Nick Drazenovic has had a lot on his plate since the end of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins playoff run in early June.
A concussion forced him to miss the last six games of the postseason, a period he calls one of the “most disheartening times” in his career.
After the season ended, Drazenovic underwent hip surgery and is currently on crutches as he endures a three-month recovery.
At the same time, Drazenovic was contemplating heading to Europe to continue his career.
“It was on the table,” he said.
But as soon as the Pittsburgh Penguins organization expressed an interest in bringing back the veteran center, thoughts of playing in Europe disappeared.
On July 1 - the first day of free agency, Drazenovic signed a one-year, two-way contract with Pittsburgh to return for a second season.
Drazenovic, 27, played the majority of the 2013-14 regular-season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, ranking second in assists (29) and points (42). He was also one of a handful of veterans that head coach John Hynes counted on to lead a room full of young players. It’s a role that Drazenovic is happy to resume.
“Last year we had a really good core of players in Wilkes-Barre and it’s nice to see that confidence that the organization has in us to bring us back and keep it growing,” Drazenovic said.
There was a chance, however, that Drazenovic may have departed overseas for next season. He said there were talks with European teams about going over there to play, and that was nothing new. His family has Croatian roots and teams in Croatia had been pursuing Drazenovic for a couple of years. But when Pittsburgh called, Drazenovic quickly agreed to a contract.
“Like any Canadian boy, my dream is to play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup or the Calder Cup if I’m here this season,” he said. “I’m going to keep fighting for it until they tell me I can’t do it anymore.”
Drazenovic’s dream was cut short last postseason when he suffered a concussion in Game 7 in the Providence series, missing the rest of the playoffs. If the Penguins had been able to beat St. John’s in the third round and advance to the finals, Drazenovic said he probably could’ve returned, but he never got the chance as the Penguins got bumped by the IceCaps.
“It was a terrible way to go into the summer,” Drazenovic said.
Things didn’t improve right away, either. Three weeks ago Drazenovic had hip surgery, which carries a three month recovery process. Still, Drazenovic said he should be 100 percent by August and ready to fight for a spot in training camp.
This year’s camp figures to carry a change of scenery as Pittsburgh hired a new head coach in Mike Johnston along with a new staff. Organizational changes are nothing new to Drazenovic, who has been through it during his time with St. Louis and Columbus.
“It’s a feeling out process,” he said. “Mike Johnston coached in the WHL when I played there and his teams were always good. It’s a good move for Pittsburgh and he’s won at all levels.”
Drazenovic joins a group of returning veteran players in Tom Kostopoulos, Andrew Ebbett and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. With so many familiar faces returning, Drazenovic said this will give Wilkes-Barre/Scranton an early advantage for the upcoming season.
“Not only do we have good players coming back, but they’re good people as well,” he said. “We’re already going to be gelled and ready to rock.”
- Winger Harry Zolnierczyk signed with the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
- Pittsburgh signed defenseman Tyler Chorney to a one-year, two-way contract on Monday.Chorney, 27, played with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2013-14, serving as team captain. He had 25 points (5G-20A) in 69 AHL regular-season games and two points (1G-1A) in nine playoff games. His 20 assists and 25 points were AHL career highs.