There are a lot of reasons a player might want to sign with the Penguins.
Defending Stanley Cup champions? Check. Having elite talent led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the two best players in the world? Check. Skating out of two world-class facilities in PPG Paints Arena and UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex? Check. A lengthy sellout streak? Check.
The list goes on, and while those certainly helped top college free agent Zach Aston-Reese ultimately decide to sign with Pittsburgh, the biggest reason he wanted to join the organization was for their player development.
"It came down to a few teams and when I had time to sit down and think about it today, it just felt like it was the right place," Aston-Reese told pittsburghpenguins.com.
"The conversations I've had throughout the year with Mark Recchi and Bill Guerin coming to some of the games and speaking to them after the games, kind of just their track record over the past few years with what they've been able to do with bringing in college guys was big."
Talking with Guerin, he was absolutely thrilled that Aston-Reese had chosen Pittsburgh. What stood out to management while watching the 22-year-old forward play his junior season for Northeastern University was just how good of a fit he was with the Penguins.
"He fits the criteria that we hold our whole organization to, our players and staff," Guerin said. "Two big components of that are character and compete, and he epitomizes that. When we saw him play, this is a kid that on the ice, really seemed to fit with how we want to play. After meeting him and talking to him, we realized he fits in with us off the ice as well. And that's huge."
That character, and that compete, is what helped those former college players Aston-Reese mentioned - most notably fellow free agent Conor Sheary - develop into who they are now, and why Guerin could see the newest Penguin doing the same thing sometime in the future.
"I'm really proud of the fact that as an organization, we've helped guys develop into NHL players and we try to guide them as much as we can," Guerin said. "But in the end, that's where the character and the compete come in. The guys that have done it, they have the character, they have the compete. It's the player. We might have helped along the way, but those are the guys that did it. With Zach, we're going to help guide him along, but he's going to do it. We're just going to give him help."
Guerin described Aston-Reese as an "honest, hard-playing player." The 6-foot, 180-pound forward led the NCAA with 63 points in just 38 games his senior season. His 31 goals also led the NCAA, and Guerin said the majority of those came within 15 feet of the net.
"He does his best when he's in the ugly areas," Guerin said.
Just like Patric Hornqvist, someone Aston-Reese likes to watch, along with Wayne Simmonds and Andrew Shaw. It helped that he moved to the net-front on the power play this year after an injury to the player who normally filled that role. But for Aston-Reese, he takes pride in being a penalty killer as well.
"Some of my strengths are just being able to play a 200-foot game and taking care of the defensive zone first," he said. "Then just being able to create chances around the net and using my strength down low along the boards and creating opportunities offensively with that."