As all American Hockey League coaches know, it’s a bitter-sweet feeling when your players get snatch by the parent club.
On the positive, you know that your job is to make them NHL ready and if they are getting called up, then you are doing your job. On the other hand, as a coach you are losing your best players and that makes winning much more difficult.
“That’s my goal and my job,” Reirden said. “I love every part of that. Certainly last year 13 guys came up from Wilkes-Barre and were able to come up here and be a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins. That’s what we do. One of my favorite parts of the job is telling them that they’re coming up to play in the National Hockey League. In some of the cases last year with Mark Letestu, Deryk Engelland
and those types of guys, it was their first National Hockey League game. That’s the fun part of my job. It’s certainly what I love doing.
“It certainly comes with my job description. I love that part. That’s my favorite thing to do in coaching in the American Hockey League – moving guys on to what they’ve been working toward and sacrificing for to get this opportunity. I’m glad that I can play a role in helping them to accomplish their dreams and their goals. For me, it’s something that I really enjoy. It makes coaching in the American Hockey League challenging, because your lineup is constantly changing on a daily basis, and you’re not just losing your bottom-end guy. You’re losing your top player, which will always stay consistent with your top player in Wilkes-Barre. At the time when they need a call up, he’s the guy who comes up. More often than not, I lose the best player. Sometimes it’s two hours before the game, and you have to re-structure things. But I think that it has really helped in my growth as a coach – to prepare me for the National Hockey League and get me ready for situations that are difficult like dealing through injuries and lineup adjustments. I think that, as a young coach, it’s something that I see as a challenge but also really embrace and enjoy.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins have five spots locked in on the defensive side of the ice. That means there will be a lot of competition among the defensive prospects in the Penguins’ system for the final two spots.
Reirden gave his insight on which prospects to keep an eye on along the blue line.
“I think that if you talk about Brian Strait
, he is a guy who has led our team in Wilkes-Barre in plus-minus. Robert Bortuzzo
is a guy who brings – obviously as a man of his stature in size at 6-foot-4 – he brings a little bit of a physical element with 11 fighting majors last year. He is a guy who brings something a little bit different than what we have right now in the organization outside of Deryk Engelland
. I think that those guys will definitely be people to watch this week. I’m really interested to watch Simon Despres
. He certainly had a career year last year in the Quebec league, and he looks like he is in great shape.
Another possibility on the backend is defenseman Ben Lovejoy
, who re-signed to a three-year contract this summer.
“This development camp really serves as a kick-off point for our prospects and even guys who we have added as free agents,” Reirden said. “Certainly Ben Lovejoy
is kind of the poster child of what we’re talking about here. He’s a guy who came to us from another organization. He grew through the development camp and went through a couple of years of that and learned our systems and learned what we’re all about here. He spent some time in Wilkes-Barre and had some outstanding seasons there as an AHL All-Star.
“Certainly he turned into a leader for me down in Wilkes-Barre this past year. I’m very proud of how he came up and handled himself. He has put himself in a great position to earn a full-time role. When I was working in Wilkes-Barre – Dan (Bylsma) was the head coach, and I was the assistant coach – I was working with the defensemen, so I spent a lot of time with Ben and Deryk Engelland
and developing those guys. When I became the head coach, I certainly still stay on top of those guys who are continuing with their development. It’s great to see the whole process come to fruition and having the final outcome and the final goal of playing in the National Hockey League becoming more of a realization for them. It will be interesting to see those guys come into camp this year.”FORWARD JOCKEY
The defense is not the only spot in the Penguins’ lineup where there are jobs available. A few openings exist up front along the wing and a few prospects are jockeying to become the front-runners for those opportunities, particularly Eric Tangradi
and Dustin Jeffrey
“I think that Eric’s growth throughout the season was outstanding,” Reirden said. “I think that he really understood what it took to play a game on a night-in, night-out basis as a power forward who uses his body and uses his frame. You were all able to see the success that he had in the game against the Islanders. He didn’t look out of place at all. Certainly those are big things to expect from him down the road.
is a guy who had 71 points in the American Hockey League last year. He almost doubled his point total, and I moved him to a different position. I’m always looking for more versatile players who can play in different spots. Certainly Dustin is back for his fourth development camp, and we’re looking for some leadership from his during this week for sure.”TWO-WAY BENEFITS
Reirden acknowledged that the prospect development camp wasn’t only a huge benefit to the young professional players in the organization, but also gives an advantage to the coaches and staff – who have an opportunity to see the players up close.
“I have heard a lot about our most recent draft picks – Beau Bennett
, Ken Agostino and all of the guys who we drafted. I have never seen them play, so this is my first chance to get my hands on them and do some work with them in drills that we’re going to do in Wilkes-Barre and that they do in Pittsburgh. They’re getting a real good indoctrination of what we’re all about here and what we expect. I think that it’s also great for me to start to develop relationships with these guys, especially young players, and make sure that they understand where our care factor is and that our ultimate goal is to try to turn them into future Pittsburgh Penguins.”