The Penguins opened camp with a high number of professional tryouts (PTOs) of five, though one was a minor league candidate in Peter Abbandonato that has already been released. The others, Mark Pysyk, Colin White, Austin Wagner and Libor Hajek all had various levels of realistic chances of making the roster, though after just one week some fortunes have changed.
Pysyk, who missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon last year, is now out again. The latest injury has only been officially described as “lower body” and “longer term” which are two things especially in this case that sound like a serious blow to Pysyk’s attempt to keep his career going.
The disappointment in Sullivan’s voice was real giving the update. The coach was as resolute as always but his words were a bit wistful about what could have been for a healthy Pysyk in Pittsburgh this season and watching that opportunity melt away due to the circumstances.
Mike Sullivan said it's unfortunate to see Mark Pysyk, here on a PTO, out longer-term with a lower-body injury. 'We were really looking forward to watching Mark throughout the exhibition season, getting him into some games, and seeing where he might potentially fit on our team."— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) September 26, 2023
By the accounts of many, Pysyk was playing well early on in camp, and perhaps even heading towards a trajectory to earn a contract and NHL job. The team hasn’t officially released him from his tryout just yet, nor shared just how long that longer term means in this case (though in Sullivan-speak, it’s bad news), but as the old saying goes, “you can’t make the club from the tub” in a situation where an oft-injured player is coming in without a contract, and unfortunately picks up another injury.
While Pysyk’s training camp has been knocked off track, a tryout in Pittsburgh going in a better direction has been Colin White. White was a piece of the puzzle in Florida’s playoff run last season. At 26 he’s not an old player, yet he couldn’t find a contract anywhere in a salary cap climate that has been harsh to mid-lower level veterans.
“[White has] obviously shown an ability to be effective in this league,” Sullivan said. “His size, his skating ability, his strength on the puck. His ability to play on wing and play center. I think he’s a versatile player. We can use him up and down the lineup. All of those things are attractive to us and it’s funny how this game works. Players manage their respective careers and sometimes new environments create opportunity, players have shown an ability to take advantage of it.”
There aren’t too many jobs open in the bottom-six after the team added Matt Nieto, Drew O’Connor, Noel Acciari and Lars Eller all getting contracts that White couldn’t over the summer. Despite the numbers crunch, Sullivan sounds open to keeping White on, if he can continue to impress.
“That could be a situation here, we’re going to watch the camp evolve and see how Colin plays but those are the things that I see in his game that potentially could help us.”
With the stock up on White and unfortunately down on Pysyk, that leaves Austin Wagner and Libor Hajek somewhere in the middle. Wagner scored a really nice goal in the first pre-season game but unlike White, Wagner was not tabbed for the playing roster tonight. Hajek hasn’t been much of a standout, which as a defender might not be the worse thing in the world.
Fortunes can change quickly for players living on the edge without a contract and on pro tryouts. Tomorrow almost literally isn’t necessarily promised for them an injury pops up or if the team decides they have seen enough. Success stories can be few and far between, and sometimes the ones entering camp could fall short and others demand a closer look. So far in Pittsburgh, that seems to be the case with fortunes falling for Pysyk and potentially on the verge of rising for White.