WILKES-BARRE — Colin Stevens had a hunch his first call-up to the American Hockey League was on the horizon.
When the Florida Panthers claimed Antti Niemi after Pittsburgh placed him on waivers, Casey DeSmith got the promotion to the NHL club. Couple that with an injury to Sean Maguire in Wheeling, and Stevens was the last man standing to back up Tristan Jarry.
Nailers head coach Jeff Christian made it official on Tuesday afternoon when he called Stevens to let him know he was headed to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on a professional tryout offer.
The third-year pro has spent his entire career in the ECHL and started three games with the Nailers this season, winning twice and posting a 3.27 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.
“It’s a good feeling. Anytime you get called up, it’s a good opportunity and you want to make the most of it,” Stevens said.
The Niskayuna, N.Y., native spent four seasons at Union College before turning pro in 2015. He was named 2014 ECAC Goaltender of the Year and ECAC First Team All-Star after a season in which he recorded the conference’s best save percentage (.929). He made 36 saves in the 2014 national championship game when Union beat Minnesota for the NCAA crown.
Stevens wasn’t drafted but he attended Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s training camp this year before heading to Wheeling.
The 24-year-old split last season between the Manchester Monarchs (ECHL) and Tulsa Oilers (ECHL). Stevens said his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s training camp helped to ease his first transition to the AHL.
He practiced with the Penguins for the first time on Wednesday.
“It’s nice having been around here and some of the guys. I have a little bit of familiarity with how they like to do things,” Stevens said.
Penguins coach Clark Donatelli said Stevens looked good during training camp and fit right in during Wednesday’s practice. Still, Donatelli previously said that he will lean heavily on Jarry while DeSmith is with Pittsburgh, so Stevens might not see any game action with the Penguins.
Stevens is happy to play the backup role to Jarry and learn from him, he said. And since a start in net might be hard to come by, Stevens knows what he needs to do.
“The situation I’m in right now, you have to treat practices like games,” he said. “Hopefully it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“You can’t control if you start in games or not, but you can control your attitude and work hard in practice.”
• Thomas Di Pauli briefly appeared on Pittsburgh’s roster on Wednesday but was present for Wednesday’s practice with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. No call-up was officially announced, and it appears the move may have been made for salary cap reasons, according to Donatelli.
“There’s nothing to it,” he said.
• Forwards Ryan Haggerty and Patrick McGrath have yet to appear in a game this season. Donatelli is aware of it and said he’s hoping to get them in soon.
“You don’t want them sitting around not playing. We’re mindful of that,” he said. “We talked to both guys and they’re being good pros about it.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky