CRANBERRY — Vinnie Hinostroza is not a big man, checking in at 5-foot-11, 183 pounds.
Even so, it looks as if Hinostroza is about to bump Jeff Carter, who has four inches and about 35 pounds on him, right out of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.
Although Mike Sullivan did not commit to using Hinostroza when the Penguins play in San Jose Saturday night, Hinostroza not only did drills with the fourth line Thursday, but was on the No. 2 power play. Coincidentally or otherwise, Carter, who has been a regular on that unit, did not have a spot on it Thursday, and was relegated to the penalty-kill during special-teams work.
Carter has been working alongside Matt Nieto and Noel Acciari at right wing on the fourth line and does not have a point in nine games.
“Obviously, I don’t know what’s going to happen here,” Hinostroza said. “But I’d be really excited, obviously. It’s my goal to help this team win and play as many games as I can. If I’m able to step in there, I’ll be prepared. I’ve tried to stay on top of my game every day in practice. I just try to stay ready.”
Hinostroza, signed as a free agent this summer, had a solid training camp but, like several others with extensive NHL experience, was assigned to the Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre before the season began.
Whether Hinostroza anticipated his demotion isn’t clear, but he said he has learned over the course of his career to not take anything for granted.
“This is like my ninth year (as a pro) now,” he said. “There’s never surprises in this sport. I mean, anything can happen every day. You just have to take it with a grain of salt. Just go to the rink every day, work hard and do your job. That tends to be when good things happen.
“When you tend to overthink it and pout about it, that’s when you kind of fall behind. Just take it day-by-day and try to get better.”
Hinostroza had two goals and two assists in five games with Wilkes-Barre before he was recalled, along with Radim Zohorna, on Oct 26. He has made it into 360 NHL games with Chicago, Florida, Arizona and Buffalo, accumulating 53 goals and 95 assists.
“I’m a hard-working guy, first,” Hinostroza said. “I like to use my speed to get behind (defensemen) and pressure them.”
Hinostroza’s skating is his most obvious asset, and taking full advantage of it will be key to his prospects of holding onto a spot in the Penguins’ lineup, regardless of when he gets in.
“He brings a lot of speed,” Sullivan said. “He has good offensive instincts. He’s got some scoring touch. He’s a guy I think checks hard. I think he utilizes his speed on both sides of the puck. He’s a real good pursuit guy, with his tenacity and just playing on top of defensemen. … With his speed element and his anticipation skills, he has the ability to make it hard on our opponent’s defensemen on breakouts, for example.”
And maybe even to become the first member of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fourth line to score a goal this season.