Penguins general manager Ray Shero hit two home runs on the opening day of unrestricted free agency when he bolstered the team’s defense with the signings of blueliners Zbynek Michalek
and Paul Martin
The two stalwart defensemen join Brooks Orpik
, Kris Letang
and Alex Goligoski to give the Penguins a solid five-man deep blue line. However, there is still an open competition for the sixth and possibly seventh defenseman position.
One of the players in the Penguins system eyeing for a shot to play with the big club is Brian Strait
, who just completed his first professional hockey season in 2009-10 with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
“I’m hoping that I get the opportunity this year,” Strait said. “Obviously last year I was a rookie. I was younger. They wanted me to go through all of the stages and develop that way, and it did wonders for me. I’m hoping to get my shot this year, and hopefully I’ll get a couple of games.”
Strait, who is in Pittsburgh attending the team’s Prospect Development Camp, led the Baby Penguins with a plus-22 rating, to go along with his 14 points (2G-12A) in 78 games.
Strait, 22, was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after attending training camp in 2009. He turned pro after three seasons with Boston University, winning the NCAA National Title in his final year as a Terrier, and has adjusted to the change in competition level.
“Obviously it was my first introduction to the professional game, so I was a little shell-shocked at first,” said Strait, who was the Penguins’ third-round draft pick (65th overall) in 2006. “But once I got my legs under me down in Wilkes-Barre, I got off to a pretty good start and had a good rest of the season.”
I’m hoping that I get the opportunity this year. Obviously last year I was a rookie. I was younger. They wanted me to go through all of the stages and develop that way, and it did wonders for me. I’m hoping to get my shot this year, and hopefully I’ll get a couple of games. - Brian Strait
At the conclusion of last year, Strait turned his attention to his workouts. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive defenseman has tried to bulk up his muscle mass through the hot days of summer.
“The summer is all about getting stronger,” he said. “Right now, I’m in the gym four times a week, but when it comes to being on the ice, you try to stay off it a little bit. An 82-game schedule really gets to you. Right now, it’s just all about re-building what you lost during the regular season, because you lose a lot of strength, and you have to get it back somehow.”
All Strait’s blood, sweat and tears should pay off as the Penguins hockey operations staff and coaches evaluated his health in medical and fitness testing drills, which took place Tuesday at UPMC on the South Side. He impressed the crew by recording a team-best 20 reps on the pull-up bar, the second straight year he has dominated the competition.
With training camp a few months away, Strait is looking forward to another opportunity to land in Pittsburgh and prove himself on the ice, but that all starts with his performance at the current development camp.
“Being at this camp is just all about making another impression,” he said. “They want to see how I carry myself on the ice, but also off the ice to see if I have been doing the work in the gym. A lot of guys here probably haven’t been skating all that much, so they know that (performance) on the ice is probably not going to be what it will be during training camp. When it comes to the off-ice testing, they want to see that you’ve been working hard all summer long.
“(Development camp is) definitely different this time around. I just went through my first pro season, so I’m kind of looked at as a leader in this camp now. We have a lot of younger guys and a lot of guys who were just drafted. I take on a different role this time around. Instead of being more of an observer the last couple of times, I get to go first in drills and go first in the testing and show these guys what’s expected. It’s been good so far.”