First of all, it's pretty crazy that just 17 days after winning a second straight Stanley Cup the Penguins are holding a prospect development camp. These things used to happen later in the summer in July, but recently more and more teams around the league are moving to have summer camp the week after the draft. Logistically this makes sense, being as far-flung prospects are around for the draft anyways, plus the staff can knock this out now and get everyone's off-season started now as we move to the dead months of summer and have a true wind-down period.
So here we are, just days after another franchise defining championship, the coaches, staff and hopeful next wave of players are right back out there in Cranberry on the same sheet of ice that the main team was using just a few weeks ago as they prepared for the Final.
We already pointed out the main names to know and follow this summer, and there's only a few that figure to have an immediate impact in the coming season. Top forward prospects Daniel Sprong and Zach-Aston Reese are right at the top of the list. But there's another name, and a much more familiar face that's also in Pittsburgh this week. The PG's Jason Mackey was on this first.
Former Penguin Kevin Stevens was a surprise addition to the coaching staff at this week's development camp, the result of an invite from director of player development Mark Recchi, one of Stevens' former teammates in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Stevens worked with prospects on the ice for two hours, then reflected on several topics afterward.
"I love the Penguins organization," Stevens said. "I love everything about this place."
The last time Stevens was in the news, it wasn't such a sunny story. Just last month he was sentenced in his native Massachusetts to a year of probation (avoiding up to a possibility of one year of jail time) for conspiracy to sell oxycondone. Stevens problems with pain-killers and other drugs have been well documented demons that he has fought, and sometimes stumbled with, over the past two decades.
But in life, it's not about falling but getting back up and it's really awesome to see this happen.
"I feel good now," big Artie said in team released audio after practice. "I’m pretty happy in my life where I’m at. It took a little while. I had some ups and downs. I’m here. I’m happy to be here. Whatever I can do to help."
And he owes the invite to Recchi, who was just named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and serves as the Penguins director of player personnel. The Pens needed an extra instructor for this summer work, but really it seems easy to see this is a way for the organization to bring in a long-time member of their "family" (which sounds hokey, but hey it's true) who could benefit from being around the game as much as the youngsters could benefit from him working with them.
"My life, I know it can be good and I'd love to work in hockey," Stevens said. "I'm not sure where I'd like to work in hockey, but it's the only thing I really know. So, it's like if I'm going to work, I better get back in hockey."
Working in hockey seems a long way away right now, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
"Sometimes you think you’re going to have those opportunities again, but I never got them again," Stevens said. "I miss those guys. It goes quick."
It sure does. This week will come and go in a blink and will be largely forgotten. But in the bigger scheme of things it's great to see that the team has pulled in one of their own for the opportunity and show that home is always a place you can come back to. Stevens' battles with addictions and demons isn't a battle that's over or probably ever will be, but it's great to see him in a good place and a welcome hand that people like Recchi, Mario Lemieux and Mike Sullivan have long held out over the years.