Source: Tom Venesky | Times LeaderZach Aston-Reese to make WBS Pengins debut
WILKES-BARRE — During Monday’s practice at the Mohegan Sun Arena, new Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese blasted a couple of goals while working with the power-play unit.
After practice, head coach Clark Donatelli said the highly touted prospect will be put in situations to score during his first pro game on Tuesday.
No surprise there.
The 6-foot, 204-pound Aston-Reese led the NCAA with 31 goals and 63 points during his senior season at Northeastern University. He arrived in town last weekend and watched the Penguins play Lehigh Valley on Friday and Saturday, but it wasn’t until Monday that Aston-Reese finally got to skate with his new team.
“I was a little bit anxious to get out there. A little bit nervous but I felt pretty good,” he said. “I felt like myself.”
Thus the goals while working with the power play groups.
Donatelli is likely to pencil in Aston-Reese as a top six forward at the beginning. He praised Aston-Reese’s ability to not only score goals, but do it by going to the hard areas around the net.
“Some guys have a knack for that. The puck follows them,” Donatelli said. “He’s a goal scorer so we’ll put him with some guys that will give him the puck and see if he can get some goals.”
Things have been hectic for Aston-Reese even before he plays his first pro game on Tuesday.
Ten days ago, his college team was knocked out of the NCAA Hockey East quarterfinals by rival Boston University. At the same time, Aston-Reese was being courted by NHL teams hoping to land the high-scoring free agent. And after he signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Pittsburgh, Aston-Reese bid farewell to college and arrived in Wilkes-Barre to start life as a pro.
Aston-Reese said none of it has been a distraction.
“It wasn’t too difficult to deal with. When I was at the rink I just showed up to work and kind of pushed that away,” he said. “I had an idea where I wanted to go so it wasn’t tough.”
But now, Aston-Reese said his focus will be on adjusting to the pro game. While watching the Penguins play over the weekend, he noticed how big the players are in the pro ranks and how fast plays occur.
The 22-year-old also pondered how his game will fit and what needs to be done, getting pucks off the wall for a breakout, for example, in order to succeed with the Penguins.
And scoring isn’t the only thing that Aston-Reese could bring to the table, either. As a senior, he registered a career-high 72 penalty minutes.
“I’m going to try to be right on that edge where I’m not getting too amped up,” Aston-Reese said, adding that his penalty minutes were a bit high because he was vocal with the officials at time. “I think I got on the refs a little bit early on, so I kind of put a target on my back. It’s something I’m going to stay away from and play between the whistles.”
While at Northeastern, Aston-Reese increased his goal and point totals every season. That was important, he said, and it’s something that scouts noticed.
And as a pro, Aston-Reese hopes to continue that improvement. He got off to a good start on Monday with a few goals in his first practice with the power play.
“It’s a spot I’m used to being in,” Aston-Reese said. “It was nice for the confidence, but it’s practice.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVeneskycomments powered by Disqus