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Penguins notebook: Only 1 way to play for forward Tom Kuhnhackl

Jonathan Bombulie
| Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, 8:42 p.m.
Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard stops the Penguins' Tom Kuhnhackl in the first period Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard stops the Penguins' Tom Kuhnhackl in the first period Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.

Tom Kuhnhackl didn't put the inside of his leg in front of a shot during an intrasquad scrimmage last week because he thought it would be fun.

He didn't take a puck off the foot and hobble off the ice for medical attention during Wednesday's exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings because it sounded like a good time.

All things considered, he would rather save the bruises, welts and contusions for the games that count.

“Of course it crosses my mind,” Kuhnhackl admitted.

But Kuhnhackl knows that's not a realistic goal. Blocking shots has become an integral part of his game, and even if he wanted to avoid it in the preseason, his instincts probably wouldn't allow it.

“If I don't start now, I might not do it in the first game or whenever I get in the lineup,” Kuhnhackl said. “Maybe the coaches think, ‘He doesn't want to do it now. Is he going to do it during the season?' It starts with the attitude for me. It's part of my game, so I'm just going to start doing it from Day 1.”

After playing a significant role in the run to the 2016 Stanley Cup, Kuhnhackl suffered a groin injury and slipped off the radar during last season's playoffs. He knows his clearest path to a return to prominence is by performing tasks like shot-blocking and penalty-killing.

It could be his ticket to a jersey on game night rather than a seat in the press box. Or a spot on the roster rather than a trip through waivers.

Thus far, coach Mike Sullivan's reviews of Kuhnhackl's work have been positive.

“First and foremost, he has very good awareness,” Sullivan said. “He has good awareness away from the puck. He makes good reads. He's sound defensively, positionally and with his stick details, the angles he takes. He's a very good shot-blocker. He's a brave guy in that regard. He has all the attributes that we're looking for in a defensive-type player and a guy that can kill penalties for us.”

Time to kill

The NHL's crackdown on slashing has cut into the flow and entertainment value of exhibition games thus far, but not everyone should be complaining.

Take veteran tryout center Jay McClement, for example. If he earns a contract with the Penguins, it probably will be because of his skill on the penalty kill.

“Every exhibition game, you'll get lots of chances to show your stuff,” McClement said. “That's a big part of who I am as a player.”

McClement, incidentally, was confident the parade to the penalty box won't last forever.

“As the preseason goes on, I think guys will learn more and more,” he said. “It just seems like guys haven't quite learned yet.”

Preseason ironmen

Centers Greg McKegg and Teddy Blueger kept up their preseason ironman streak Friday night in Columbus. They have dressed for all three exhibition games.

“The more opportunities we get to see how they play and familiarize ourselves with their respective games, the more informed decisions we can make,” Sullivan said.

Painting the town

Preparations were well underway at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Friday for Sunday's Kraft Hockeyville USA game against the St. Louis Blues. Various pieces of Kraft signage were hung all over the Cranberry rink, and the event's logo was laid down at center ice.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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