Veterans Horvat, Erixon Trying Out With Penguins
WILKES-BARRE — After suiting up for the Springfield Thunderbirds last season, Ryan Horvat and Tim Erixon are teammates once again.
Unfortunately, not in a way either one was hoping for.
Horvat and Erixon, who have a combined 11 professional seasons and 518 games of AHL experience between them, went unsigned through the summer months. Both are now at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins camp on a tryout basis and hoping to play their way into a contract.
The 27-year-old Erixon, who manned the blue line for the Penguins from 2015-17, has been training in Wilkes-Barre for over a month and officially became part of camp Wednesday morning at the Toyota SportsPlex.
“Obviously, this isn’t what you want,” Erixon said. “I really thought I was going to have something done a couple times (over the summer), but it fell through for whatever reasons. All I can focus on is just being in good shape and playing good hockey.”
Erixon was versatile playing with the Penguins, contributing on both the power play and penalty kill, and had 37 points and a plus-25 rating over 119 games. However, last season was full of “ups and downs” for the former first-round draft pick.
He started the year playing five games in Binghamton, then left for a better offer in Springfield. He had a great start with the Thunderbirds, but was hampered by midseason injuries and fought to make it back on the ice for the final 20 or so games.
Erixon skated with both NHL and AHL players over the summer and is now fully healthy. Despite not having a contract, he said it felt good to be back around coaches and players he’s very much familiar with.
“You’re out there and know the drills already, a lot of them, and whatever terms they use out there,” he said. “I feel very comfortable with the staff and coaches and Clarkie (Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli).
“We’ll see what happens. Just play some hockey.”
Possibly working against Erixon is an AHL rule that mandates at least 13 of a team’s 18 skaters must be “development players.” Taking injured players into account, the Penguins wouldn’t be able to put all of their veterans (meaning anyone who has accrued 321 or more professional games) into the same lineup.
Horvat isn’t officially in that category, but has plenty of prior experience to offer. He served as an assistant captain with the Thunderbirds and, before that, won a Calder Cup with Manchester his rookie season in 2014-15. That playoff run helped him grow up fast.
“You come in as a rookie and, coming out of juniors, you’re kind of young and kind of stupid,” Horvat said Monday. “You don’t really know how to be a pro yet, so you have all these guys like Andrew Bodnarchuk and Jeff Schultz, even (former Penguin Paul) Bissonnette and guys like that, just teaching you how to be a pro and take care of your body.”
Horvat isn’t a huge point producer — his career high is only 21 — but he said he likes to battle in the corners and bring a physical element to the ice. He also feels he can be a steady presence in the Penguins dressing room.
“If we need guys just on the bench screaming and yelling, I can do that too,” he said. “If I got a shot here, I could bring good leadership.”
Forward Ryan Haggerty cleared waivers and was on the ice Wednesday, one day after he signed a two-year, two-way contract with Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old skated in the second of two practice groups.
“It feels really good (to get the contract),” Haggeerty said. “Very excited, very grateful for this opportunity. ... It was a good journey here. I really love the organization, and I’m proud to be part of it for another two years.”
The Stamford, Connecticut native is entering his third campaign with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and fifth overall in the AHL. However, the NHL deal is his first since he signed with the New York Rangers out of RPI in 2014.
Haggerty set career highs last season in goals (16) and points (37) and performed very well at Pittsburgh camp, recording two points in Sunday’s preseason game against Detroit. Despite being limited in the second half of 2017-18 because of an injury, he said he made strides in his game that allowed him to go to camp on a mission to prove he could be an asset for the parent club.
With last season’s leading scorer Daniel Sprong slated to make the jump to Pittsburgh, a healthy and confident Haggerty could give the Penguins a huge offensive boost.
“I need to continue improving and work every day to continue to make the next step to the NHL,” Haggerty said.
With John Muse and Anthony Peters battling for a goaltending spot, Donatelli said each will get at least a full game of work during the course of the team’s preseason slate. Muse is expected to start tonight’s game against his former team, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. ... Forward Joseph Cramarossa is expected to miss about four weeks with an upper-body injury, according to Donatelli.
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