The Pittsburgh Penguins did some housekeeping on Tuesday and potentially cleared space for the return of injured players who have been skating for a couple of weeks.
The Penguins demoted forward Drew O’Connor and Kevin Czuczman to the practice squad and sent defenseman Will Reilly back to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL.
The moves could be a cap saving device, or the roster moves are necessary to create roster spots for injured players who are ready to return.
According to the team Twitter account, Zach Aston-Reese and Mike Matheson practiced with the team, and head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the news but did not specify a timetable for their return.
The Penguins activated Reilly for the Monday game in New York, but he did not play.
O’Connor is a rookie whom the Penguins signed as a college free agent this offseason. He played in four games and earned his first NHL point with a secondary assist on Jason Zucker’s goal against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 26 in Boston.
Czuczman played in his first NHL action since he last appeared in the league during the 2013-14 season with the New York Islanders. Czuczman played in two games and was a minus-3.
Aston-Reese had left shoulder surgery in August but was a mainstay on the Penguins fourth line last season. According to advanced metrics guru Micah Blake McCurdy, he was the best defensive forward in the NHL.
In 57 games, Aston-Reese scored 13 points (6g, 7a) and received a few Selke votes in the process.
The Penguins acquired Matheson via trade for Patric Hornqvist in October. The defenseman struggled over the past two seasons after a strong start to his career, which earned him an eight-year contract. Matheson was injured in the second game of the season when he tangled with Philadelphia Flyers forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ next two games against the New Jersey Devils, originally scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday, Feb. 4, were postponed by the NHL because 14 New Jersey players are in the COVID protocols. The Penguins play the New York Islanders on Saturday, Feb. 6.