WILKES-BARRE — Sam Lafferty skated onto the ice at the Toyota Sportsplex on Thursday and began another chapter in his career: Life as a pro hockey player.
The 23-year-old wrapped up his collegiate career with Brown University less than a week ago and promptly signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Pittsburgh that kicks in next season. In the meantime, Lafferty will spend the rest of the season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on an amateur tryout agreement, and he’s anxious to get started with an organization that has a track record of developing college players into successful pros.
“There’s definitely a blueprint for what you need to do coming in here,” Lafferty said. “It’s really competitive. It’s a winning culture here.”
During his four-year career with Brown, Lafferty, 23, earned 29 goals and 50 assists for 79 points in 124 games. Lafferty led the Bears in points the past two seasons, with 22 points (8G-14A) in his senior season and 35 points (13G-22A) in his junior year.
The forward from Hollidaysburg was selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round (113rd overall) at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft after he posted 21 goals and 34 assists for 55 points at Deerfield Academy.
Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli has seen Lafferty play with Brown and at development camps with Pittsburgh and said speed is a key to his game.
With the Penguins in the midst of a busy March schedule, it’s possible that Lafferty could see action pretty soon.
“He looks fast out there and he’s fresh. We have a lot of games here, so he’s going to get in,” Donatelli said.
That’s fine with Lafferty, who said his time with Pittsburgh’s development camps will help him adjust to the pace of the pro game.
“There will be an adjustment, but I think I’m ready. Conditioning-wise I’m ready to go,” Lafferty said. “It’s more of a mentality to just be ready.”
• The Penguins power play is clicking at just 13.8 percent and is last in the Eastern Conference and second to last in the league. Donatelli isn’t ready to hit the panic button and said a turnover of players due to injuries and call-ups prevented any stability on the power play. He also noted that the return of Christian Thomas and Tom Kostopoulos will help.
“TK is a big part of it. Since he’s been back, we’re over 20 percent with him on the power play,” Donatelli said. “We can fudge the numbers any way we want, but overall we have to be better on the power play. We always want to get better on it.”
Kostopoulos, however, is a bit more concerned and said it’s critical to get the power play in the right track before the playoffs start.
“Providence beat us last year (in the postseason) with their power play, so it’s big,” he said. “We need to improve it. We have the guys in here to do it, we just have to get on the same page.”
• Goaltender Etienne Marcoux made his first AHL start on Saturday, stopping 19 shots in a 3-0 loss to Rockford. Donatelli said Michael Leighton, who practiced on Thursday, isn’t quite ready to return, leaving the goaltending duties to Anthony Peters and Marcoux.
Donatelli was happy with the AHL debut for Marcoux, who was the seventh netminder to play a game for the Penguins this season.
“He’s a good goalie. He’s a really good kid, too. It’s not the ideal situation going through that many goaltenders, but a goalie comes in and he fits right in,” Donatelli said. “No matter who’s in the net, we have a good shot at winning the game.”
• As far as injured players, including D Zach Trotman, D Andrey Pedan, D Frank Corrado, D Lukas Bengtsson, F Ryan Haggerty and Leighton, Donatelli said none are ready to return this weekend, but some of the players could be be back by the middle of next week.
• F Josh Jooris was recalled by Pittsburgh on Thursday on an emergency basis after forwards Bryan Rust and Dominik Simon were injured on Wednesday.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky