Adam Payerl spent the first few days of Pittsburgh’s training camp skating with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. He scrimmaged against stars such as Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
Most importantly, Payerl took advantage of an opportunity he didn’t have last season and got noticed.
Throughout the first days of camp, Payerl’s name has been mentioned as one of the young players who impressed. Last season he didn’t have a chance to impress the Pittsburgh brass in an NHL training camp after the lockout wiped out the opportunity.
Payerl is glad to have that chance this year.
“During the lockout we had Pittsburgh management in Wilkes-Barre watching us, but it’s definitely different when they’re seeing you practice and going head-to-head with the NHL guys,” Payerl said. “This is where your opportunity is to make a lasting impression. When you’re playing against these experienced NHL guys, you want to battle them in the corners and show you can compete.”
Payerl, 22, is entering his second pro season. Last year he played in 44 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, posting three goals and 10 points while playing a power forward style. As the season wore on and even into the playoffs, Payerl’s game continued to improve. In the postseason he had two goals and opened some eyes to the point where may have a shot at one of Pittsburgh’s bottom six forward positions.
Whether that happens out of training camp or with a call-up later in the season, Payerl is happy to have opened some eyes.
“It’s an exciting feeling to know that they’re watching you,” Payerl said.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes said Payerl’s approach in the early days of training camp has been the right one.
“It’s good to see the younger prospects such as Adam play a certain way in the AHL, come here to camp and they’re able to transfer that,” Hynes said. “He’s played to his identity.”
Even if that identity is one of a physical, punishing player who is hard to play against.
Payerl knows that he has to tame the hard hits a bit in training camp, but it doesn’t mean he has to stray from his game.
“At times you have to be aware of who you’re playing against. You don’t want to be bearing down and hit a big name player like (Sidney) Crosby,” Payerl said. “But you still try to be physical and win your one-on-one battles.”
And what better place to do it than in an NHL camp against some of the top players in the world.
“Coming here, it’s surreal at first,” Payerl said. “The first time you’re star-struck, but you have to put that away really quickly and focus on hockey.”
Around the room
• Last year’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rookies aren’t the only ones excited to once again have the opportunity to come to an NHL camp. Hynes is thankful for the opportunity again also.
“The way they do it here is exceptional. For coaches, it’s always good to come in and implement things together as a group. As it filters down it helps you get off to a good start and keeps everybody at all levels of the organization on the same page,” he said.
• NHL training camp is not only a great way for young players to establish themselves on the ice, but it’s also an opportunity to make an impression elsewhere. “The big thing is Dan Bylsma and his staff get to work with these guys, see them in meetings and around the room,” Hynes said. “That’s a great chance to leave a positive impression.”
• Veteran forward Chuck Kobasew, who is in camp on a tryout, brings an element that the Penguinsalready have plenty of - postseason experience. But Kobasew says postseason experience is something a team can never have enough of, and in his case a particular Stanley Cup run almost 10 years ago still drives him today.
Kobasew was a member of the 2004 Calgary Flames, who came into the postseason as the sixth seed in the Western Conference and made a run that culminated in a Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay in the Finals. For Kobasew, coming within a game of winning the Stanley Cup is of little consolation.
“Being so close, it stinks,” he said. “I don’t think you ever get over it unless you win. That feeling will never go away. It was a grueling run and it taught me a lot, but at the end of the day if you don’t win it it’s tough.”