Penguins Weekly: Blueger Committed To Improving, Realizing NHL Dream

December 16, 2018
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Penguins Weekly: Blueger Committed To Improving, Realizing NHL Dream

WILKES-BARRE — Teddy Blueger has seen it plenty of times before — a fellow Penguin gets the call from Pittsburgh and has success in the NHL.

And a conflict between the good teammate and fierce competitor inside the Latvian forward emerges.

“Yeah, it’s kind of a tough situation,” Blueger said Friday at the Toyota SportsPlex. “You’re happy for the guys that do get called up, like Willy (Garrett Wilson). He’s a great player and definitely deserves it. He’s been a leader for several years ... and is a friend of mine, so I wish him nothing but the best.

“At the same time, you watch those games and see those guys doing well, you can’t help but wish you were in their shoes. You see how well they’re doing and you think, ‘I could probably do that, too.’”

It’s been an all too familiar refrain over the last 14 months, but Blueger’s game has seemingly improved to a point where Pittsburgh has to take notice.

With Wilson, Zach Aston-Reese, Derek Grant and now Jean-Sebastien Dea all spending more time in the NHL than with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the 24-year-old Blueger has asserted himself as the team’s best all-around player this season. No one has ever questioned Blueger’s work ethic, with his reputation as a gym rat and penchant for staying on the ice long after practice ends well documented.

But in addition to being the team’s best player at the faceoff dot, he has the offensive production to cement his case now with 16 points (4G-12A) since the start of November.

Blueger cites a number of factors for his current stretch, such as the emphasis he put on his skating in the offseason and chemistry with linemate Thomas Di Pauli. And the goals and assists are nice, but he likes to analyze his game in other ways.

“I don’t think points are necessarily as big of an indicator as some people think,” he said. “Obviously, it’s nice to contribute, but overall like with (Di Pauli), both of our games have been coming along. We’ve been getting more and more possessions in the offensive zone, more clean looks. Right now, we’re focused on getting better entries in the offensive zone and generating more off the rush.”

Often with Blueger, it seems like the long list of buzzword intangibles — grit, compete level, attention to detail — feeds into his production on the ice.

A perfect example of the heart Blueger plays with came in last weekend’s shootout win over Hershey.

With the Penguins down, 4-1, late in the second period — and during the team’s third game in three days — he led a charge into the offensive zone and put a shot on goaltender Vitek Vanecek. Without slowing up, Blueger picked up the rebound and turned almost 180 degrees for a backhand shot that gave the Penguins new life.

Head coach Clark Donatelli said that play speaks to the poise Blueger has developed over his three seasons, and that confidence has fed into the consistency that vaulted the center into the team point lead. “That’s just maturing through the league and getting more comfortable with how he’s playing,” Donatelli said. “At the same time, keeping his compete level very high, and we’re seeing that all in front us right now. He’s really stepped up his game.”

Blueger received a short call-up last season, but didn’t appear in any games. While it’s been frustrating to feel like he’s so close at times and not have an opportunity to show for it, he said he looks at the bright side of his situation with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

He’ll play in any and all situations — including on both special teams and in 3-on-3 overtime — and he gets a surplus of ice time, whereas Pittsburgh might limit him to a bit role on the fourth line.

Not that he would pass up that chance.

For now, Blueger said he’ll continue trying to improve his penalty killing and finishing ability around the net. Rather than give him any specific areas to work on, Pittsburgh has told him to simply stay the course. Just maybe, that willingness to do so will pay off.

“Overall, I just kind of use it as an opportunity to get better, get better in practice every day and use that to my advantage,” Blueger said. “You can’t thinking about getting called up, or what management’s thinking or the scouts are thinking. You just have to go play.”

Contact the writer: tpiccotti@citizensvoice.com; 570-821-2089; @CVPiccotti on Twitter

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