After a solid, if not spectacular, career at Notre Dame, Tim Wallace got a tryout with the Penguins. The winger is still hanging around three years after turning pro, thanks in large part to his willingness to play a style that is more physical than his frame would suggest.
"We keep re-signing him because we like him," general manager Ray Shero said yesterday.
Wallace, who had two assists in his first 16 NHL games last season, played in his first game of this preseason last night. He had no points, was a penalty-killer and dished out two hits in a penalty-filled, 4-3 loss against Toronto at Mellon Arena.
"He can really hit," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who also coached Wallace with the Penguins' farm club in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. "He's a real physical presence. He's working on his game. He's honed his game. There is an edge there that holds defensemen accountable when they're going back for the puck. Those plays can be game-changers and add to the momentum."
Fighting is not Wallace's forte, but the Penguins have others who will drop the gloves. Nevertheless, a bout he had last season got a lot of people's attention.
The Penguins were trailing Boston in the third period when Wallace, playing in his ninth NHL game, took on Bruins tank Milan Lucic. Wallace lost the fight but landed a few punches and hung on for a substantial amount of time.
"Fighting is a whole new world," said Wallace, who certainly did not learn that art with the Fighting Irish. "I don't have that much experience with it, but anything to help the team win is what I'm here to do."
It's a little hard to tell just how much of a size advantage Lucic had at 6 feet 4, 220 pounds.
That's because Wallace, more than most prospects, is searching for an identity.
Depending on where you look, Wallace is listed as 6-1, 206 pounds, or 6-3, 211. He's a left-handed shot, or a righty. He's from Anchorage, Alaska, or Salmon Arm, British Columbia. He just turned 25, or he's going on 29.
The NHL, the Penguins and other sources seem to have conflicting information about him.
"I've heard all that, too, and a lot of it is wrong," said Wallace. "I don't know who to talk to about that."
For the record, he is closer to 6-1, 206 pounds, turned 25 last month, shoots right, is from Anchorage and played for the United States' national developmental program -- winning a gold medal at the 2000 under-18 world championships -- before playing in all 153 games over four seasons with Notre Dame, collecting 25 goals, 34 assists.
He had 11 goals, 19 points in 58 games with Wilkes-Barre last season.
On the surface, that background does not make him a prime candidate to be a player whose grit helps get him a full-time slot in the NHL.
Yet that's what the Penguins are counting on.
"I'm a physical player," Wallace said. "If I wasn't, I don't know if I'd be here."
That's something coaches at every level of the Penguins'organization have drummed into him -- hit, skate hard, fight occasionally and play that way consistently.
"Everyone has told him, 'You've got to play with a certain grit,' and he has that," Shero said. "He's not the biggest guy, but he's really sturdy on his skates. Physically, he can punish people. He's making progress every year.
"He's really strong. He can shoot the puck. I don't think he's ever going to be a big-numbers guy in the NHL or the minors, but if he's someone who can fill a certain role and be a responsible player, then we'll see how he does this year."
With Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan gone from the Stanley Cup team of last season and Max Talbot out for at least the first several weeks after shoulder surgery, there are a couple of spots on the wings open for the start of the season or for call-ups.
If Wallace can impress the Penguins during training camp the way he did last Dec. 30 when he tried to jolt his team out of a three-goal, third-period deficit, he'll go a long way toward earning a strong look at sticking in the NHL.
"That fight that he had last season [with Lucic] was certainly an eye-opener not only for the fans but for his teammates and the coaching staff," Bylsma said. "That's his challenge -- can he be that kind of momentum guy, energy guy, physical guy at the NHL level? I thought he did a very good job here when he had his 10-plus games."
NOTES -- Toronto got four goals in the second period -- three on the power play, two of those on the same elbowing major to the Penguins' Craig Adams -- to negate first-period goals by the Penguins' Matt Cooke and Evgeni Malkin. Point man Brooks Orpik scored from the left circle to bring the Penguins to within 4-3 on a power play in the third period. ... Goaltender Brent Johnson played 42 seconds more than half of regulation, giving up the three Maple Leafs power-play goals on eight shots, before, as pre-planned, Marc-Andre Fleury went into the Penguins' net. Fleury gave up one goal on nine shots.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.