Through the magic or irritation of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese has missed only 11 games despite offseason left shoulder surgery in August. The Penguins activated Aston-Reese, who has been practicing as a full participant for over a week, from the injured list on Thursday morning.
Aston-Reese, 26, is in the final year of a two-year, $2 million contract he signed while seated for an arbitration hearing in the summer of 2019.
The Penguins power forward received Selke Award votes last season after being part of the Penguins shutdown line with center Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev. According to hockey analytics guru Micah McCurdy, Aston-Reese was statistically the best defensive forward in the NHL last season.
Aston-Reese’s activation likely means he will play against the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum. The Penguins will play without Jared McCann. On Wednesday, head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed McCann to be out week-to-week.
Aston-Reese has been skating on the same line he left last season, with Blueger and Tanev, but now the line has become the Penguins third line.
Mark Jankowski centers the fourth line with a revolving order of Sam Lafferty, Colton Sceviour, and rookie Drew O’Connor.
Last season, Aston-Reese helped grind opponents’ offense but didn’t light up the score sheet. He scored just six goals and seven assists in 57 games. In 116 career NHL games, Aston-Reese has 18 goals and 18 assists, though the Pittsburgh Penguins believe the fourth-year pro has more to give on the offensive side.
Bad luck injuries have followed the undrafted free agent from Northeastern University. Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson ended Aston-Reese’s first playoff run in 2018 with a cheap shot that broke Aston-Reese’s jaw and required surgery. Injuries limited Aston-Reese to just 43 games in 2018-19. Despite being on an offensive tear, he broke his hand following a fight with now-teammate Colton Sceviour.
Also at practice on Wednesday, defenseman Marcus Pettersson rejoined the NHL squad practice in a non-contact jersey. Petterson has been out since the third game of the season when Washington forward T.J. Oshie blindsided him with a high hit at center ice.