The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a relatively quiet summer during the 2018 National Hockey League offseason but on Sunday they got a very promising update from a player who's season was cut short prematurely.
Penguins rookie Zachary Aston Reese had his very first season in the National Hockey League come to a terrible end when he was laid out by a devastating hit courtesy of Washington Capitals enforcer Tom Wilson. The hit was an illegal check to the head that left Aston Reese with a broken jaw as well as a serious concussion and although the hit earned Wilson a 3 game suspension in the playoffs, a massive suspension by the NHL's standards in the postseason, the outcome for Aston Reese was much worse.
Reese was unsurprisingly unable to return to action in the playoffs and there was some real concern about how the severe injuries he suffered in the playoffs would impact his return for the 2018 - 2019 NHL regular season. On Sunday we heard from Aston Reese and the young man doesn't sound at all like a player that has been damaged, but rather one who has used the incident to build upon his own confidence as a player in the most competitive hockey league on the planet.
"There's a little bit more confidence," the 24-year-old forward said as per NHL.com. "I don't want to use the word comfort because there's never any comfort. To an extent you know the guys a little bit more, you know what to expect a little bit more. You know how hard it's going to be going in, so you know how to prepare for it."
Do not let his surprisingly positive demeanor fool you however, Aston Reese did admit that the series against Washington left both him and his teammates feeling a little raw. Not only were they understandably furious with Wilson following the illegal check to the head on Aston Reese but they were also very upset at the fact that their long time rivals had beaten them and gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
"It always stinks when it's not your team winning, and when it's a rival it stings a little bit more, little more salt in the wound," he said.
In spite of the fact that thus far he only has 16 career regular season games in the National Hockey League it sounds like Aston Reese is ready to take on a bigger role and it sounds like that may also be what he wants as well. Aston Reese pointed out that both Pittsburgh Penguins' head coach Mike Sullivan as well as Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford have been pushing him hard this summer both in his training and in his recovery from the devastating injury he suffered.
"[Sullivan and Rutherford] talked about how coming into camp I need to show that I belong," he said. "I've had a good summer. I've been happy with my summer, had time to reset and heal from my injury. I've been at it for a while here and I'm feeling strong."
I fully expect Aston Reese to return with a major chip on his shoulder and it will be especially interesting to see how that plays out against the Capitals.