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Penguins notebook: Sidney Crosby makes surprise appearance at rookie practice

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, 1:24 p.m.

Bill Guerin, the Penguins assistant general manager who is the point man for the team's prospect tournament squad that opens a rookie tournament Friday in Buffalo, got a phone call Thursday morning.

Would it be OK, he was asked, if a veteran from the NHL roster joined the rookies for the practice they had scheduled Thursday morning in Cranberry before they boarded a bus bound for Western New York?

The veteran was Sidney Crosby.

“I was like, ‘Yeah. He can do it. Third-line center,' ” Guerin joked.

Eighty-seven days after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in Nashville, Crosby was back on the ice at a Penguins practice, skating with players who were barely in grade school when he was drafted in 2005.

“It was great,” Guerin said. “It was a great opportunity for our young players to skate with the best player in the world and see what it takes, see how he handles himself, how he works. It's just a great opportunity for these guys.”

Crosby took part in all drills with the prospects, skating in two-on-none rushes with Daniel Sprong. When it came time for line rushes, he stepped to the back of the line and skated with wingers Jan Drozg, an 18-year-old fifth-round draft pick, and Sam Miletic, a 20-year-old tryout.

“It's pretty cool,” Sprong said. “I was lucky enough to go with him a couple of times during drills. It was good. He was pushing the pace.”

After skating with the rookies, Crosby traveled to New York for NHL media day activities.

Playing the right way

Competing with his fellow prospects in small-ice competitions during rookie practice, it was clear Sprong was in another league when it comes to puck skills. It's entirely possible he will put up gaudy numbers when the Penguins play prospect tournament games against young players from Boston, New Jersey and Buffalo over the next four days.

That's not necessarily Sprong's focus, however.

“I just want to play the right way,” Sprong said, echoing a phrase often used by coach Mike Sullivan. “(Mark Recchi) and I talked a lot about it during the season when I played juniors. The offensive side is going to come when I play better on the defensive side. I think my numbers show it. Here in Buffalo, try to win games with the team but most of all, try to play the right way.”

Center spot

A lack of a settled organizational depth chart at center this offseason has led to speculation that a few prospects who mostly have played on the wing might be in line for a move to the middle.

Guerin said there were no immediate plans to start grooming players such as Zach Aston-Reese or Thomas Di Pauli for a permanent move to center.

“Maybe trying a guy at a different position, that'll come later,” Guerin said. “That will come on the fly.”

Olympic disappointment

News that NHL players will not play in the Olympics in February in South Korea was a particularly rough blow for Penguins winger Tom Kuhnhackl. He scored the winning goal in a qualifying tournament game against Latvia last year to send his homeland of Germany to the Olympics for the first time since 2010.

“It's really disappointing, especially for me being from Germany,” Kuhnhackl said. “That might be the only chance I'll ever get to play in the Olympics. It's obviously really frustrating.”

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

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