It was a typical day for Tom Kostopoulos as he finished practice and headed to the locker room at Coal Street on Wednesday.
That’s when things changed abruptly.
Shortly after noon Kostopoulos, 34, learned he had just been claimed off waivers by the New Jersey Devils — one day after inking a two-way contract with Pittsburgh for the rest of the season. The move brings a sudden end to Kostopoulos’ second stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton but allows him to achieve his goal of returning to the NHL.
After all, that was Kostopoulos’ plan when he signed a tryout contract with the Penguins on Jan. 23.
The only difference was he planned on the NHL return being with Pittsburgh.
“I’m excited in getting back to the NHL. That was the point to coming here,” Kostopoulos said. “But one side of me is torn because I was excited to be part of the Pittsburgh organization and to come back and play in Wilkes-Barre.”
Prior to this season, Kostopoulos played with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for parts of five seasons, beginning in 1999. He leaves as the team’s all-time leader in games played (335), goals (100), assists (153), points (253) and playoff scoring (38 points in 51 games). He also notched the 1,000th game of his pro career during his recent stay with the Penguins.
For the first half of this season, Kostopoulos was without a job — a victim of the NHL lockout. He spent his time skating at home while waiting for a team to call. At the time he thought he was ready to play, but the 17 games that Kostopoulos played with Wilkes-Barre is what got him game-ready.
“I got my legs back, my mind and my habits,” Kostopoulos said. “I’m ready.”
Being claimed by New Jersey was a total surprise to Kostopoulos. His agent said the Devils expressed interest earlier this season and his recent play — three goals in the last four games, provided further proof that Kostopoulos was ready for a return to the NHL.
Still, Kostopoulos took time after practice to reflect on what a special place Wilkes-Barre has been for his career, noting it’s the place that gave him his start and now a second chance.
“I am thankful for everyone in Wilkes-Barre — my teammates, coaches, the fans and even Tom Grace. It all helped me get back to the NHL, probably more than the first time,” Kostopoulos said.
The 17 games he spent with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton also gave Kostopoulos a good look at the future of the Pittsburgh organization and he had some advice for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton fans.
“I would tell the fans to take these guys in while they’re here. I think they’ll be moving up to Pittsburgh soon,” he said. “They really have some great young prospects here.”
- The Penguins will practice today at Coal Street before leaving for Providence where they begin a seven-game road trip on Friday night. Paul Thompson practiced in full for the second straight day and Steve MacIntyre skated in full pads for the second half of practice. Thompson will be ready to play on Friday and MacIntyre isn’t too far away.