Winger Kostopoulos back on familiar ground in Wilkes-Barre
As far as potential NHL impact goes, the signing of veteran defenseman Mark Eaton to a 25-game AHL tryout contract was the most significant personnel move the Penguins made this week.
But it wasn't close to the biggest headline in Wilkes-Barre.
That honor was reserved for the return of winger Tom Kostopoulos, who also signed a 25-game tryout deal.
Now 34, Kostopoulos spent most of his first five pro seasons with the Baby Pens. He's the franchise's all-time leader in games played (318), goals (97), assists (149) and points (246).
“He's a legend. His picture's all over the place here,” Eaton said.
Kostopoulos' previous stay in Pittsburgh wasn't as memorable as Eaton's, but he did have 10 goals and 76 penalty minutes in 79 games from 2001-04. Since leaving the Penguins, Kostopoulos has recorded 50 goals and 54 fighting majors in 536 NHL games while polishing his physical fourth-line style.
“I'm probably a little more relaxed out there,” Kostopoulos said. “I used to try to go 100 mph everywhere and create that way. I think I'm a little more patient.”
Because Eaton and Kostopoulos are playing on tryout contracts, they're free to sign with any NHL team, not just the Penguins. Baby Pens coach John Hynes said it's too early to predict how their immediate futures will play out.
“On both sides, it's going to be a little bit of touch and feel,” he said. “There's past relationships. There's good relationships. Both parties know each other well. Now it's about playing, production and seeing where it goes from here.”
Rookie winger Beau Bennett suffered an undisclosed injury and left Wednesday's game against St. John's in the second period. Hynes called the injury minor, but Bennett's participation in Monday's AHL all-star game was in doubt.
Regardless of Bennett's status, the Baby Pens will have at least one all-star. Chad Kolarik, the speedy winger the Penguins acquired from the New York Rangers in a minor deal Thursday, was chosen for the game before being dealt. He led the Connecticut Whale in scoring with 16 goals and 35 points in 41 games.
If Bennett is out, rookie defenseman Brian Dumoulin is a strong candidate to be added to the roster. Dumoulin, who came to the Penguins from Carolina in the Jordan Staal trade, had two goals and three assists in his past five games coming into this weekend, filling the void left by the call-up of Simon Despres, Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo at the end of the lockout.
Root Sports will broadcast the all-star game live at 7 p.m.
Taking it outside
The Baby Pens played in the fifth outdoor game in AHL history last Sunday, beating the Hershey Bears, 2-1, in overtime in front of 17,311 fans at Hersheypark Stadium.
Paul Thompson scored the winning goal, beating ex-Penguins goalie Dany Sabourin on a breakaway.
Goalie Brad Thiessen, who has struggled since winning AHL goalie of the year honors in 2011-12, is having a spectacular January. The fourth-year pro is 5-1 with an 0.84 goals-against average, .962 save percentage and three shutouts in six starts in the month.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.