CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — It was the morning after a Pittsburgh Penguins preseason game last September. Winger Sam Miletic was feeling pretty lucky to be a part of training camp as an undrafted tryout player, as he was starting with the team’s development camp a couple months earlier. Feeling fortunate and proud that he was included in a couple preseason games.
Then Bill Guerin walked into the locker room. For years, Guerin has commanded attention when he does that, dating to his playing days. As the Penguins’ assistant general manager, all young eyes are on him.
What happened next changed Miletic’s life.
“Billy G. walked into the room and kind of pulled me aside and said, ‘We’d like to offer you (a contract),’” Miletic recalled during the Penguins 2018 development camp last month. “It was awesome. It was probably the best moment of my life. Kind of star-struck at first, but it was awesome once it sank in.”
He was part of an NHL organization. Officially. And not just any one of the 31 teams.
“It’s incredible,” Miletic said. “It says a lot about this organization, too. They give anyone a chance if you come in, work hard. That’s why I think they’re one of the best, or the best organization in the league. This is the top of the list for everyone, I think, having the history and the back-to-back (Stanley Cups) a couple years ago. Just a great organization up and down. They do a great job in the AHL, too.”
Miletic went to AHL training camp with affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before he was assigned back to his junior club, London of the OHL. He returned to Wilkes-Barre after his season, although he hasn’t played an AHL game yet.
A Bump Up In His Game
There was tangible evidence of the confidence instilled in the 6-foot, 197-pound from getting an entry-level contract. He went from 55 points for London in 2016-17 to 54 last season – in about half the games. He had 16 goals, 54 points in 35 games when he got swapped to Niagara at the OHL trade deadline.
Changing teams can come with a transition or adjustment period, especially for young players, but Miletic didn’t need one. He had 20 goals, 38 points in 28 games with Niagara to finish sixth in the OHL with a combined 92 points and finish third in OHL Overage Player of the Year voting. Then he tied for the Niagara club lead with 12 points in 10 playoff games.
“London was kind of a stacked team, and you wondered how he would do after that, and he actually did very well,” said Penguins director of player personnel Scott Young.
Here is a nice move on a Miletic shootout goal from last season:
“Just everything,” he said. “You’ve got to work on everything every day. Every part of my game I’ve tried to improve on.”
Why he made overall improvement is easy to tag. It was that entry-level contract in his pocket.
“(There was) more to prove, that you earned it,” Miletic said. “Having that was nice, a weight off your shoulders. Just go have fun and play.”
Beyond that, he simply had his game together in his third season in the OHL.
“Just having experience,” he said. “And, obviously, getting a taste. I think playing a couple preseason games last year with Pitt and then being in Wilkes, it kind of showed me what it takes to be a pro. There are very few organizations that work top to bottom as hard as this one. So just take the work ethic that I learned here and try to bring it to the OHL last year.”
Miletic, 21, originally committed to play college hockey at Michigan after playing for Cranbrook-Kingswood Upper School in Michigan, where he had 59 goals, 127 points in 58 games over three seasons, and for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL for a season.
He is expected to matriculate to Wilkes-Barre this season to fully dive into his pro career.
“He has pro habits,” Young said. “His habits during every drill – he wants to do it the right way. He wants to be as efficient as possible. He’s a hard worker. He scores goals. He’s tenacious. He’s great in tight areas. He’s impressive.”
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