It didn't take Dylan Zink long to decide to sign with the Penguins organization following his senior season at UMass Lowell.
After attending Pittsburgh's development camp the previous year, in 2016, and becoming familiar with the Penguins' coaching staff, he knew that his affinity for joining the rush as a defenseman and his speed would be a good fit for the Penguins' style of play, a style similar to that of UMass Lowell.
Zink signed with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 2017-18 after his college season ended, winning the Hockey East Championship. He finished the 2017 season on an amateur tryout contract with Wilkes-Barre, appearing in one game.
When he returned for his second development camp in Pittsburgh that summer, he made another good impression on the Penguins' staff.
Development coach Scott Young told DKPittsburghSports.com that Zink is "really smart with the puck. Makes very solid plays, first passes. He’s a ‘quick-up’ guy. He’s a Penguins style of hockey player. We like to move the puck up quickly ... He’s got a great shot, loves to shoot the puck. He’s a good power-play guy.”
Zink himself names his smarts as one of his best assets as a player.
"I think I'm a pretty smart player. I try to use my head out there as much as I can," he told me this week. "I have a pretty good offensive game I think, for a defenseman. But I'm also pretty good in my own D zone, so I like to look at myself as more of a two-way defenseman, rather than just an offensive guy."
In 38 games with the Nailers this season, Zink has used his hockey sense to become one of the team's better playmakers, recording 17 assists. He's managed to find the back of the net himself three times.
Zink's offensive success was something he also showed in college. In his senior season, his 36 points were second-most among Hockey East defensemen, and third overall nationally. He recorded three consecutive seasons with double digits in goal scoring, the only defenseman in UMass Lowell history to accomplish such a feat.
Zink feels that his decision to play college hockey was best for his development.
"It gave me four years to develop, and you're only playing games on the weekends," he said of his path. "So, you have a little more time in the weight room. For me, I added on a lot of muscle and weight and got stronger through my four years. I don't know if that's really as possible in the major juniors, just because they play a lot more games."
Zink has played five games with Wilkes-Barre this season, and his time there made him realize what he needs to work on to take the next step in his career. While he wants to continue to improve his skating first and foremost and trust himself on his blades, he thinks that a high compete level is one of the most important things to have to make the AHL.
"The biggest thing I took away was you gotta show up every day and want to get better," he said. "There's 24 or whatever how many other guys that are gonna show up. They've been through it all, and they might have an upper hand on you on how to deal with things with the way they play or the little tricks that they have. I just try to learn as much as I can from the older guys, just compete as hard as I can."
Even though Zink has spent most of the season in the ECHL, the amount of time the Penguins spend on developing players like him has been encouraging.
"It makes you feel like you're valued," he said. "You might not be with them right now, but they're always keeping an eye out for guys, and trying to develop their own guys rather than go out and get other guys. I think it's a good feeling as a player that they're invested in you, and they want the best for you and the team. It's kind of a comfort thing, that they take pride in that."
MORE FROM WHEELING
• Jan. 24: vs. Kalamazoo, 6-2 win
• Jan. 26: vs. Reading, 2-1 overtime loss
• Jan. 27: vs. Manchester, 5-2 loss
• Jan. 28: vs. Manchester, 4-2 win
• Rookie Cam Brown is riding a seven-game goal streak. During that time period, since Jan. 6, he's scored seven goals and two assists. Brown is still the league's rookie leader in assists, with 27.
• Reid Gardiner and Cody Wydo are tied for the team lead in points after an impressive week, with 43. Gardiner tallied five goals and two assists this week, while Wydo tallied three goals and three assists. Brown is not far behind, with 40.
• Goaltender Adam Morrison has a solid showing this week, with three starts and one appearance in relief. In total, he recorded 77 saves on 83 shots. It's impressive to see Morrison earn a .927 save percentage this week despite playing four times in five days. In eight total appearances in January, Morrison's record was 7-0-1.
• Garrett Meurs was released from his tryout contract with the AHL's Manitoba Moose and returned to the Nailers. Meurs has racked up 15 goals, 22 assists, and 100 penalty minutes in 39 games.
• Defenseman Jeff Taylor and forward Freddie Tiffels were recalled to Wilkes-Barre on Monday. This is Tiffels' eighth roster move of the season, and Taylor's fourth. These guys are putting in a lot of hours on I-80.
• On Saturday, the Nailers and Monarchs set a new ECHL record for fastest three goals scored in a game. Manchester scored first, and the Nailers answered twice, all in a span of 16 seconds.
• After this week’s games, the Nailers slid into a tie for first place in the North Division with the Manchester Monarchs. Their record of 25-17-4-0 also places them fourth in the Eastern Conference. Their power play is still the top of the league, at 21.2 percent.
• After a hectic four games in five days, the Nailers' homestand continues with an easier weekend. They'll host the Indy Fuel (19-19-2-1) on Saturday, and the Fort Wayne Komets (27-13-2-0) on Sunday.
• Feb. 2 will be the Nailers' '90s night, featuring Alfonso Ribeiro. The themed jerseys for the game are absolutely insane:
— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) January 25, 2018
GOALS OF THE WEEK
The Nailers have had a lot of success as of late by getting to the net and thinking fast. These goals came from Gardiner, Wydo, and Brown this week:
WHEELING FUN THING
Marine vet and DKPS subscriber Jennifer Yost was the Nailers' Hometown Hero on Sunday!
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