After winning two straight Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguins added the top scorer in NCAA college hockey last season. Forward Zach Aston-Reese, who scored 63 points in 38 games with Northeastern University, has had a successful training camp thus far. Aston-Reese has been skating on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel through camp, while the first line of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Conor Sheary is still intact.
General manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Mike Sullivan have had a successful system in place when it comes to young rising stars. In the 2015-2016 season, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Matthew Murray began their season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL, and eventually got called up to the NHL by midseason. The AHL experience gave the rising players confidence, which eventually led to their contribution to winning a Stanley Cup.
Heading into this season, the Penguins have the luxury to let Aston-Reese grow and mature in the AHL, if that is what Mike Sullivan wants to pursue. Aston-Reese could create some chemistry with Daniel Sprong in the minors, who is also expected to make the jump to the NHL this season.
With an abundance of wingers on the NHL club, letting Aston-Reese start in the AHL is the most likely scenario.
When the time is right, Aston-Reese’s call up will give the Penguins even more options when it comes to line combinations.
Along with the options at the forward position, Aston-Reese’s call up will give Jim Rutherford the ability to trade a winger for a third-line center, a position that is still vacant.
Once Aston-Reese joins the Penguins, the lineup could look something like this:
Guentzel – Crosby – Sheary
Aston-Reese – Malkin – Kessel
Rust – Unknown – Hornqvist
Hagelin – Rowney – Reaves
With depth throughout the lines, the Penguins will continue their balanced attack and will plan to defeat teams with speed and skill. With Crosby on one line, Malkin on the other, and Hornqvist on the third line, the Penguins will look to continue to be one of the top scoring teams throughout the league.
Kris Letang played his first game since receiving neck surgery last season, and looked good in the process. Although the Penguins loss to the St. Louis Blues by a score of 4-1, Letang’s presence was more than enough to satisfy Penguins management.
Jake Guentzel has been flying this preseason, leading the league in points. Expect Guentzel to play at another level this season, as his chemistry with Sidney Crosby is getting better by the day.