Free-agent tryouts will try to provide Penguins with depth at forward

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LONDON, Ontario -- Their stories are a bit different.

Their objective is always the same.

To make an impression.

To get noticed.

To earn another chance.

And, perhaps, someday, earn a professional contract.

Eight of the 14 forwards representing the Penguins in a prospects tournament, which resumes with a game at 7 tonight against Toronto at Budweiser Gardens, are on amateur tryout contracts, which means they are promised nothing more than a per diem and an opportunity.

Some likely will be present when the Penguins open training camp Wednesday.

Others might conclude by the time the tournament ends with a game Sunday against Chicago that it's time to get on with their life's work.

They range in age from 18 to 24, come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide range of styles, but share the dream of making a living while playing hockey and following the likes of former Penguins minor leaguers Joey Haddad and Brandon DeFazio, who used tournament tryouts to launch a pro career.

And, given the paucity of good young forwards -- especially skilled ones -- in the developmental pipeline, it makes sense for free agents to try to catch on with the Penguins.

"A lot of times, these tryout guys come in [for the tournament] and play limited minutes in lower-end roles," assistant general manager Jason Botterill said.

"We'll certainly give them a good opportunity to showcase their talents and see what happens."

One of the more intriguing tryout candidates is Cody Sylvester, a 21-year-old left winger who captained Calgary in the Western Hockey League last season.

"He can play different positions, [work the] penalty-kill, power play," Botterill said.

"That versatility obviously could help him in the American Hockey League."

Sylvester did some good work around the net in a 4-1 loss to Ottawa in the tournament opener Thursday and was rewarded with a goal when he knocked in a loose puck from the left side of the crease during a power play late in the first period.

"I like to go to the dirty areas," Sylvester said.

"I just found myself in front of the net and there was a good point shot. The rebound came out and was just sitting there for me."

His goal obviously wasn't enough to alter the outcome, but presumably got the attention of the Penguins' personnel men and decision-makers who were looking on. And who, in some cases, had helped to convince him to accept their tryout offer over those from other clubs.

"There were other teams interested," Sylvester said. "But Pittsburgh seemed to be the most interested."

Here are the other forwards the Penguins have brought to London on amateur tryouts, along with Botterill's assessment:

Cameron Brace (right winger, 5 feet 10, 178 pounds) -- "He has great speed. That's what's really attracted us to him. We're certainly going to try to put him in an offensive role and see what materializes."

Jean-Sebastien Dea (center, 6-0, 155) -- "He has produced a lot in the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). He was at our development camp in July and showed quite a bit of skill. Obviously, the league's always looking for skilled centermen."

Richard Nejezchleb (right winger, 6-2, 213) -- "He has great size and a pretty good skating stride. There's just a little bit of an unknown. Last year was his first in North America. He came over from the Czech Republic and got injured. He looked good in the development camp, so we'll see how he produces here in a game setting."

Liam O'Brien (right winger, 6-1, 205) -- "He was at our development camp a couple of years ago and was supposed to come to the rookie tournament last year but we never had one [because of the NHL lockout], so we brought him in again. He brings more of a physical element."

Connor Rankin (left winger, 6-0, 194) -- "He was a No. 1 centerman on his junior team [Tri-City in the WHL] and can go back to junior. He has improved his skating, but the question is at this level, can it keep up?"

Carter Rowney (right winger, 6-2, 202) -- "The big question mark with him is his intensity, his compete level. You like his size. Is he going to be able to win enough one-on-one battles at the National Hockey League level? He's a guy who, eventually, could be in Willkes-Barre this year."

Scott Simmonds (left winger, 6-1, 190) -- "He's an overaged kid who could go back to junior. Not a high-end, skilled offensive player. More of a penalty-killer, grinder-type player. Strong work ethic."

penguins

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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