UNIVERSITY PARK — Sam Lafferty was pretty happy Saturday.
Skating on a line with the likes of NHL regular Zach Aston-Reese and 2019 first-round draft choice Samuel Poulin at training camp in Cranberry wasn’t the source of his blitheness, however.
It was Penn State’s 17-10 triumph over Pitt.
The Hollidaysburg native had a pretty obvious rooting interest.
“I’m a Penn State guy, just because I grew up so close to there,” the center prospect said. “It wasn’t looking too good for a bit there. But they got it done.”
Lafferty, 24, accomplished quite a bit last year during his first full professional season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 70 games, he scored 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists), second most on the AHL Penguins.
He did a lot of his damage during the final stretch of the regular season, when he recorded 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in the final 12 games of the schedule. Much of that offensive outburst came with Ryan Haggerty and Sam Miletic on his line.
“We were getting into a playoff push there, and so we all needed to elevate our games a bit,” Lafferty said. “And I think just complement each other really well. They’re both very good players, both can skate, win battles, got great shots. It was really fun and pretty easy to play with those guys. We just had great chemistry and ran with it.”
Lafferty’s rookie season came after he spent four years at Brown, where he never played more than 31 games in an NCAA season, almost all exclusively on weekends. A different type of schedule was a welcome change.
“I’m a big fan of the pro schedule,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun playing more games.”
Plus, the business of being a student at an Ivy League institution was behind him.
“You’re not staying up late to write papers and stuff like that,” said Lafferty, a business major who also was a member of Brown’s golf team. “Definitely a big part of being consistent is taking care of yourself off the ice.”
Lafferty received an education on the details pro game last season.
“Just the little things on the ice, the subtleties of the game,” he said. “Knowing where to be, especially the center on the breakout, holding the guy up when they’re trying to forecheck. Just little things like that I think all the veteran players seem to be good at.
“I definitely learned a lot. You still want to keep learning and keep getting better, but I think there’s just an added confidence being a full year experienced and knowing what the season is like. Knowing what to expect, you just feel that much more confident.”
Lafferty, who grew up playing at Galatic Ice rink in Altoona, participated in Monday’s preseason opener at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Playing primarily on a line with Teddy Blueger and Adam Johnson, he scored a goal 51 seconds into the third period, which prompted a robust outburst of cheers by several members of his family and friends who made the roughly one-hour trek up Interstate 99 from Hollidaysburg.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was a special night. It’s just something I’ll remember forever.”
Even more special would be participating in a game of consequence for the Penguins. A fourth-round pick of the Penguins in 2014, Lafferty was inspired to take up skating at the age of 6 during Mario Lemieux’s comeback season of 2000-01.
“He is in the conversation right now for this roster,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “His body of work in Wilkes-Barre has been really strong. That’s certainly something that we’ve taken into consideration as well. He’s earned the opportunity to play in these (preseason) games.”
Making the NHL roster out of training camp may be a long shot given the Penguins’ depth at center, but a recall in the event of an injury or other absence is an attainable possibility in 2019-20.
“It’s definitely my goal,” said Lafferty. “It’s a process where you’ve just got to keep getting better and keep showing (management) that you’re working as hard as you can. It’s my goal. I want to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I’ve just got to stick with the process really.”