Aston-Reese Seizing Opportunity After Injury

Penguins forward skating some with Malkin, Kessel

Josh Rowntree
September 18, 2018 - 1:52 pm
Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in training camp in 2018

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

Zach Aston-Reese’s family kept him well fed in the offseason. Now he hopes to return the favor to two of the Penguins biggest weapons. 

The 24-year-old winger made an impression a year ago, scoring four goals in 16 games and appearing in nine postseason games for Pittsburgh.

Then Tom Wilson’s shoulder snapped his jaw, thus ending a promising rookie year abruptly. 

When camp began on Friday, however, Aston-Reese was healthy, back on the ice, and skating on a line with stars Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. 

“It’s gone pretty well,” he said Tuesday. “I feel strong, I feel like I’m in shape and I feel good mentally.”

The road to recovery after a broken jaw is not an easy one. Aston-Reese was on a liquid diet for three weeks before switching to soft foods only. With that, weight loss can become an issue. 

“I was around my family and they made sure I was getting enough sustenance, if you will,” Aston-Reese joked. “I was pretty lucky. I didn’t lose too much weight and whatever weight I did lose I was able to put back on fairly quick.”

Aston-Reese needs to have that size back. A physical player, he could bring some grit to a line with premier offensive skill. 

“One of his assets is that he’s a reliable player without the puck,” Pittsburgh assistant Jacques Martin said. “Offensively, he’s a good play as far as being in the net-front, having the ability to see open people, the give-and-go game.

“He really brings a physical presence also to the line he plays with.”

Still cutting his teeth in the league though, Aston-Reese has plenty of areas to improve. He’s no lock to make a team that has added some forward depth in the offseason. 

“One of the biggest things is skating,” he said. “That’s something that can always be improved upon. But, for me, just being in good shape and able to handle heavy minutes, play both ways. I think it’s kind of a stamina thing.”

Aston-Reese’s first test comes Tuesday night, when the Penguins open the preseason in Buffalo. Malkin and Kessel will not play, but he will have a chance to show what he can do against a Sabres team that will play some of its top players. 

Facing live competition for the first time since the hit in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, one could expect nerves early on for Aston-Reese. 

“More, I’d say, butterflies in the stomach,” he said. “Training camp is always different, playing the inter-squad games. It’s always a different feel. There’s definitely excitement. I wouldn’t call it nerves, or anything like that.”

Hear more from Zach Aston-Reese below.