The hardest skill to find on the open market is goal-scoring yet one of the NHL’s most prolific when it comes to finding the back of the net, Brandon Pirri, remained unsigned as a UFA late into the summer. Pirri is tied for 30th in goals scored for every 60 minutes of ice time he plays at even strength over the last two seasons. Eventually, the New York Rangers decided to roll the dice and invest in a one-year deal with Pirri and as Sean Hartnett of CBS New York writes, the Blue Shirts might have scored the steal of the summer.
Despite his offensive prowess, Pirri has bounced around the league quite a bit since breaking into the league with the Blackhawks during the 2010-11 season. He wouldn’t earn a regular role until dealt from Chicago to Florida during the 2012-13 campaign. Pirri would spend parts of three seasons with the Panthers before a trade deadline deal to Anaheim this past season. The Ducks chose not to qualify Pirri after the season, thus making the forward a free agent.
Recently, after a preseason loss to Philadelphia, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged the offensive abilities but also pointed out other areas Pirri needs to improve upon before earning the bench boss’ trust.
“There’s no doubt that he’s got the knack to find the net and score. Tonight, he scored a big goal for us. But there’s other areas where I need to be sure he’s going to be able to make the play, get the puck out, be strong on the wall. And tonight, in certain areas, he needed to make a better play. But there’s no doubt offensively that he’s got good hands and he can find the back of the net.”
Pirri is also locked in a tight battle for a roster spot. Even after placing Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen on waivers for the purpose of sending them down to the AHL, the Blue Shirts have four or five players competing for perhaps three spots. Additionally, Vigneault has previously said Pirri would be best served in a top-nine role and he might have a hard time beating out some of his competition despite a four goal, six point preseason. But as Hartnett notes, Pirri’s versatility could be key as he can play either wing and even fill in at center if needed. If Pirri can find enough playing time in New York and continues to put the puck in the net as he has done for much of his career, the minimal investment the Rangers made this summer could prove one of the wisest moves of the offseason.
Elsewhere in the Metro Division:
- When goalie Michael Leighton inked a deal with Carolina in September, he knew in all likelihood he was destined to spend most of the season in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers. But as Chip Alexander of The News & Observer writes, the veteran of 106 regular season NHL contests is content being the #3 netminder in the organization and with his role mentoring the teams goalie prospects. “They’ve got two solid goalies up here, I knew that coming in. I just want to go down there and help the young guys, hopefully show them a little bit of leadership and kind of guide them toward what they should be doing in the future. And also play well. I want to win. If I go down to Charlotte I want to win games and hopefully win a championship.” Of course Leighton is aware he is just an injury away from NHL duty. Last season, while in the Chicago organization, Leighton got that call and would see action in a single NHL contest. Leighton is perhaps best known for back-stopping the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers to within two wins of an improbable Stanley Cup championship. He won eight of his 13 starts that spring and recorded three shutouts during the Eastern Conference Final against Montreal. Regardless of whether Leighton sees any NHL action this season or not, his experience should prove valuable to the Hurricanes organization.
- LW Scott Wilson of the Pittsburgh Penguins is doing his best to land a plum job skating next to one of the elite centers in the game today. As Seth Rorabaugh of DKPittsburghSports.com writes (subscription required), Wilson has taken advantage of the absence of several high profile players due to their World Cup commitments and impressed the Penguins coaches with his play. He is being rewarded with an opportunity to skate along side Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist in tonight’s preseason tilt with Detroit. Whether the Penguins leave Wilson in the spot to open the season is open for debate. But assuming the Carl Hagelin – Nick Bonino – Phil Kessel line that was dominant in the postseason remains intact, the Penguins will need to find four wingers to play with Sidney Crosby and Malkin. Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary figure to fill three of those vacancies but that does leave open the possibility Wilson could force his way into that last spot.