Penguins turn to call-ups for jolt of energy on fourth line |

Penguins turn to call-ups for jolt of energy on fourth line

Jonathan Bombulie
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The PenguinsՠZach Aston-Reese attempts to shoot eh puck in front of goal during their game against the Flyers inside of PPG Paints Arena on April 20, 2018.

WASHINGTON – Twenty-six players have scored at least six AHL goals so far this season.

Two of them are on track to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup Wednesday night.

Based on personnel groupings at morning skate, Daniel Sprong and Juuso Riikola look like they’ll be healthy scratches when the Penguins play the Washington Capitals.

That means Zach Aston-Reese and Garrett Wilson, the six-goal scorers called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when Derek Grant was sent down Monday, will likely make their NHL season debuts. Chad Ruhwedel is also expected to return to the lineup on defense.

The Penguins have received next to no offense from their fourth line in the early part of the season, but coach Mike Sullivan said that’s not necessarily his motivation for turning to Aston-Reese and Wilson.

“I’d like to see them bring us a lot of energy,” Sullivan said. “I’d like to see (them) help us build momentum and establish an offensive-zone forecheck and establish some offensive-zone time. I think that line has the potential to do that.

“They’re a line that defensively is very sound. We could use them in defensive-zone situations if need be. That’s how we look at that line and what it can bring to this team to help us win.”

Aston-Reese, a hard-nosed 24-year-old who played 16 games for the Penguins last year in the regular season and nine more in the playoffs, was sent down at the end of training camp. He was the only forward among the leading candidates for one of the final roster spots who didn’t have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL, and his camp performance wasn’t enough to overcome that obstacle.

Since arriving in Wilkes-Barre, he’s recorded 41 shots on goal, most on the team and fifth-best in the league. He had a hat trick in an 8-5 loss to Bridgeport on Sunday.

He said he focused on improving the physical part of his game, from throwing hits to winning puck battles.

“Every day was just a day of growth,” Aston-Reese said. “The guys down there were so hungry, practice and game time. I definitely found an edginess to my game.”

Wilson, meanwhile, was named Wilkes-Barre/Scranton captain, filling the role held for the last five years by Tom Kostopoulos.

That honor can be a double-edged sword. It shows a team respects a player’s character, but it might also show it views him as a minor-league talent.

Wilson, 27, made sure he didn’t get pigeon-holed by leading the team with 11 points in 11 games.

“Whenever you get the C, you start to wonder if you’re just kind of getting a leadership role down there,” Wilson said. “They said in exit meetings that wasn’t the case. They just wanted me to go down and lead by example and help the young guys. I’ve tried to do that so far.”

Wilson is equipped to provide the energy Sullivan asked for. He’s a 6-foot-2 power forward with 43 pro fights to his credit, including two in the NHL during a 34-game stay with the Florida Panthers and one with suspended Capitals winger Tom Wilson in juniors.

“My game is a physical game,” Wilson said. “I like to get in on the forecheck and get to the front of the net.”

In most cases over the past few years, call-ups from Wilkes-Barre have been filling in for injured players, trying to simply keep the Penguins’ train rolling. Now that they’re on a losing streak, that dynamic is a little different for Aston-Reese and Wilson.

“They’re such a great team. I know they’re not going to be losing for too long,” Wilson said. “Hopefully I can help get a win here and do my thing out there.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.