Hobey Baker finalist Josh Archibald adjusting to pros

PENGUINS



It's a bit of an unconventional pipeline, given that football is the sport most closely associated with the state of Nebraska.

But the Penguins have established something of a connection with the University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey team, one that could help them address what has been a defenseman-heavy imbalance among their prospects.

The latest example is winger Josh Archibald, a sixth-round pick by the Penguins in the 2011 NHL draft. As a junior last season at UNO, he set a school record with 29 goals, led the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with 43 points in 37 games, was named the conference player of the year and the school's top male athlete, was a first-team All-American and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

After that performance, he decided to forgo his senior season and turn pro.

"[UNO] is almost overlooked at times, but we've got a great coaching staff there," said Archibald, who is attending Penguins development camp this week.

Coach Dean Blais has extensive experience coaching at North Dakota, with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Team USA and, since 2009-10, at UNO.

When Archibald was a freshman in 2011-12, one of his teammates was Jayson Megna, who signed with the Penguins after one year and spent about half of last season in the NHL.

Coming up behind Archibald is Jake Guentzel, a freshman at UNO last season and a third-round Penguins draft pick in 2013.

Guentzel, who also is at development camp this week, was the left winger on a UNO line with Archibald and center Dominic Zombo last season.

"We had a great line," Archibald said. "I think the main thing was we found good chemistry.

"We just played really well together, whether it was on the power play or five-on-five. We fed off of each other. When guys got open, we were talking to each other. It was a really special year."

At 5 feet 10, 181 pounds, Archibald isn't hulking by pro standards -- he said he has added size in the summers but has some trouble keeping weight on during the season -- but he has a scoring touch. He had 58 goals in three college seasons. Eight of his 29 goals last season came on the power play.

"I don't know what was clicking for me," Archibald said. "I guess I was just finding those open areas and being able to get to them. I worked on that a lot [last] summer. A lot of that came from being stronger and being able to hold myself in the corners and walk out of the corners, stuff like that."

Guentzel, who as a freshman tied for the UNO lead with 27 assists and finished tied for second behind Archibald with 34 points, claimed Archibald was being modest.

"Obviously, he was a natural goal-scorer," Guentzel said. "He'd find ways to score that many people couldn't score. His speed, his shot -- it doesn't really matter. He was just a natural goal-scorer."

Archibald made the transition to college hockey after playing for Brainerd (Minn.) High School. He said the college route was a given for him because his father, Jim, played at North Dakota before a brief NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars in the 1980s.

Last spring, Archibald made another jump, from college to the American Hockey League.

After turning pro, he joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, getting one goal in seven regular-season games and one goal in two playoff games for the Penguins affiliate.

"Guys are a lot bigger and stronger. They're stronger on the puck, and they move pucks well. It was a little bit of adjustments," said Archibald, 21, who will be at Penguins training camp in September but will likely start the season in Wilkes-Barre.

"The biggest thing for me was the systems. The AHL uses a lot more systems than college did. Once I learned everybody's systems, it wasn't too bad."

The Penguins, like a lot of NHL teams, often place prospects in the AHL after their college or junior season.

"It's such a different lifestyle than in college and in junior," said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes, who is overseeing development camp. "It's definitely a benefit for those guys.

"It's helped them here. You can see the comfort level they have. And, hopefully, building from development camp into training camp, it's going to give them a [better] comfort level to not only be able to produce, but be able to show what they can do in September."

With a new Penguins coach in Mike Johnston and new general manager Jim Rutherford wanting all levels of the organization to use the same schemes, Archibald will have to start over on the learning curve

He'll get a little bit of an idea this week as the Penguins introduce a few elements during development camp.

"It won't be too bad," Archibald said. "I didn't learn everything with the old Pittsburgh system, so this new stuff will be a good adventure, and I'm looking forward to it."

Inside

■ Sabres re-sign center Tyler Ennis to five-year contract. Notebook, Page D-5

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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