Before the prospects piled on the bus to head up to London, Ontario, for the 2014 rookie tournament, they gathered for a meeting with the staff on Wednesday night. Penguins assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald was very clear about the message he delivered to the group.
“We tell all these kids it’s the only opportunity that our whole organization is ever together under one roof,” said Fitzgerald, who monitors all Penguins prospects playing in college, junior hockey, Europe and with the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Amateur scouts, pro scouts, NHL staff, AHL staff, all the hockey ops, Jim (Rutherford), everyone. It’s the only time in the organization that everyone’s together. Every set of eyes we have in the organization will be watching you, so it’s an opportunity.”
Especially for the older prospects like Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Reid McNeill, Adam Payerl, Dominik Uher and Tom Kuhnhackl – who already have professional experience and are trying to crack Pittsburgh’s roster.
Though this won’t be their first rookie tournament, it will be their chance to make a first impression a few very important people – Rutherford and the new NHL coaching staff, head coach Mike Johnston and assistants Rick Tocchet and Gary Agnew – before training camp begins on Sept. 18.
“For players like that in particular, there’s a whole new hockey ops staff here, a whole new coaching staff that will be up there watching these guys and getting a feel for what they are, what they can bring to this team,” Fitzgerald said. “So it’s real important these guys go up and put themselves in a situation to get the best start. You only have one chance for a first impression, and this is their chance to make a first good impression because they want exhibition games.
“With an exhibition game becomes the opportunity to get another exhibition game. And the more exhibition games you get, that means you’re making the coaches think that there’s a kid that could make our team or this kid could be our first call-up guy. So for those older players, that’s what this camp is for them.”
When it comes to the younger players, especially the first-time invitees like Josh Archibald, Scott Wilson, and Bryan Rust – all college players who have turned pro – Fitzgerald said it will be important for the staff to watch them go through this for the first time as they begin the next stage of their development.
“What we try to do with these players is instill professionalism,” Fitzgerald said. “You want to be a pro, this is how you act, this is how you work, this is what you need to do. So now, the Wilsons, the Archibalds, the Rusts, these guys who’ve just turned pro, we’re going to be able to help mold them into the players that we drafted them as.”
A total of 24 Penguins prospects will be competing against players from the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks in the three-game tournament, which will be held at Budweiser Gardens – home of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.
Pittsburgh plays its first game on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 2 p.m. against Ottawa; the Penguins play the following afternoon at 2 p.m. versus Chicago; and in the final game of the tournament on Tuesday, Sept. 16, the Penguins face the host Toronto Maple Leafs at 2 p.m.