Pens’ College Tryouts Hoping For Long Pro Careers
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Long after the rest of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins wrapped up practice on Friday, one skater remained on the Mohegan Sun Arena ice.
Defenseman Michael Kim, signed to an amateur tryout agreement out of Boston College early last week, had some new gear he was trying to break in. It was one of the first steps in what he hopes will be a successful pro career.
Kim, a Boston College product, isn’t alone there, as the Penguins have welcomed a number of players on ATOs in recent weeks, starting with Jake Lucchini on March 11. Joining them a few days ago were Kim’s college teammate Christopher Brown and Penn State forward Chase Berger.
For Kim and Berger, whom Wilkes-Barre/Scranton signed to AHL contracts for next season, this spring is their first chance to showcase how their skills translate at the next level.
“I thought about that when I was thinking about coming here, that they seem to like college guys,” Berger said on Friday. “I know (Penguins GM) Bill Guerin played in college, and he’s been a great guy. I think they just kind of embrace what we bring, as far as just doing whatever it takes to win and playing for the logo.”
They proved it with their play at some of the nation’s premier schools.
Berger, 24, was a senior captain for the Nittany Lions and recorded 29 points (14G-15A) this season. He’s used to playing in front of a large and passionate fan base from his time in State College. The Penn State program made the move to Division I in 2012-13 and plays out of the Pegula Ice Arena, which features the Roar Zone student section.
“You can feel it when we score and when we start getting on a roll, the crowd builds,” Berger said. “It’s like a wave pushing you. It’s unbelievable.”
Berger said his biggest strength is his versatility as a two-way player and that he prides himself on pitching in with faceoffs and the penalty kill.
Kim, 23, said he likes to use his speed to get up ice and help out on offense when he can, getting shots through to the net and for redirections, but his obvious main focus is his defensive play. He had three goals and 12 assists as a senior.
The Toronto-born blueliner joins John Muse and Jimmy Hayes among BC alums with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and has the added benefit of starting his career with teammate Brown.
“He kind of took me by surprise when he told me he was thinking about coming here,” Kim said. “It’s great. He was one of my roommates and best friends at school, so it just makes the process a little easier for me.”
Both said they are excited to be part of an organization that has a track record of developing talent out of school.
In past years, collegiate players that have joined the Penguins on an ATO made measurable contributions late in the season. Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel are among the most notable, and Anthony Angello ended up playing in the Calder Cup playoffs in 2018. All of them, like Lucchini, had NHL contracts awaiting them next fall.
However, circumstances are a bit different this season with the team clawing for a postseason spot. Whether Berger, Kim or Brown can help the Penguins in the lineup or simply by doing their best in practice, they’re going to do what they can to make a good first impression on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaching staff.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” Kim said. “It’s the same for guys who are coming in, and I’m not expecting anything when I came here. Just trying to come in and work as hard as I can and make the most of the opportunities I’m given. I’m not too disappointed about starting from scratch. I’m excited.”
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