Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aston-Reese's Fast Start Intriguing Development

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aston-Reese's Fast Start Intriguing Development

Article excerpt

The crowd surrounding Zach Aston-Reese's dressing-room stall at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex Wednesday confirmed what everybody saw an hour or two beforehand.

The kid can play.

And also that the disparity between Aston-Reese and pretty much every other Penguins prospect is striking.

The Hobey Baker Award finalist from Northeastern skated on Pittsburgh ice for the first time and looked exactly like the player who led the NCAA in goals (31) and points (63) in the 2016-17 season.

He also looked like a guy not terribly far away from making his NHL debut.

"That's what I've been working for," Aston-Reese said. "That's going to be my goal coming into training camp, try to earn a spot on the team."

That shouldn't be a problem for the 6-foot, 205-pound Aston-Reese. The 22-year-old can move in such a way that it takes him a stride and a half to stand out. In the Penguins' speed-based system, that is a prized asset.

"I think the biggest thing is getting that quickness off the block, those first three steps," Aston-Reese said. "You see guys who have the puck on the wall, in the defensive zone. Just being able to get up ice and keep up the pace. Especially with the Penguins organization, that's one thing they key on - playing with pace."

Aston-Reese said he has closely tracked the Penguins' success with college prospects such as Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson and Jake Guentzel, how they maneuvered quickly through the team's minor league system. It goes without saying he'd like to be next.

"One year or two years in Wilkes-Barre, they're impactful players in the NHL now," Aston-Reese said.

Daniel Sprong might be the biggest name here this week, but Aston-Reese isn't far behind, if at all.As Aston-Reese talked, Sprong did the same down the hall. Both spoke about getting better, about setting an example and not looking too far ahead.

But as the Penguins face the prospect of losing Chris Kunitz in free agency that starts Saturday and Patric Hornqvist's contract expiring after next season, having someone like Aston-Reese make a contribution injects life into the system. …

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