It took Troy Josephs longer than he would have liked to get his season underway, but the Penguins' 2013 seventh-round pick is very pleased with how he finally started, with good reason.
Josephs was kept out of action for eight months, six of those wearing a sling, after needing surgery in the spring. He had a lingering shoulder injury from his time at Clarkson University, and re-injured it during his thirteen games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to close out last season.
"It was a long summer, to say the least," he told me.
It was a big adjustment for Josephs once he returned to game action with Wheeling on Dec. 6. Coming from the college game, he wasn't used to playing so often.
"College, we only had games on weekends," he said. "Playing just this past three-in-three, we had a long 72 hours, not a whole lot of rest, playing a lot of games and a lot of road trips on the bus. It's definitely a lot different from college, but I'm starting to adjust to it and getting more used to it."
In his 11 games grinding it out in the ECHL, Josephs has racked up eight points, five goals and three assists. He's quickly become one of Wheeling's strong two-way players this season.
"I play all 200 feet of the ice," he said. "Hard on pucks. I'm not afraid to get in the dirty areas to put the puck away, but I think I got great vision and I like to make plays when I can as well."
He likens his game to that of Anze Kopitar, saying that Kopitar is a "solid player that can be counted on all of the time" because of his two-way game.
Many of Josephs' goals this season have come from having a strong net-front presence:
He thinks that his game fits the Penguins' system well, especially with the speed they play with throughout the system.
"I like going up and down the ice fast, making plays at high speed," he said. "I'm really comfortable in that aspect, I think it's a big part of my game as well."
When Josephs was drafted, then-director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton said that Josephs "plays with a lot of pace, a lot of tempo," in a team release. "He’s a hard to play against center. Tenacious on pucks, hard as an F1 forechecker. We like the grit that he brings. He needs more time to develop his game but he is certainly a guy that fits what we’re looking for."
To carve out a role in the Penguins' system, Josephs still wants to improve the defensive side of his game, something he says will also improve the offensive side of his game. He's played wing and center at different points in his career, and is comfortable with both positions, or "pretty much every position they can throw me at," as he puts it.
Josephs believes that the Penguins have been leaning heavily on college prospects in recent years because their development is better, and notes that the Penguins were in contact with him throughout his college career. He thinks that he's in the right place to further develop and take advantage of opportunities to move through the system.
"I honestly believe I'm going to fit well in their system moving forward, moving from Wheeling to Wilkes," he said. "The hope is, of course, always making it to the NHL, whether it be Pittsburgh or somewhere else, but this organization has been unbelievable, and they do everything they can to help weed guys through and get them to the next level."
His girlfriend, Brooke Webster, is a professional hockey player as well. She's in her rookie season with the CWHL's Vanke Rays, one of the league's Chinese expansion teams. She was named CWHL Player of the Month for the month of November, and her 17 points in 12 games ranks her sixth in the league:
Experiencing their rookie seasons together is something Josephs thinks has been nice to have in common.
"You know, we're both sort of experiencing our first professional hockey seasons out of college," he said. "We both can talk about it and sort of relate. It's an awesome experience that we're both having, and especially her out in China is really cool as well."
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Dec. 22: vs. Brampton, 3-1 loss
• Dec. 23: vs. Brampton, 6-2 win
• Dec. 29: at Fort Wayne, 5-2 loss
• Dec. 30: vs. Toledo, 5-4 loss
• Dec. 31: vs. Indy, 3-2 loss
• Cody Wydo's 33 points still lead the team, but Cam Brown is closing the gap after tallying six points in his last five games. His 24 assists are the second-most in the league, and his goal on Dec. 30 brought his season point total to 30.
• After being reassigned to Wheeling for their game on New Year's Eve, Wydo and Reid Gardiner were recalled to Wilkes-Barre yesterday.
• The Nailers' record of 16-14-2-0 puts them in fourth place in the tight North Division, but they're only two points out of second place. The team's power play is the best in the league, as it has been all season.
• Wheeling kicks off 2018 with four games this week. They'll travel to Norfolk on Wednesday to play the Admirals (11-17-2-1), then have three games back-to-back over the weekend. They'll host the Manchester Monarchs (21-10-1-1) on Friday, play the Cincinnati Cyclones (19-11-1-0) on the road on Saturday, then host the Fort Wayne Komets (20-8-2-0) on Sunday. Goaltender Sean Maguire is on Fort Wayne's roster after Pittsburgh traded him to Arizona two weeks ago, so it's likely that they'll see him again this week.
GOALS OF THE WEEK(S)
Brown's quick thinking on Saturday earned him his sixth goal of the season:
Riley Bourbonnais scored this breakaway goal in Wheeling's win against Brampton. He has six goals and nine assists in his 29 games this season:
SAVE OF THE WEEK(S)
The goalie shuffling throughout the organization in recent weeks left Colin Stevens and emergency backup Will King in Wheeling. Stevens made this save on New Year's Eve:
WHEELING FUN THING
Las Vegas native Ross McMullan worked on his magic skills:
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