Big, versatile Penguins prospect Sundqvist searching for right fit

PENGUINS


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Oskar Sundqvist has spent his hockey career playing in his native Sweden on the larger international ice surface. His few trips to the Penguins' annual summer development camp have offered him a rare chance to skate on a North American-sized rink.

Sundqvist was really squeezed as this year's development campers participated in a three-on-three tournament Friday with play held cross-rink between the blue line and end boards at Consol Energy Center.

That was OK with him. Sundqvist, at least off the ice, is exceptionally agreeable and adaptable.

"It's a little bit more physical play [on the smaller surface], but it's no problem for me. I'm just having a great time here," said Sundqvist, a Penguins third-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft.

A natural two-way center who also played on the wing last season with Skelleftea of the Swedish Hockey League, Sundqvist doesn't know where he will fit with the Penguins.

Or when.

Which is OK, because the Penguins aren't sure, either.

"He's always been considered a project because of when we drafted him and where we drafted him from -- he was playing midget hockey," said Penguins assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald. "But he's got size. He's got some grit. He's got real good hockey sense. He's versatile. He's just maturing as a player.

"What his development path looks like, it's still unknown. Does he stick around over here, or does he go back to Skelleftea, which is a great organization? With him, it's day by day."

Sundqvist, who is 6 feet 3, 182 pounds, is expected to be part of a Penguins contingent that will play in a rookie tournament in September in London, Ontario. After that, he could stay and participate in the team's main training camp, which could lead to him playing in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League as a first-year North American pro.

Or he could return to Skelleftea, which will be defending its league title.

"I have no idea," Sundqvist, 20, said. "We have to see -- my age, how I'm feeling, if I'm ready for it, to move so far away. Maybe I'll have to wait one year. We will see."

There is no pressure coming from the Penguins.

"We're not rushing anybody," Fitzgerald said.

Sundqvist has contracts with both clubs after he signed a three-year, entry-level NHL deal May 31 with the Penguins.

"It was like a dream come true," Sundqvist said of the contract that has an annual salary cap hit of $700,833 if he plays in the NHL. "But it's like a half-dream. The next dream is to play in the NHL. I still have something to work for."

His contract with the Penguins trumps that of the Swedish team, but Fitzgerald said they aren't looking to pull rank unless they are sure Sundqvist is ready.

"We want to work with that team and do what's best for the kid," Fitzgerald said.

That gives Sundqvist versatility, sort of like he has on the ice.

He projected himself as "a role player" in the NHL. He is not a sniper. He is not a pure checking forward, either, although he can play with an edge and listed winning puck battles as a crucial part of his game.

Sundqvist might be described as a budding third-line center, but the Penguins already are set there with Brandon Sutter, a restricted free agent who is expected to re-sign this summer.

Sundqvist split the 2012-13 season between Skelleftea's top team and its junior squad. Last season, Sundqvist had six goals and 16 points in 51 games for Skelleftea, the SHL side, and got to help celebrate the team's championship in Sweden's top league.

"It was unbelievable," he said. "You're playing against bigger men, heavier. You've got to be quick in your thoughts, in your hands, everywhere on the ice. I felt like the longer the season went, I got better and better at all that stuff."

When and if Sundqvist makes it to the NHL, he plans to give himself over to the Penguins completely.

"It doesn't matter if the coach wants me to go in and have a fight -- I'll do it," he said, the kicker being that fighting is essentially nonexistent in the SHL.

"I'll do everything for a team."

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NOTES -- The Penguins re-signed defenseman Simon Despres to a two-year, $1.8 million contract. He had been a restricted free agent. A first-round draft pick in 2009, Despres, 22, has three goals, 16 points in 85 NHL games. ... Mark Recchi was hired as the new player development coach. He replaces Bill Guerin, who was promoted to assistant general manager by new GM Jim Rutherford. Recchi, 46, who was drafted by the Penguins and played on their first Stanley Cup team in 1991, will help develop prospects in the minor leagues, college and junior levels. The former winger played in 1,652 NHL games over 22 years, including three stints with the Penguins. He had 577 career goals, 1,533 points and also won Cups with Carolina and Boston. ... Fitzgerald said the camp-ending scrimmage today -- 3 p.m. at Consol Energy Center, free to the public -- will feature two 30-minute halves with a running clock through most of it. "Everything we've built up this week ends [today] with a fun game," he said.

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


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