Entering his seventh season of pro hockey, Garrett Wilson finally has something that has eluded him for much of his career.
The 26-year old winger broke into the pro ranks on a three-year entry level deal after being drafted by the Florida Panthers in 2009. After that, Wilson has played under one-year contracts, not knowing where he would be from one year to the next.
On Saturday, during the first day of the NHL free agency period, that uncertainty came to an end when Wilson signed a two-year contract to return to the Pittsburgh organization. The deal is a two-way contract with an average annual value of $650,000 at the NHL level.
Wilson spent all of last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, registering 31 points in 59 games.
“It’s nice to know where you’re going to be for two years,” Wilson said. “You can relax and play your game and not worry about getting another contract after the season.”
Wilson had a strong training camp with Pittsburgh last season and was on pace to set career highs in several categories with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton until an injury sidelined him for six weeks in the middle of the season.
He said the lost time motivates him even more this season, and with Pittsburgh losing Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and potentially a few other forwards via free agency, there could be more opportunity to make the roster out of camp.
“I keep an eye on what’s going on, but I have to focus on my own game in training camp,” Wilson said.
Still, perhaps a bigger reason behind Wilson’s return to the Pittsburgh organization is the way they treat their players. Wilson said he was impressed last season with how Pittsburgh paid close attention to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and said the organization has people in place to help players reach their full potential.
“You have guys like Mark Recchi (director of player development) and Bill Guerin (assistant general manager) who have played the game and know what it takes,” Wilson said. “This is an organization that knows how to run things.”
Wilson is a forward who brings several assets that Pittsburgh could find valuable. His game combines scoring, defensive play and physicality, making Wilson a prototypical power forward.
And with many teams placing an emphasis on speed, Wilson said he has worked to improve that element of his game as well.
“I try to both a tough game and a skilled game to,” Wilson said. “If Pittsburgh needs a physical, power forward I’ll be ready.”
Wilson was a member of the “Black Aces” squad during Pittsburgh’s run to a second consecutive Stanley Cup last season. While he didn’t suit up for any postseason games, he was happy to be a part of the experience.
“Pittsburgh flew all of the Black Aces to Nashville for Game 6 and we all got to go onto the ice with the Stanley Cup and experience that,” Wilson said. “We went to the Stanley Cup party in Pittsburgh as well. It was very cool to be a part of that.”
Sestito, DeSmith, Corrado return
Saturday marked a busy day in moves that could have an impact on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Veteran forward Tom Sestito returns to the Pittsburgh organization for a third season, signing a one-year, two-way deal. Goaltender Casey DeSmith will also come back, reuniting last year’s tandem in net with Tristan Jarry. DeSmith signed a two-year, two-way deal after playing last season on an AHL contract.
Also returning is defenseman Frank Corrado, who was acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline last season.
Plenty of new faces
Signing two-way contracts were defensemen Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman and forward Greg McKegg.
Summers, 29, played the majority of the last two years with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top minor-league affiliate of the New York Rangers. Summers was an alternate captain for the Wolf Pack in 2016-17, when he recorded 12 points (4G-8A) in 74 AHL regular-season contests.
McKegg, 25, split this past year between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, tallying seven points (3G-4A) in 46 contests with those clubs. He also saw action in seven AHL games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, netting four points (2G-2A).
Tinordi, 25, spent last season with the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL, where he had 11 points (1G-10A) and 102 penalty minutes in 64 games. He was an alternate captain for Tucson.
Trotman, 26, adds further size to the blue line as a 6-foot-3, 217-pound right-handed shooter. He spent last season with the Ontario Reign of the AHL, the top affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. Trotman was limited to just nine games played because of an upper-body injury.
Those who played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season and joined new organizations on Saturday include: defensemen Cameron Gaunce (Columbus) and David Warsofsky (Colorado) and center Kevin Porter (Buffalo).
Taylor takes over in Rochester
For the second straight year, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will be seeking a new assistant coach as Chris Taylor accepted the head coaching job with Rochester on Friday. Taylor served as an assistant coach with Rochester for four seasons prior to joining head coach Clark Donatelli and assistant J.D. Forrest in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season.