Pens minor league report: Several factors can determine success of a call-up
Last week, the Penguins' rags-to-riches story was Jayson Megna, an undrafted second-year pro who posted a goal and an assist in his second NHL game Monday night in Carolina.
When wingers Chris Conner and Harry Zolnierczyk were called up earlier in the season, their stories were more like rags to rags. They combined for no points and a minus-1 rating in five games and promptly were returned to Wilkes-Barre.
Why do some call-ups have immediate success while others struggle and fade?
It's not an easy question to answer. If it were, no call-up ever would be a dud. Baby Pens coach John Hynes has a theory, though.
If a player is called up because the Penguins have a desperate need at his position, he isn't likely to stay in the NHL for long. If a prospect forces the Penguins to make room for him because he's playing so well, that's a different story.
“When that happens, that's usually when the guy doesn't come back for a while,” Hynes said.
There are a couple of other factors that can help a call-up fit into the NHL seamlessly.
One is speed. A quick player like Megna is more likely to adapt well to the faster pace of play in the NHL.
“If you can skate, it's going to help,” said Baby Pens center Andrew Ebbett, a minor-league veteran who has been called up nine times and played 191 NHL games in his eight-year pro career.
Another is a function of personality. The quicker a call-up settles his nerves, the better off he is.
“If you can get a shift right away in the first two, three minutes and you get a hit, get a shot in, you can get over it,” Ebbett said.
A certain degree
Baby Pens rookie defenseman Nick D'Agostino, a seventh-round pick in the 2007 draft, graduated from the same Ivy League college (Cornell) in the same field of study (labor and industrial relations) as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
He does not aspire to the same career path, however.
“Probably choose to be on the players' side,” he said. “More like Don Fehr.”
Left wing Dominik Uher, a 2011 fifth-round pick, is starting much quicker as a second-year pro than he did as a rookie. A gritty 6-foot-1, 199-pound forechecker with decent hands, Uher had two goals and two assists in his first eight games this season. Last year, he didn't record his fourth point until Feb. 12 and didn't net his second goal until April 13.
It's too early to say for sure, but the Penguins may have found a diamond in the rough in Blaine Byron, a 2013 sixth-round pick.
Byron, a 6-foot, 170-pound winger known for his quickness and playmaking skills, has five points in five games at the University of Maine. The early production is significant because critics wondered how Byron would fare against top competition coming from Junior A hockey in Canada.
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.