Buffalo, New York, was the host of this year’s Pittsburgh Penguins rookie camp, and the invitees put on an excellent showing. Training camp began on Sept. 23 at UPMC Sports Medicine Center, as 57 players received the call. Along with the usual suspects, general manager Ron Hextall and company saw the performance of the rookies in their lone outing against the Boston Bruins and brought those who stood out during the game and practices to the big show.
Of the 57 players at training camp, 11 of them also appeared in the Prospects Challenge. Three defencemen, six forwards, and two goalies earned their shot with the big club. Among those in attendance include top draft pick Owen Pickering and recent minor league signees Jordan Frasca and Taylor Gauthier.
Handful of Penguins Rookies Looking for Their First Chance
While the majority of the new faces at training camp have had some pro experience in the past, there are a select few who are embarking on their first official season as professional athletes. Frasca and Gauthier arrive fresh off the signing of their entry-level contracts, and Pickering’s pre-draft scouting report made it seem almost obvious he’d be in attendance. While much of the focus was on the top draft pick, it quickly shifted to a few others after he suffered a lower-body injury before the start of the showcase. In his absence, former Philadelphia Flyers’ pick Jack St. Ivany stole the show. He played two seasons of college hockey at Yale before transferring to Boston College and already had a connection with Hextall, as he was drafted by the Penguins’ GM when he was still a part of the Flyers organization.
St. Ivany scored 60 points in 115 games in college and is currently listed as a 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. Although he has yet to play a professional game, his solid presence meant he earned a spot at training camp. St. Ivany has modeled his game after former Boston College Eagle and current teammate Brian Dumoulin. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, St. Ivany and Dumoulin have gotten a chance to meet, and St. Ivany recalled his time in college and how Dumoulin shaped his career:
“I’d never crossed paths with him, but when I was there … he was such a great defenseman, and a great defenseman to learn about. They’d show us teaching clips of him, and I actually got to meet him the other day. I would love to mimic a lot of his game. He’s a simple defenseman, but he’s really effective. A lot of the video clips they’re showing us are him making simple plays, fending off the rush. If I can be the defenseman he is, I’ll be very happy with that.”Penguins’ defence prospect Jack St. Ivany on how Brian Dumoulin influenced his play while at Boston College. (from ‘Could St. Ivany Convince Penguins to Take a Flyer on Him?,’ Dave Molinari. Pittsburgh Hockey Now, 15/09/2022)
Pickering’s injury allowed players like St. Ivany to receive more attention than they otherwise would have gotten, and the results mean he and others are now competing for roster spots with the big club.
Returning Prospects Hoping to Crack Penguins Roster This Time
Along with some players looking to get their first taste of pro action this year, there were also some returnees looking to improve their standing. Forward Fillip Hållander was back at rookie camp after a lone appearance against the New York Rangers last April. This year’s camps may prove to be the best opportunity for him to make the NHL roster, and he deserves to do so after the career path he’s had so far. Drafted by the Penguins in 2018, he was shipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the deal that saw Kasperi Kapanen back in back and gold. In 2021, Hållander returned to the Penguins from the Seattle Kraken in another trade, this time for Jared McCann.
Although Hållander has not necessarily performed to the level expected when he was first drafted, he has since shown that he could be a more than capable potential third- or fourth-line forward. In his last two seasons, one in his native Sweden and the other in the American Hockey League (AHL), he has reached double-digits in both goals and assists. His numbers were a slight disappointment, as many considered him to be one of the most offensively-potent prospects in an otherwise shallow pool. However, Hextall, President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, and head coach Mike Sullivan have all indirectly stated their commitment to his development.
This is perhaps the most hectic Penguins training camp in recent history, especially given the fathom of new signings. Ryan Poehling, Josh Archibald, and Jan Rutta will all be present, and the rookies will have their work cut out for them if they want to crack the NHL roster. Despite the challenges, some of the rookies invited to camp have impressed in the showcase tournament and are well set up to succeed with the big club.
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Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.