When asked how anxious he is to resume blasting slapshots from the point on the power play, Alex Grant's eyes light up.
I'd love to be doing that, he said.
Last year Grant's booming shot on the point resulted in 10 goals and 27 assists – including 20 on the power play. This year, Grant hoped to build on that successful rookie season, but the chances have been few.
Of the team's first 12 games, Grant has been a healthy scratch for eight of them. He sat out the last five, and hasn't played since Oct. 28.
At times it's frustrating, Grant said. But there's a lot of great D here. Tough numbers. Hopefully when I get back in I can stick.
Not only is Grant a victim of the organization's depth at defense, head coach John Hynes said the lockout has hurt as well. Hynes intends on Grant being a healthy scratch for the short term and when the lockout ends the young defenseman should find more ice time in Wilkes-Barre. The problem is, with every deadline that passes with no agreement to end the lockout, Hynes has to readjust his plan as far as getting players like Grant back into the lineup to continue their development.
It's something we're always talking about, particularly with the amount of defensemen we have, Hynes said. How do we continue to help everybody grow?
For now, in Grant's case at least, practice is his salvation. He acknowledges that many players are in a similar situation with the lockout, but it's important not to let practice habits slip in the meantime.
The way we practice here, you still improve every day even if you're not playing games, Grant said. I have to make my practices my games.
Hynes acknowledged Grant's hard work in practice and said it could parlay to a return trip back to the lineup.
But it's not the only way Grant could get back into games. Matchups or even a rotation among defensemen are other possibilities, Hynes said.
It can happen multiple ways. Alex has been doing a great job in practice, but games are games, Hynes said. At some point when he does come back, we know we have that arsenal on the power play.
Keven Veilleux is back from his three-game rehab stint with Wheeling and ready for game action, according to Hynes. While Veilleux is likely to play in either of the Penguins next two home games, Hynes said he will man the right wing slot on the fourth line initially.
He's got a lot of jump, Hynes said, adding he is happy to have Veilleux's size back in the lineup after missing all of last season with a knee injury. He's a big, strong kid who has no problem with physicality. He's strong on pucks, good in the offensive zone and brings a different element to our team personality-wise.
Veilleux is equally excited to return and said he didn't think about his injury while on the ice in Wheeling. He logged a ton of minutes with the Nailers which helped his game shape, and also took a few hits and felt fine.
I can't wait to jump on the ice here, he said. I will be ready.
The Penguins host the Springfield Falcons tonight (7:05 p.m.) – the second meeting between the two teams. Springfield beat the Penguins 4-2 in the second game of the season on Oct. 19 and currently leads the Eastern Conference with 18 points.
They have a D corps that can move the puck, a lot of skill up front and a combination of good veteran presence, toughness and young skilled players, Hynes said.
The game will mark the return of former captain Ryan Craig to the Mohegan Sun Arena. Jeff Zatkoff will get the start in net.