Penguins' Stone has sights set on the left

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KITCHENER, Ontario -- It really didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

Ryan Stone remembers landing awkwardly on his left wrist in an American Hockey League game against Norfolk in November, and how he "felt a little pop" when it happened.

He didn't think all that much of it, though. At least until his thumb started to dislocate. A lot.

That prompted Stone to have his wrist examined, and the doctor determined that it wasn't a coincidence. And that surgical repairs were in order.

Stone, a center/left winger poised to contend for a spot on the Penguins' roster this season, still isn't completely over the effects of that operation, but it hasn't hampered his play much at the ongoing rookie tournament.

He had one goal and three assists in two games before being held out of the Penguins' 3-0 loss to Ottawa at Memorial Auditorium yesterday so he wouldn't have to play four times in as many days.

"It's pretty good," Stone said. "It's 90 percent, or whatever. It's not 100 percent or anything, but it doesn't bother me too much on the ice.

"Just in the gym, [doing] a couple of things, it kind of lingers. But you're not bench-pressing when you're playing hockey."

His wrist problem and other ailments limited Stone to 41 games last season, but he still managed to put up seven goals and 26 assists. In 2005-06, he had 14 goals and 22 assists in 75 games with the Baby Penguins.

He never has been a prodigious point-producer -- Stone never reached triple figures in four seasons with Brandon in the Western Hockey League before turning pro -- but does have a strong all-around game, and physical play is a major part of it.

While he hardly qualifies as an enforcer, Stone isn't shy about throwing his body around and always has been willing to drop his gloves if he felt the situation called for it.

"Stone has a little bit of toughness, a little bit of an edge to his game," Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Richards said. "He's got some toughness and can back it up."

And while Stone has not been in a fight since returning from his surgery, he insists he has no reservations about trading punches with an opponent.

"If I have to drop 'em again, I'm not going to be thinking about my wrist," he said. "When I do it, we'll see how it ends up, but I think it will be fine if I have to do that."

Even so, Richards said he believes Stone's thumb problem did affect his play after he returned last season.

"You get an injury like that and you're out for such a long time, you come back and sometimes you're unsure about your game," he said. " 'Is it healthy? I can't do this, can't do that.'

"He's a guy who plays on the edge ... who sometimes has to fight. When you play that way, if you know you have a bad thumb, sometimes you're a little tentative about playing physical. So it takes away from that part of his game."

Stone began his pro career as a center, but moved to the left side in the 2006 playoffs, and came to enjoy it. Enough that the wing has become his position of choice, although he happily would fill whatever opening exists on the NHL roster.

"I think I'd rather play left wing, but whatever position is open ... that's fine by me," he said. "All last year I was a left wing, so I think I've kind of grown into that spot. That's my position now."



NOTES -- Alexander Nikulin, Derek Smith and Tyler Donati of Ottawa scored against Penguins goalie David Brown; Senators goalie Ryan Daniels stopped all 36 shots the Penguins threw at him. ... In addition to Stone, the Penguins rested right winger Jonathan Filewich and defenseman Jake Muzzin. ... General manager Ray Shero said no decision has been made about whether rookie center Angelo Esposito, who is recovering from a groin injury, will be healthy enough to participate when training camp opens Thursday.


Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com


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