The Pens opened their annual week-long development camp on Tuesday. The camp features both on-ice practices and off-ice team building sessions to show and teach the prospects what it takes to be a Pittsburgh Penguin.
But for some of the Pens forwards, development camp is a chance to make an initial impression for an NHL job heading into September’s training camp.
Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary are two players trying to showcase their talent this week in preparation for the opening of training camp.
“I’d like to take one of those spots,” Rust said. “I’m not expecting to be given anything. I know I can work for that spot. If I play my best game I’ll give myself an opportunity to earn one of those spots.”
Rust, 23, made his NHL debut last season with 14 games in Pittsburgh. The Notre Dame graduate has a good skillset and can add some offensive punch to the fourth line.
Sheary, 23, earned a two-year contract from the Pens this offseason after a spectacular 2014-15 season. Sheary led Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in scoring in the regular season (45 points in 58 games) and postseason (12 in 8). He’s another player that Pens management will have an eye on this week.
“We’ve identified (Sheary) as a really good prospect,” assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “He’s smart, skilled, tough in that he’s not afraid to go to the tough areas. He makes people around him better. That’s a huge reason why we felt we had to get his name on a contract.”
Unfortunately three other players that will be vying for NHL positions cannot compete in this week’s camp due to injury. Even though Oskar Sundqvist, Scott Wilson and Tyler Biggs are all inactive for the week, they’ll be healthy and ready for the opening of training camp in September.
“Spots are open,” Wilson said. “It’s anyone’s grab, whoever is ready to take it.”
Wilson, 23, made his NHL debut last season with Pittsburgh. He appeared in one game (really one period) before being sidelined with a leg injury. Wilson worked his way back to health and later made his postseason debut, appearing in three games for Pittsburgh in their Round 1 Stanley Cup playoff series against the NY Rangers.
“It was good for me being around the guys, seeing what it takes at that point in the season at this level,” Wilson said. “Playing the last three games was a big confidence booster. I needed that going into this year.”
Sundqvist, 21, is another player that could really make a push to be in Pittsburgh next season. He plays a prototypical “fourth line” style of play – a blend of physicality, grit and nastiness. And his defensive game is NHL ready, which is something that hinders young players from making the jump to the NHL.
“We do believe he has the qualities to be a fourth-line center on our team,” Fitzgerald said.
“(The coaches) said defensively that I could make the team,” Sundqvist said. “Both they and myself want me to work on my offensive skills.”
The Swedish forward is willing to fill any gap on the bottom trio.
“I can play everywhere. It doesn’t matter,” Sundqvist said. “Wherever the coach tells me to play, I’ll play. It’s all about camp and how I perform there.”
And for all of these players, the initial impression starts this week.