With the Pittsburgh Penguins off through the All-Star break, the team has assigned a pair of players to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. Forward Jonathan Gruden and goalie Dustin Tokarski will rejoin Pittsburgh’s minor-league affiliate, the team said Sunday morning.
Gruden’s past two weeks on the NHL roster was the first call-up of his career, discounting preseason moves. He played in his first three NHL games on January 16, 18, and 20 and was held off most box-score stats as he averaged just 5:19 of ice time per game.
He was essentially an emergency injury replacement, as many of Pittsburgh’s bottom-six forwards were absent from the lineup with injuries. As players like Ryan Poehling returned to health over the last couple of weeks, Gruden was a scratch for Pittsburgh’s last four games. The 22-year-old natural winger, acquired in the Matt Murray trade from the Ottawa Senators in 2020, returns to Wilkes/Barre-Scranton, where he has 16 points in 32 games this season. Barring more injuries, that’s where he’ll stay for the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign.
Tokarski, on the other hand, is a much more experienced NHLer who could see a recall back to Pittsburgh when the All-Star break concludes, depending on the health of starter Tristan Jarry. Pittsburgh’s recalled Tokarski twice in the past month, once on January 3 and once on January 25, as Jarry’s dealt with injury issues that have kept him out of the lineup for most of the month.
The 33-year-old Tokarski, with 78 NHL games under his belt, is one of the best third-string options available in the league. He served as a full-time backup for the first time in his career last season, posting a 10-12-5 record and a .899 save percentage in 29 appearances with the Buffalo Sabres. Sitting third on the depth chart in Pittsburgh behind Jarry and Casey DeSmith, however, Tokarski’s dominated the minors with a .923 save percentage in 20 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
In two appearances in the NHL this season with Jarry out, Tokarski’s split his decisions with a 1-1-0 record and a .915 save percentage. If Jarry isn’t ready to go by the conclusion of the All-Star break, Tokarski could be in line for some more starts. DeSmith’s play has been subpar since the calendar turned to 2023, going 3-4-2 in 10 games with a .887 save percentage.