When the Penguins took Tristan Broz in the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft, the Minnesota native shared that he’d grown up a fan of the team. Their impressive 16-year playoff run, which featured three Stanley Cups, coincided with his childhood.

Playing for the Penguins has been Broz’s dream for as long as he can remember, and he took a big step towards realizing it by signing a three-year entry-level contract with Pittsburgh on April 20. To commemorate the occasion, Broz posted a photo of his younger self wearing a Penguins hat to his Instagram account.

“My parents reminded me of it a couple of years ago,” Broz, now 21, said of the picture. “I always knew I was a big Penguins fan, but actually seeing that photo was pretty cool… I don’t know how many people believed me when I said that [laughs], but now I got the proof.”

Dad Paul and mom Elizabeth will see their son make his professional debut in the coming days, as Tristan joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ahead of their opening-round playoff series after helping Denver capture its NCAA-record 10th national championship. The Pioneers defeated Boston College, 2-0, at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul on April 13.

“It was just super special. Doing it at home in Minnesota… yeah, you can’t even really describe (the emotions),” Broz said. “Probably just the best feeling I've ever had in my life. Now that I've won and tasted that, it certainly makes you hungrier, and now, I just want to keep winning. That becomes the goal every year. It already was, but now you know what it's like, and you're just that much hungrier to go win.”

Broz became the first player in Pioneers history to score two overtime goals during the NCAA tournament, in his second season with Denver – and third in college hockey – after transferring from Minnesota following his freshman year. The first came in the regional semifinals against Massachusetts, and the second came in the Frozen Four against Boston University, sending the Pioneers to the title game.

“It was nice to get those goals, obviously being overtime and knowing that it could move either way,” Broz said. “It was nice just to play a big part in that run to the national championship.”

It capped off a year where Broz “went through a lot,” as Penguins President of Hockey Operations and GM Kyle Dubas put it. When Dubas had gone to watch Broz in early February, he was playing wing, in their bottom-six, and had just come off the power play.

But through injuries came opportunity, and Dubas loved how Broz responded through all the bumpiness, becoming the team’s top-line center and thriving in that role.

“I guess I've kind of always known this about myself, but I think last year, maybe it kind of set in a little bit, that I don't really care where I play,” Broz said. “Obviously, you want to be in the top of the lineup and be a guy asked to produce and play big minutes, but center, left wing, right wing, it doesn’t really matter. Really, just put me out there and, you know, let's go win a game. That’s kind of my mentality.”

Broz wanted to let the dust settle before deciding whether to join WBS or return to Denver, taking a few days to mull it over, with the Penguins happy to support him in either option. “It's just such an emotional high, like a roller coaster, when you win and you're just so, so happy,” Broz said.

“It's kind of hard to separate that from your true feelings. So definitely, I just tried to give it a little bit of time, just because it's just so crazy when you win and you win like that with guys you love.”

Dubas has been vocal about wanting the Penguins to get younger, which means more opportunities for players like Broz, and that’s ultimately what swayed him to turn pro.

“I know maybe some people expect me to be in Wilkes next year, but that doesn't really matter to me,” Broz said. “Just to have a chance next year, an opportunity to play for the Penguins, that's obviously been my dream since I was a little kid. I believe in myself, so just to be given that opportunity and given that chance, it was kind of a no-brainer once I really was able to think about it.”

Dubas was impressed with how Broz, who listed skating, stickhandling, playmaking ability, competitiveness and will to win among his strengths, evolved offensively. He said the 6-foot forward is “awfully effective” when he’s in motion and on the attack, something the Penguins development staff has been coaching Broz on.

“He's not tall, but he's very, very strong,” Dubas said. “I tend not to worry too much about the height, because the way he's built, he’s gonna be a really strong person able to endure contact, get through contact, get into the middle of the ice.”

Broz feels good about how his defensive play is coming along, especially after transitioning to center.

“It's obviously still an area to grow, and there's so many nuances to it. But that's definitely an area I feel like I've improved upon, and that I can be relied on a lot more,” he said. “I think I showed that I can play defense pretty well and be effective in the D zone and be a 200-foot player. Honestly, in the playoffs, that's what it takes to win.”

WBS’ coaching staff has gone over the systems and how the team wants to play, but their message to Broz entering their opening-round, best-of-three series with Lehigh Valley is just to be himself, and be confident.

“It helps coming right from more playoff hockey, just go right back into playoff hockey,” Broz said. “You know kind of how it’s going to be. It's going to be intense and a battle. So yeah, just play my game.”