Pittsburgh-area players make strong NHL debuts
In a 48-hour span, three Pittsburgh-bred hockey players realized a dream.
Gibsonia's Brandon Saad, who plays for the Chicago Blackhawks, scored his first NHL goal Tuesday. Earlier that night, New York Rangers' forward J.T. Miller, who is from Coraopolis, played in his first game. He scored his first two goals Thursday against the New York Islanders.
About the time Miller scored, Upper St. Clair's Dylan Reese skated a shift with the Penguins for the first time.
The Blackhawks clearly have big plans for Saad, who has been playing on the top line with center Jonathan Toews and right wing Marian Hossa.
“It's very exciting when you score a goal at any level,” Saad told the Tribune-Review on Thursday. “But yeah, doing it in the NHL for the first time was exciting.”
Reese's excitement over joining the Penguins was evident.
When general manager Ray Shero traded defenseman Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim for a future draft pick, he also decided to recall Reese from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Reese found himself in the lineup Thursday against Washington because defenseman Kris Letang was forced to sit out with a lower-body injury. The Penguins also are without defenseman Matt Niskanen, who is out at least one more week with an ankle injury.
Reese is delighted to finally wear a Penguins sweater in a game after wearing one so often during his childhood.
“It's unbelievable,” he said. “I grew up watching hockey here. I'm a product of the Stanley Cups in 1991 and '92. It's really a dream come true.”
The Penguins were pleased to sign Reese last summer because he had shown he could perform in the NHL — he has 74 games on his résumé with the New York Islanders — and because of the organizational depth he could provide at the AHL level.
“He's a gritty player,” coach Dan Bylsma said before the Penguins played the Capitals. “He plays with speed.”
Reese, who played at Harvard, is known as a cerebral defenseman. He said adjusting to Bylsma's system — something that has proven to be problematic for other defensemen, notably Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek and Matt Niskanen — won't be an issue.
“I know every bit of the system,” he said. “It's been a smooth transition.”
Saad and Miller also appear to be making their transitions nicely. Miller drew rave reviews from the Rangers' coaching staff Tuesday before tallying his first goal two nights later.
Saad, likewise, looks comfortable in Chicago.
“That goal,” he said, “was something I'll remember forever.”