The Penguins opened the 2017 Prospects Challenge on Friday at HarborCENTER in Buffalo against Boston. The Bruins ended up defeating the Penguins, 3-2, in overtime. Sam Militec and Jordy Bellerive, here on amateur contract tryouts, scored for the Penguins.
Thoughts, musings and observations…
- Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese highlight Pittsburgh's roster for this tournament, and those two flanked Adam Johnson - a coveted free agent out of Minnesota-Duluth who signed with the organization after attending development camp - on the first line. It was a loaded line, and WBS head coach Clark Donatelli said he wanted them together because all three could skate and score. We saw glimpses of that today. Their first shift was their best, as Johnson used his speed to gain entry into Boston's zone and the trio created a couple of chances from there. Overall, it was a solid effort and one they can build on. "I thought that line was solid for us all night and they're only going to get better going forward, so it was a good start for those guys," Donatelli said.
- We thought Sprong was going to be the overtime hero, as he found himself with time, space and the puck on his stick for a glorious scoring chance. And while it sailed high, it was still one of a number of quality opportunities for the 20-year-old whose offensive ability is unquestioned. "The thing about Spronger, what I really liked is that he had Grade-A scoring chances," Donatelli said. "He was taking pucks to the areas and he was shooting it."
- We interviewed Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan during the first intermission of our live stream on Penguins.com and the Penguins mobile app, and he mentioned Thomas Di Pauli as someone who stood out to him. The winger is coming off his first pro season, where he was limited to just 21 games while dealing with various injuries. He worked hard to get himself back in shape and told me before the tournament that he felt as good as he ever has on and off the ice. It showed on Friday. His speed was noticeable, as he used it to skate the puck out of his own end and down the ice to create scoring chances, and he also looked strong protecting the puck. Di Pauli said afterward that being nagged by injuries had hampered his ability to use that speed to create space, and now that he's 100 percent, there's a big difference. "Now I just have to try and score some goals, because I had about 10 scoring chances and couldn't bury them," he said with a laugh
- Lukas Bengtsson is someone else who returned to game action on Friday after a lengthy absence while dealing with health issues. Last season he was diagnosed with POTS syndrome, a condition that affects blood flow. Too little returns to the heart when going from lying down to sitting up, causing constant fatigue and other symptoms. It's something he's dealt with for years, and now that he finally has the right diagnosis, he's moved forward with treatment and has learned to manage his condition. Today marked his first game action since Jan. 6, and as he said with a laugh, "It was tough, I'm not going to lie." But the coaching staff put the skilled, puck-moving defenseman out to quarterback every power play, and gave him a decent amount of ice time, where he was impressive during his shifts. It's easy to see why the organization is so high on the Swede. "I feel like I have a lot of work to do, but just keep playing," he said. "I had really short shifts, but had to do that to commit to the game. I felt like I played okay. It was my first game in eight months, so I'm happy to be playing hockey again."
- Miletic and Bellerive played on a line with 2017 fifth-round draft pick Jan Drozg, and Donatelli said that trio was one of their best. "They were hard on pucks, they were good defensively, they played a simple game," Donatelli said. "They got pucks to the net, went to the net, played with structure."