As the Peoria Rivermen dropped further out of the Western Conference playoff race, Derek Nesbitt and his teammates began to plan for a long summer.
It was going to be the second time in the last three years that Peoria failed to go to the postseason, and it was a feeling that Nesbitt was reluctantly getting used to.
“The writing was on the wall,” he said.
That writing quickly changed on April 10 when Nesbitt was dealt to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. All of a sudden Nesbitt went from planning for a long summer to preparing for a playoff run with a new team.
And he has only a few weeks to do it.
Not that Nesbitt is complaining.
In fact, he’s thankful that Peoria GM Kevin McDonald sent him to a team where another postseason chance is a lock.
“For Kevin to send me to a team like this, to make a nice run with them, I appreciate it a lot,” Nesbitt said after Wednesday’s practice at Coal Street - his first with the Penguins.
Practice is where Nesbitt, 31, will have to get used to his new teammates before the playoffs begin. He will only play in one of two games this weekend in order to avoid making him a veteran for next season.
Still, Nesbitt isn’t concerned with the quick turnaround before playoffs. While he’ll use the single game to get a feel for the Penguins’ style of game, practice is where Nesbitt hopes to make the biggest strides.
“Today was a good practice - hard working and intense. That’s a good thing going into the playoffs,” he said. “It will be two weeks since I played, so it will be nice to get a game in to before playoffs.”
Nesbitt, who has 26 goals this season to go along with 22 the year before, gives the Penguins another sniper to add to the lineup. Head coach John Hynes expects him to skate on the left side with Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons, and judging by his performance at Wednesday’s practice, Nesbitt is on track to be ready for the playoffs.
“We gave him a couple of things to look at yesterday and he came back today and knew all the answers,” Hynes said. “He was on in every drill and with all the practice time he’ll be fine.
“It’s different in the sense that he’s an experienced vet.”
That experience is what Nesbitt said will not only allow him to adjust to his new team, but prepare mentally for the grind of the playoffs. He said the Penguins system isn’t something that he’s never seen before.
“It’s not a new language. It’s pretty much the same a lot of places you go,” Nesbitt said. “But it’s enforced here, very strict, and that’s why they’re winning so many games.”
As far as prior knowledge about Wilkes-Barre, Nesbitt said he played here just once during his six seasons in the AHL. He did play with Chad Kolarik and Dylan Reese in San Antonio five years ago, but that’s where the familiarity ends.
But Nesbitt is fully aware that the playoffs can do a lot to strengthen new bonds quickly.
“It’s a mindset. Your season’s over, but you have to get ready for the second season because it comes quick and it goes quick,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to adjust.”
- Hynes credited past and present Penguin players for the team’s consecutive playoff streak of 11 years. “The most important thing is it can’t be done without quality players. That’s one thing that makes Wilkes-Barre a special place to coach,” he said. “It’s a tribute to the guys this year and every captain and leadership group that’s been here over the last 11 years.”
- Hynes admitted he was surprised that goaltender Jeff Zatkoff wasn’t chosen for either the first or second AHL all-star team. Zatkoff leads the league with a 1.91 goals against average, is fourth with 26 wins and tied for third with five shutouts. “To have the numbers and do what he’s done is certainly worthy of an all-star consideration,” Hynes said. “He’s been very sound.”
- The Penguins signed forwards Mattia Marcantuoni and Anton Zlobin to amateur tryout agreements on Wednesday.
Marcantuoni, 19, recently completed his third season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers, recording seven goals, 18 assists and 34 penalty minutes in 64 games. He also notched a goal and an assist in 10 postseason contests.
The Toronto, Ontario-native was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round (92nd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In his three seasons with Kitchener, Marcantuoni has totaled 66 points (27G-39A) and 70 PIM over 130 games.
Zlobin was also a selection of Pittsburgh in last summer’s draft, picked in the sixth round (173rd overall). The 2012-13 saw the 20 year-old post 29 goals, 61 assists and 43 PIM in 61 games for Val d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Zlobin not only led his team in assists (62) and points (91), but also ranked ninth overall in the QMJHL in points and was tied for fourth in assists. The left winger compiled 10 points (2G-8A) in the 10 playoffs games for the Foreurs. Originally from Moscow, Russia, Zlobin spent his previous two seasons with the Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL), registering 121 points (63G-58A) and 78 PIM over 125 matches.