Bissonnette knows odds steep for making Penguins


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Paul Bissonnette is not the youngest captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup.

He did not win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, either, or earn the regular-season scoring championship.

Nonetheless, when the players are introduced before the Penguins' intrasquad game at Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre at 7 tonight, Bissonnette might well receive an ovation from the capacity crowd as great -- or greater -- than the ones Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or anyone else get.

For while Bissonnette does not have anything resembling their pedigree, he plays the kind of rugged game that appeals to fans in pretty much every city.

He hits hard and often and is not shy about dropping his gloves if the situation calls for it. Hey, he did not get the nickname "Biz Nasty" by winning a drawing.

Bissonnette was voted Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Fan Favorite last season and might have a shot at repeating because he is not terribly optimistic about his chances of earning a place on the Penguins' 23-man roster for the regular-season opener against the New York Rangers Oct. 2.

Asked to assess his chances of starting the season with the Penguins, Bissonnette said matter-of-factly, "Looking at their lineup right now, not very good."

That does not mean he is resigned to laboring in the northeast corner of the Commonwealth. He has not forgotten how, during training camp a year ago, nearly everyone assumed he would be shipped to the Baby Penguins before the games that counted began.

Everyone except the guys charged with filling out the 23-man roster, that is. Which is why Bissonnette won't let the odds stacked against him by virtue of the surplus of NHL-caliber forwards in camp affect the way he approaches his work.

"That's not going to stop me," he said.

"Last year, I thought the exact same thing and I found myself on the team, so who knows?"

Bissonnette logged 15 games in the NHL last season, and easily had his most productive year in the American Hockey League, putting up nine goals and seven assists -- complemented by 176 penalty minutes -- in 57 games with the Baby Penguins.

Fairly modest offensive totals, to be sure, but not bad compared to the four goals and 10 assists he had in 104 games with Wilkes-Barre during the previous three seasons.

"I progressed a lot in Wilkes-Barre, just adding overall to my game," he said.

That progress ended abruptly during the AHL playoffs last spring, however, when Bissonnette's left thumb was severely gashed by the skate of Hershey defenseman Greg Amadio.

Bissonnette was knocked down by Steve Pinizzotto of the Bears and, when Amadio tried to jump over him, he instead landed on Bissonnette.

Bissonnette needed surgery to repair damage to tendons, nerves and an artery and acknowledged that the some effects of the operation still are quite apparent. Like how he doesn't have any feeling in his left thumb.

"I think it's pretty much 100 percent, beside the fact I can't feel anything," he said. "Mobility and strength-wise, it came back.

"[The doctor] said that if [the feeling] doesn't come back within the next couple of months, it probably won't, so, whatever."

Bissonnette is not exactly agonizing over that. Fact is, he dismisses the idea that the injury and surgery could have a meaningful impact on his career.

"I haven't noticed anything, but I'm not a finesse guy," he said. "I don't stick-handle."

Not very often, anyway, although the people in Wilkes-Barre don't seem to mind. And they will prove it again when Bissonnette returns to Wachovia Arena tonight.

NOTES -- The Penguins assigned forwards Keven Veilleux, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Aaron Boogaard and Nicholas Petersen, defensemen Brian Strait, Alex Grant and Lane Caffaro and goalie Jordan Parise to their team in Wilkes-Barre, returned forward Nathan Moon to his junior team in Kington, Ontario, and released defenseman Jamie Hunt. ... The Penguins will not practice before flying to Wilkes-Barre today. ... Russian right winger Konstantin Pushkarev, who played for Evgeni Malkin's former team in Magnitogorsk, is in camp on a tryout. ... Coach Dan Bylsma said one of the most memorable moments of his day with the Stanley Cup came when "15 scoops of ice cream" were put in the bowl of the trophy for the children of friends and family. ... Former Penguins defenseman Jim Johnson was named associate coach of Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate in Norfolk. ... Scott McConnell, new video coordinator for the Baby Penguins, is the grandson of former Penguins coach Bob Johnson.


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com.


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