WILKES-BARRE — Zach Aston-Reese knew he was likely to be sent to the AHL as the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to trim a player from its roster.
After all, Aston-Reese was the only player who didn’t need to clear waivers, so the risk was minimal.
Still, Aston-Reese isn’t using that as an excuse. Instead, part of the reason for the demotion stems from how Aston-Reese feels he performed at Pittsburgh’s training camp.
“I think I could’ve played a little bit harder. Pushed a little harder. I have to get that mindset back, and this is a good opportunity for me to do that,” he said after Wednesday’s practice at the Toyota SportsPlex.
Aston-Reese’s time in Wilkes-Barre could be short. Before he was sent down, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan told the media that he wants Aston-Reese to play critical minutes to get his confidence back.
As a rookie last season, Aston-Reese battled with his confidence at the beginning of the year. He endured a 27-game stretch with only three goals, and went 12 straight games without finding the back of the net.
Aston-Reese turned things around and earned a promotion to Pittsburgh where he was impressive, but his time with the big club was cut short after he suffered a concussion and broken jaw in Game 3 of the second round playoff series against the Washington Capitals in May.
The injury was difficult, but it’s in the past, Aston-Reese said.
“I felt good throughout camp. I think about where I was last year, and I feel 100 times better. Stronger and faster,” he said.
Head coach Clark Donatelli used Aston-Reese on a line with Sam Lafferty and Anthony Angello on Tuesday and he indicated the line will stay intact for the season opener.
Or until Aston-Reese heads back to Pittsburgh.
“As long as he’s here, he’s going to be an asset for us,” Donatelli said.
And while Aston-Reese is in the AHL, he won’t sulk about not being up with Pittsburgh.
“It’s a little disappointing, but it’s definitely motivation,” Aston-Reese said. “The important thing is staying positive. It’s a great group of guys here and a good place to be. It’s just finding the extra gear and pushing that much harder down here.”
• While Aston-Reese was with Pittsburgh, he challenged a Columbus Blue Jacket player to drop the gloves during last Friday’s preseason game. The player declined the offer, but Aston-Reese said he wanted to show that he’s willing to fight if need be.
“That’s something that has to be a lot more consistent in my game,” he said. “If I can find that edge consistently, I think it’s going to pay dividends.”
• Donatelli said the captain for the upcoming season will be named on Thursday.
• With Tristan Jarry injured and remaining in Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will open the season with Anthony Peters and John Muse as the goaltenders. Donatelli said it hasn’t been decided who will start opening night, or the bulk of the games for that matter.