WILKES-BARRE — In a span of eight days, Adam Johnson has already played nearly a 10th of the games he appeared in during the six-month duration of his college hockey schedule last season.
And it’s just going to get busier from here.
Johnson, who cut his college career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth short by accepting an offer to turn pro with the Pittsburgh organization this summer, was one of several rookies to play in his first three-in-three set last weekend.
Johnson, 23, admitted playing three games in three days was tough, but it was a big reason why he decided to turn pro. The slow pace of the college schedule just wasn’t satisfying his urge to play more games.
“I liked it quite a bit. I like playing games as opposed to practicing, so the weekend was nice,” Johnson said after Wednesday’s practice at the Toyota Sportsplex.
But that doesn’t mean Johnson’s first experience with a three-game weekend was easy.
He started off well, recording two assists and a plus-2 in Friday’s 5-0 win over Lehigh Valley. After that, Johnson failed to record a point in the final two games of the weekend and registered just one shot in Sunday’s finale — a 6-1 win over Syracuse.
“I started out strong, but as it went on I felt my play lowered,” he said. “I don’t know if I was tired or what. It was tough, but it’s what I expected after listening to the other guys talk about it.”
Johnson wasn’t the only Penguins rookie to experience his first three-in-three this weekend. Joining the list are Daniel Sprong, who had three goals and five points, Thomas Di Pauli (goal, assist) and Lukas Bengtsson (three assists).
Head coach Clark Donatelli said aside from a few mental mistakes his young players did well in their first three-in-three.
“They got through it. We’re glad to get it out of the way in our second weekend,” Donatelli said. “Mentally it was hard on them, with the quick turnaround on Sunday. The more they do it the mentally stronger they’re going to be.”
The Penguins have six more three-in-threes this season, and Johnson feels the experience from having done it once will make the others easier to handle.
“I know what to expect. Each one if going to be a grind, but that’s why you work hard in practice during the week,” he said.
Rookie forward Zach Aston-Reese, who missed Sunday’s game, didn’t practice on Wednesday. Donatelli said Aston-Reese had his wisdom teeth removed and is doing well, but didn’t know if he would play this weekend. … Veteran defenseman Zach Trotman said last weekend-s three-in-three was a success, considering the team earned four out of six available points. “We grew. There’s a lot of new guys here this year so we’ll still have our hiccups here and there,” Trotman said. “It was a good first weekend and the guys are coming together.” … D Chris Summers was reassigned by Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Summers was called up last week after Ian Cole was injured but didn’t appear in a game with the NHL club.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky