CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa — The Pittsburgh Penguins must make their final roster decisions by 5 p.m. Tuesday, and it’s unknown who the Penguins will use to staff their 13th and potentially 14th forward positions. One thing is certain, Zach Aston-Reese is still in Pittsburgh and the next hint by management or the coach that Aston-Reese could be sent down to the WBS Penguins will be the first.
Just a month after his first solid meal in three months, Aston-Reese has battled in camp. Not always successfully, but battled. Unlike sophomore player Daniel Sprong whose shortcomings can at times be glaring, Aston-Reese’s camp has been more subdued. He hasn’t torn up the scoring sheet nor has he allowed the opponents to do so. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has specifically included Aston-Reese’s name when asked about other players. Sunday, Sullivan reiterated Aston-Reese’s standing in the organization.
“He’s very comfortable. And the reason is that he’s been here. And the experiences he’s gone through last year,” said Sullivan. “He played a lot of games for us last year, he played in the playoffs for us. He was a big part of the team. He’ll continue to be a big part of the team.”
It’s the last couple of sentences from Sullivan which lend optimism to Aston-Reese’s candidacy.
In 16 regular season games. Aston-Reese scored six points (4g, 21). In nine playoff games, Aston-Reese had only one assist before being waylaid by Capitals forward Tom Wilson in Round 2. Wilson was suspended for three playoff games and Aston-Reese suffered a concussion and broken jaw.
At some point, Wilson reportedly reached out to apologize but Aston-Reese doesn’t need one.
“I wasn’t really looking for an apology. I don’t need one or want one,” Aston-Reese said. It should be noted, the comment came in the spirit of moving on, not covered in animosity. Aston-Reese will likely face Wilson again, at some point.
“I don’t want it to be too much of a distraction for myself or the rest of the team,” he said. “It is hockey. In the history of the sport, things like that have resulted in fights. Whose to say what happens. I’m more worried about earning a spot.”
The injury to Sprong could put Aston-Reese in the lineup on opening night, on the fourth line right wing. Of course, the Penguins opening night opponent is Tom Wilson and the Washington Capitals. So, we may not have to wait long to see the Penguins response to the Wilson or the defending Stanley Cup champions.
You may have seen the Instagram photo. After months of waiting to eat solid food, his first meal? Steak? Fresh Maine lobster? New York pizza? He is from Staten Island after all. No, his first solid meal came from…Chipotle?! Pittsburgh Hockey Now couldn’t help but tease him.
“It was just…it wasn’t my idea,” he laughed. Though he didn’t say who treated him to lunch, either.
Even if he doesn’t get a roster spot for Thursday, it sounds like the Penguins will have him on speed dial. We’ll know in the next 48 hours if Aston-Reese will have a chance to get the last laugh Thursday night. And if he does, perhaps he’ll celebrate with more than a burrito.