Penguins Rookie Minicamp: 3 forwards know it's their time to step up

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For some, such as first-round pick Angelo Esposito and others from the 2007 draft, the opening of the Penguins' rookie conditioning camp yesterday was a chance to see the city, learn their way around Mellon Arena, meet some of the team's other prospects and skate as a member of the organization for the first time.

For a few, though, the surroundings already are familiar. They have been through Penguins training camp, know the coaches from the team's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton affiliate who are running the conditioning camp.

For them -- particularly forwards Jonathan Filewich, Ryan Stone and Tyler Kennedy -- this is a time to make a move, not just shake hands.

"There's an opportunity right now," Stone said. "I just want to do everything I can to make good on it."

Stone (second round, 2003), Filewich (third round, 2003) and Kennedy (fourth round, 2004) are part of the latest wave of homegrown talent who have been playing in Wilkes-Barre, waiting for a shot to come up and join the Penguins like some of their American Hockey League teammates from the past couple of seasons have gotten.

"A couple of us had good years last year, showed that we can play at the pro level," said Kennedy, a right winger who had 37 points in 40 games in his first AHL season. "We have a chance now to earn a spot."

Filewich, a right winger who had 30 goals, 56 points in 80 games in his second season with the Baby Penguins, would seem to be the best candidate of the three to stick with the Penguins out of regular training camp in September or to get one of the first call-ups next season.

"The guys here, me, Stone, Kennedy, we did have pretty good seasons in the AHL," Filewich said. "We just hope to get our shot to stay here. We know we can do it. It's just getting the opportunity and taking full advantage of it."

Filewich's opportunity seemed to grow earlier this week when the Penguins did not extend a qualifying offer to winger Michel Ouellet, who will become an unrestricted free agent Sunday.

"It was a shock to me because he scored 19 goals last year," Filewich said. "He's a right winger. That's my position, and that's where I want to be next year. I think I can fill those shoes, but I'm not going to put any pressure on myself."

Filewich, Kennedy and Stone watched some of their former teammates go through the process of working their way onto the Penguins' roster and learned a lot from a couple who struggled some with the transition.

Filewich and Kennedy pointed to forward Erik Christensen, whose confidence wavered as he was promoted and demoted over the past two seasons before he finally stuck for good and finished in the top 10 in Penguins scoring.

"I've seen what he's gone through mentally and physically," Filewich said. "It's tough, but he stuck with it, and now look where he is."

Stone's example is winger Colby Armstrong, who, despite being a first-round draft pick in 2001, spent a season after the draft in junior hockey and three-plus seasons with Wilkes-Barre before he became a Penguins regular.

"He just stuck with it," said Stone, who seven goals, 33 points in 41 games with the Baby Penguins. "He was positive. Now he's getting his chance and he's playing great. The same thing with a bunch of guys. They come up here and they stay up here."

Stone and Kennedy had their 2006-07 season shortened by injury.

Stone missed two months after November surgery to repair ligament damage in his left wrist. He puts himself at 80 percent to 90 percent with no pain when he plays and said he should be back to normal by the end of the summer. Kennedy developed a sports hernia in February and expects to be fully recovered by the end of this conditioning camp.

All three will be pushing for promotions during this and regular training camp. If it doesn't happen for the start of the season, they'll be waiting for the call during the season.

Filewich knows what that's like. He was a candidate to be called up when the Penguins lost players to injury last season.

"I felt that I maybe could have had a shot last year, but I didn't want to think about it too much," he said. "You'll drive yourself crazy if you think about that too much."

NOTES -- Enforcer Georges Laraque will meet this week with team doctors for a possible injured shoulder, according to The Hockey News. ... Defensemen Kris Letang and Robert Bortuzzo and forward Tim Crowder had other commitments yesterday and are expected to join the camp today or tomorrow. ... Some of the campers will be at Ice Castle in Castle Shannon today helping out with the Penguins' youth camp. ... The group will skate at Southpointe again tomorrow and Saturday.

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette photos
Right winger Jonathan Filewich, who had 30 goals and 56 points in 80 games last season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, could get a call-up next season.
Click photo for larger image.

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Right winger Tyler Kennedy had 37 points in 40 games in his first AHL season.
Click photo for larger image.Forward Ryan Stone had seven goals and 33 points in 41 games with the Baby Penguins last season.
Click photo for larger image.Penguins first-round draft pick Angelo Esposito participates in a rookie camp at Southpointe yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.


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