When goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers came to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins training camp late last month as a tryout, he was simply hoping to land a job.
As the Penguins get ready to open the regular season Saturday in Bridgeport, Deslauriers has landed one of the most important jobs on the team. Head coach John Hynes said after Friday’s practice that Deslauriers will get the start in net tonight, edging rookie Eric Hartzell.
For Deslauriers, 29, there really isn’t anything different about the start. He’s played in AHL season openers twice before (and won them both), he’s played in Bridgeport and he’s also played for the Penguins, albeit six years ago.
What is different is the way Deslauriers landed the starting role. Last season, he bounced around between the ECHL and AHL, suiting up for four teams. He spent the summer without a contract and received a late opportunity from the Penguins after it appeared certain that last year’s starter, Jeff Zatkoff, would remain up in Pittsburgh to start the season.
And even when he arrived in training camp, Deslauriers still had to battle Hartzell and fellow veteran Andy Chiodo. He needed to perform well in practice and in the exhibition games, and that’s exactly what landed Deslauriers the start tonight.
“First, it was his performance. He looked good in training camp and we liked what he did in the exhibition games,” Hynes said. “He followed that up with a real good week of practice. We also like his experience and we’re giving him the opportunity to see what he can do here.”
Deslauriers enters his second stint with the Penguins. He was a member of the 2006-07 squad and registered a 22-12-3 record with a .908 save percentage, a 2.47 goals against average and four shutouts.
Last season, however, the nine-year veteran endured a frustrating season. He was called up to Anaheim four times but never played. He spent some time in the AHL with Norfolk and Fort Wayne in the ECHL, and finished the season back in the AHL with Houston, where he finished strong earning a shutout and allowing only two goals in three appearances.
“Last season was a very up and down year. Right now I take it as a learning experience and apply it to help me in the future,” Deslauriers said. “I trained hard this summer to get a contract and now I have an opportunity here, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have to continue to work hard.”
Still, it does help to be back in familiar territory with the Penguins.
“This is a winning team that is strongly supported by the fans, that hasn’t changed. I’ve started season openers on the road and at home and I played in Bridgeport before and know what to expect,” Deslauriers said. “I’m just happy to be back in there and playing in the first game that matters this season.”
• Brian Gibbons left practice early. Hynes said he was hit by a stick and needed some stitches but will be ready for tonight.
• F Bobby Farnham, D Brian Dumoulin and G Peter Mannino won’t play tonight as they continue to recover from injuries.
• Tonight marks just the third time in franchise history that the Penguins have opened the season on the road. “It’s nice because you get a chance to go away as a team right off the bat,” Hynes said. “Guys can do a lot of things together and come together as a team.”
• Last season the Penguins were 3-1 against the Sound Tigers. They play Bridgeport twice this season.