against other players in similar situations. So, now we can see a Luca Caputi compete against his peers and we can say that, in his class of peers, he’s a class above them as opposed to seeing them going against NHL guys and, if he doesn’t have a good camp, you really can’t say that he’s not there yet. You just can’t expect him to be there. If he is, that’s to his credit. But, this really gives all the players a chance to show what they can do and it gives us a really good chance to evaluate them.”
Bylsma understands this first-hand, since he experienced NHL training camps as a young Los Angeles Kings prospect in the mid-1990s
“When Wayne Gretzky lined up for a 2-on-1, the line behind him was really big and the line beside him was really small because no one wanted to go on a 2-on-1 with Wayne Gretzky,” Bylsma said with a laugh. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to play in the NHL, so I went to the opposite line thinking I might get the chance to go on a 2-on-1 with Wayne Gretzky because it might have been the only time in my life. Even though I was nervous, I decided I was going to go, but I was an older guy at that time, 25 years old or so, and had gotten over the jitters I would have had, for sure, if I was 18 or 19.”
Bylsma and Reirden will coach the Penguins players at the tournament. Penguins GM Ray Shero and the rest of the front office and scouting staff will attend the practices and games, as will Penguins head coach Michel Therrien and assistants Mike Yeo, Andre Savard and Gilles Meloche. All will evaluate the prospects’ performances.
The Penguins open the round-robin tournament on Saturday against the Maple Leafs at 6 p.m. They take on Florida on Sunday at 2 p.m. and close the tourney with a 2 p.m. game against the Senators on Monday.