Mark Eaton walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena with Tom Kostopoulos before the start of Wednesday's game and quickly realized just how popular his teammate is in Wilkes-Barre.
His picture is all over the place. He's a legend, Eaton said of Kostopoulos.
The legend has returned.
On Wednesday, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins signed Kostopoulos and Eaton to 25-game professional tryout agreements, giving the two veterans a chance to renew their careers.
For Kostopoulos, 33, he returns to the place where his career began 13 years ago as a member of the first Penguins team in the 1999-2000 season. He spent parts of five seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and holds franchise records for games played (318), goals (97), assists (149), points (246) and playoff scoring (38 points in 51 games).
The chance to rekindle his career in the building where it all began was too good an opportunity for Kostopoulos to pass up.
When the NHL started there wasn't anyone knocking my door down. Once my agent said Pittsburgh was interested and I would be coming to Wilkes-Barre, I was interested, he said.
Kostopoulos has spent every season in the NHL since 2005. He appeared in 615 NHL games with Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Carolina and Calgary.
He hopes to parlay his 25-game PTO into another stint with Pittsburgh.
If that doesn't work out, hopefully somewhere else, Kostopoulos said. In the meantime I'm just going to play hard and help this team win a championship.
Eaton, 35, has been spending his time in Rhode Island helping out with a high school hockey team. Like Kostopoulos, Eaton didn't have any offers when the lockout ended, until Pittsburgh came calling. He played with Pittsburgh from 2006 to 2010 and has 627 NHL games to his credit. Eaton also played with Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup team in 2008-2009.
I have ties with the Penguins, Eaton said. I wanted to get back to playing and, knowing the systems here, it seemed like a logical fit for me.
As far as earning another stint with Pittsburgh, Eaton said his first focus is getting back into game shape.
I'm not going to think that far ahead, Eaton said. The idea right now is get back into shape, help contribute to this team and whatever happens, happens.
Both players met with fans on the concourse prior to the start of Wednesday's game and watched the action from the Penguins suite. Kostopoulos said he took time to drive around the area on Wednesday.
It was cool to drive around and see all the changes and chat with the fans, he said. I knew at some point I'd come back here, but I wasn't sure if I'd play here again.
Kostopoulos hopes to play in both games this weekend and see how his body feels before determining how close he is to making an NHL comeback.