CRANBERRY TWP. — Zach Aston-Reese admits he feels more comfortable in this year’s training camp — his second as a pro — after spending time with Pittsburgh last season and becoming familiar with the faces and systems.
But Aston-Reese also feels a bit of uneasiness as well, knowing that Pittsburgh’s depth chart among forwards has swelled to the point that NHL jobs are on the line.
Including his, considering he wouldn’t have to clear waivers to be sent down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I’m one of the guys on the bubble that is able to be sent down easily,” Aston-Reese said after Sunday’s practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Still, Aston-Reese insists that being on the bubble doesn’t factor into his approach to training camp. He’s been through it before, having to wait three years at Northeastern University before getting the opportunity to be the go-to guy. When that chance came in his senior season, Aston-Reese responded with 31 goals in 38 games.
There’s no pressure with being on the bubble, he said.
It’s nothing but motivation.
“It’s good to have that mindset that it’s not going to be handed to you,” Aston-Reese said. “You can’t just show up and have a spot.”
In his first full year as a pro, Aston-Reese, 24, experienced a whirlwind of ups and downs. He opened the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton struggling with just nine points in his first 21 games. Aston-Reese got on track in mid-December, posting 20 points in 20 games before being summoned to Pittsburgh for the rest of the season.
“It was definitely nice for my confidence, especially struggling early on in Wilkes-Barre, to finally find a groove down there and have it translate to the NHL level,” he said. “It’s about having patience when things don’t go your way.”
And if things don’t go the way Aston-Reese wants them to and he finds himself on the wrong side of the bubble and with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to start the season, he knows it’s not a bad place to be.
Aston-Reese said the coaching staff and the way the players are treated in Wilkes-Barre makes for a competitive environment and a pathway back to the NHL.
“Wilkes-Barre is a really good environment to be in,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned as a pro is the importance of taking care of yourself off the ice and being dialed in every day. That applies at any level.”
Training camp notebook
– Ryan Haggerty scored the only goal in Saturday’s scrimmage and he notched the game-tying marker late in Sunday’s contest. Haggerty is on an AHL deal and hopes to have a strong season and earn an NHL contract.
“It’s good to get off to a hot start and I feel comfortable out there,” he said. “I feel ready to play and had a big summer so I can come in and make the best impression possible.”
– Garrett Wilson’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate to wear the “C” in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton now that Tom Kostopoulos has retired. Wilson, who scored a goal in Sunday’s scrimmage, isn’t thinking about a letter on his jersey just yet.
“I’m just focusing on giving it everything I got to find a spot on this team,” Wilson said. “If it happens that I go to Wilkes-Barre and they want me to wear the C, I’d be honored to wear it. But I’m not focused on that right now.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky