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Maniscalco Determined, Developing After Slow Start to Career

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Josh Maniscalco

CRANBERRY — Josh Maniscalco had a couple years of college eligibility remaining when he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2020.

Had he opted to spend another winter or two at Arizona State, it’s entirely possible that Maniscalco’s career would have taken a different trajectory.

Maybe he would have accepted a contract offer from another organization, or perhaps his game would have progressed enough that he wouldn’t have been compelled to serve the kind of lengthy apprenticeship in the ECHL that he has since turning pro.

Such hypotheticals aside, however, Maniscalco made it clear after the Penguins’ rookie camp wrapped up Tuesday that he has no misgivings about the career path he chose following his sophomore year with the Sun Devils.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m a big believer in development, so being able to play three years pro on your first contract is big. I’ve definitely learned a lot. I’ve learned a ton. I don’t think that what I’ve learned, I could have learned in college.”

Maniscalco suggested that one of the most important lessons he’s gotten since leaving school is the importance of having the proper mindset and “learning what’s expected of me at all times.”

His primary objective for 2022-23 — “I want to make sure I’m in Wilkes-Barre, get to play a lot and prove to the coaching staff there that I’m able to do what I did last year, and do it at that level” — might seem modest, but it would be a major step forward.

Maniscalco, after all, dressed for just 10 American Hockey League games during his first two seasons as a pro, while appearing in 64 with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ ECHL affiliate in Wheeling.

“(His career) obviously has been full of ups-and-downs,” he said. “The pro game is a lot different than the college game, and I’ve definitely realized that.”

Even so, he insists that he views his time in the ECHL as more of a step in his development than as an abject disappointment.

“Everybody wants to be at the highest level — I’m sure there are guys in (Wilkes-Barre) who want to be in (Pittsburgh) — so I just tell myself to trust the staff, that they have a good plan for my development and stick with it,” he said. “My job is just to show up at the rink every day and get better, and I think I’ve done that.”

Whether he’s done it well enough to earn steady work in the AHL will be determined by how he performs during the training camp scheduled to begin Thursday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

“I want to get my feet under me and show the staff I can be a good two-way, shutdown defenseman,” Maniscalco said. “Show them that I’ve developed over the past two years.”

Although Maniscalco’s offensive abilities got most of the attention when he was in college, he has yet to record a point for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which means his forte hasn’t been all that evident in the AHL.

Still, those blank spaces on Josh Maniscalco’s stats sheet in Wilkes-Barre notwithstanding, he did prove that he hasn’t lost his offensive touch by putting up 17 goals and 36 assists with the Nailers last season.

That point was made emphatically enough that Tom Kostopoulos, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ director of player development, is far more concerned about how Maniscalco performs at the other end of the ice.

“He’s really got to focus on defending well,” Kostopoulos said. “If he’ll concentrate on defending well off the rush and from the (defensive) zone, he can build that offensive game into the way he plays. But I really want him to focus on how he defends, so the coaches can trust him in all situations.”

He praised Maniscalco’s approach to the rookie and full-squad camps — “He’s come in with the right attitude and effort,” Kostopoulos said. “He’s working hard” — and Maniscalco, who is entering the final season of his entry-level contract, seems confident he can take advantage of the opportunity he will have over the next few weeks.

“I think I have a good grasp of what’s expected of me,” he said. “And I’m excited to show that in the main camp.”

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