Size and smooth skating don't typically go hand-in-hand for many hockey players.
Rookie defenseman Matt Abt brings both to the table.
Abt, 25, is in his first full professional season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The 6-feet-4, 180-pound blueliner made his professional debut at the end of the 2017-18 season, joining the Wheeling Nailers after the conclusion of his senior year at RIT.
After recording a goal and five assists in 12 games with Wheeling last season, the Nailers signed Abt to a full contract over the offseason. Abt was invited to Wilkes-Barre's training camp in the fall and his standout preseason play earned him an AHL contract.
"I came into camp thinking I've got nothing to lose here," Abt told me this week. "Just go in, play your game, and if they think that there's a spot that I could step into, then that's great. If not, then maybe I'd end up in Wheeling. I'm really happy that I did get the opportunity to stay here. I think things have gone well since. ... I'm just kind of taking it day by day, but I'm really happy with the season so far."
Abt cracked the Penguins' opening night lineup and has been in Wilkes-Barre for the full season. He's recorded eight assists in 32 games and a plus-7 rating, the third-highest among active defensemen on the team.
Considering Abt wasn't projected to be on Wilkes-Barre's roster prior to the fall, it's encouraging to see him adjust to the AHL game so quickly. He credits his short stint in Wheeling last spring with making the adjustment easier.
"It helps with the little things," he said of his time in Wheeling. "The culture in pro hockey, the lifestyle, the game style, which has been different from college. I think that definitely helped the transition."
It also helps that Abt is surrounded by an abundance of experienced defensemen. Of the regular defensemen this season, Abt and Jeff Taylor are the only players in their first full AHL season. Veterans like Tim Erixon, Kevin Czuczman, Zach Trotman, and Chris Summers are all older defensemen who have extensive professional experience, including in the NHL. Each player is someone who Abt can learn something from in his rookie season.
"I'm observant of what they do, what their habits are on the ice," Abt said of the veterans. "You learn not only little skills you can use on the ice but how to carry yourself around the rink, just every day life. It's been really good having them around."
Abt is on the leaner side for a guy of his height, but he still has a lot of strength and is able to effectively use his size, as seen with hits like this:
Abt is the smooth, puck-moving defenseman that the Penguins like to have in their system. He's not just a good skater given his size, he's a good skater period.
"I think my skating has always been one of my stronger suits," he said. "I love to skate with the puck, I try to do that every time I get a chance to."
Abt's alma mater, RIT, is a smaller hockey program. It has only produced two NHL players -- Steve Pinizzotto and Christopher Tanev. While the program has produced other minor-league hockey players, making the jump straight from RIT to the AHL the following season is still a bit of an anomaly. Abt hopes his accomplishments can help bring more attention to the program.
"I'm definitely proud of what I've accomplished, and I hope it can maybe help the program a bit in any shape or form," said Abt. "It's good. RIT, I loved my time there. I hope they can continue to put players up to the next level."
For now, Abt just wants to focus on becoming a more well-rounded player at this level, and improve his shot.
THE ROSTER MOVES
• The Penguins released defenseman Will O'Neill from his contract — a mutual decision. O'Neill was the odd man out on the increasingly healthy blue line. The AHL has a five-player veteran limit, and he wasn't playing well enough to earn a spot over the other veteran defensemen.
• Joseph Blandisi, acquired from Anaheim in the Derek Grant trade, was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre last week, but did not make it in time to play in Monday's game. He played in the other two games this week, scoring twice.
• Thomas Di Pauli hasn’t played since Dec. 16 with a lower-body injury. … Ben Sexton was injured after two hits on Jan. 5. … Jeff Taylor, Matt Abt, and Sam Lafferty were all injured Jan. 18 and did not play this week.
• Chris Summers returned to the lineup on Jan. 21 after being injured since Dec. 12.
• The AHL All-Star Skills Competition took place in Springfield on Sunday night. Ethan Prow participated in the Puck Control Relay, Accuracy Shooting and Breakaway Relay events.
Prow's trio -- himself, Charlotte's Andrew Poturalski, and Toronto's Trevor Moore -- won the second heat of the Puck Control Relay.
Prow hit two targets on eight attempts in Accuracy Shooting.
“I think I hit the cross bar three or four times,” Prow told the team's website. “It just wasn’t my night there. But you just got to roll with it. It was still fun, and you’ve just got to laugh about it and enjoy it.”
Prow's one shot was stopped in the Breakaway Relay.
• Summers previously set the Fastest Skater record in 2013, completing his lap in 13.324 seconds. That's faster than Connor McDavid's NHL-winning time this year of 13.378.
Summers' record was broken this year by Springfield's Anthony Greco, who completed his lap in just 13.251 seconds.
• Jan. 21: vs. Lehigh Valley, 2-1 overtime win
The Penguins outshot the Phantoms by a 32-17 margin in the first two periods of Monday's game, but the game remained scoreless entering the final frame.
The Phantoms struck first, 3:55 into the third period. Adam Johnson tied the game seven minutes later, his 13th goal of the season. Teams traded chances in the second half of the period, but the game went to overtime tied 1-1.
Prow scored the game-winning goal four minutes into the overtime period. It was his 12th goal of the year, and his third game-winner.
Tristan Jarry earned the win with 27 saves on 28 shots.
The Penguins' power play went 0-for-3, and the penalty kill went 2-for-2.
• Jan. 23: at Bridgeport, 5-2 win
Blandisi didn't need much time to get started. He opened the scoring just 3:38 into his Wilkes-Barre debut. It was his ninth AHL goal of the season. Teddy Blueger's 19th of the year extended the lead to 2-0 midway through the first period. The Penguins carried the 2-0 lead into the first intermission, holding the Sound Tigers to just three shots.
Ryan Haggerty carried the Penguins' momentum into the middle frame, with his seventh goal of the season coming two minutes into the period. Blueger scored his second goal of the game, a power play tally, 6:40 into the second period. Haggerty scored his second goal of the game 11 seconds later.
The Sound Tigers responded with two goals of their own in the second period, but they were unable to complete the comeback. The Penguins took the win after a scoreless third period.
Jarry stopped 25 of 27 shots, including a first-period penalty shot.
The Penguins' power play went 1-for-7, and the penalty kill went 4-for-5.
• Jan. 26: at Binghamton, 5-4 overtime win
For the second game in a row, Blandisi opened the scoring. He was even quicker this time, scoring 46 seconds into the game. Prow extended the lead to 2-0 with a power play goal, his 13th goal of the season.
Also for the second game in a row, Haggerty extended the lead two minutes into the second period. The Devils scored three minutes later on the power play. Johnson scored his 14th goal of the season midway through the period, and then the Devils scored twice to cut the Penguins' lead to one.
The Devils scored the lone goal of the third period, and the game went to overtime.
Overtime didn't last long. Blueger's 21st goal of the season ended the game 41 seconds into the extra frame.
Jarry earned his third win of the week with 25 saves on 29 shots.
The Penguins went 1-for-2 on the power play and 3-for-5 on the penalty kill.
• Goals: Blueger, 21 in 45 games.
• Assists: Lafferty, 19 in 41 games; Prow, 19 in 44 games
• Points: Blueger, 39 in 45 games.
Joseph Blandisi – Teddy Blueger – Sam Miletic
Adam Johnson – Jean-Sebastien Dea – Anthony Angello
Ryan Scarfo – Jarrett Burton – Ryan Haggerty
Joseph Cramarossa – Linus Olund – Jimmy Hayes
Kevin Czuczman – Zach Trotman
Kevin Spinozzi – Ethan Prow
Macoy Erkamps – Chris Summers
• After this week, the Penguins record is 22-18-4-1. They remain in sixth place in the eight-team Atlantic Division.
• The power play sits at 16.7 percent, 22nd in the 31-team league. The penalty kill is operating at 78.6 percent overall, 24th in the league.
• The Penguins open February with two games this week. They'll host the Cleveland Monsters (21-17-4-1) on Friday, and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (24-16-4-2) on Saturday.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Prow scored this overtime winner on Monday:
Blandisi got off to an early start on Saturday:
Haggerty scored on this shot:
Johnson fired this rebound chance into an open net:
Blueger ended overtime early:
WILKES-BARRE FUN THING
Macoy Erkamps' reaction to learning Summers held the AHL's Fastest Skater record is priceless:
Did you know that #WBSPens defenseman @chri5ummers holds the #AHLAllStar Skills Record in the fastest skater contest? He set the mark while with the Portland Pirates back in 2013. It's news to @macoy_erkamps pic.twitter.com/WZesZCp1he
— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 27, 2019
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