Throughout the regular season the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins frequently lost their top players due to call-ups to Pittsburgh.
Now, with the playoffs on the horizon, the parent club is giving back.
A few days after goaltender Tomas Vokoun wrapped up his conditioning stint and headed back to Pittsburgh, defenseman Simon Despres and forwards Chuck Kobasew and Harry Zonierczyk returned to Wilkes-Barre. On Wednesday, Chris Conner also came down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for a conditioning assignment this weekend.
With two games left in the regular season and the East Division title on the line, the late-season additions are welcome.
“Pittsburgh is really healthy right now and has a lot of depth,” said head coach John Hynes after Wednesday’s practice at the Toyota Sportsplex. “Although there are a lot of changes, it’s a lot of guys that have been here before and know what we’re doing.”
And they’re eager to help.
Conner hasn’t played since Dec. 31, when he suffered an injury while in Pittsburgh. Wednesday was his first full practice, he said, and Friday’s contest in Binghamton will mark his first game action.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Conner said. “I want to play games that mean something and obviously this one does. It’s a good way to start, and it will be nice just to be out there and play a hockey game.”
Despres has spent the last two months in Pittsburgh and fell victim to a numbers game as the parent club had nine healthy defensemen. He said he’s excited to be back in Wilkes-Barre and help the team through the postseason.
If he’s here that long.
During the last two seasons, Despres was recalled by Pittsburgh during their playoff run, so there’s a possibility it could happen again.
“I’ve gotten experience in the NHL playoffs, but right now my focus is on Wilkes-Barre,” Despres said, adding he’s looking forward to playing a lot of minutes.
“Being in and out of the lineup in the NHL is really hard. Not mentally, but when you play every game the timing is there. You lose a bit of that when you don’t play, so being here and playing, my timing will come back and that will help my confidence.”
- With Conner back, the Penguins are now two players over the veteran limit. Hynes said Conner will play both games this weekend but no decision has been made yet as to which two veteran players will sit.
- As far as the goaltending situation, Eric Hartzell is back and joined Peter Mannino in practice. Jeff Deslauriers wasn’t on the ice and Hartzell used his stall in the locker room. In addition, 2012 third round pick Matt Murray was signed to an ATO on Tuesday, and Hynes said the young netminder could see time as a backup. As far as Deslauriers, who has been day-to-day with an injury, Hynes expected to know more today regarding his status for the weekend.
- Also signed to ATOs on Tuesday were F Jean-Sebastien Dea and D Clark Seymour.