Injuries in Pittsburgh have a trickle-down effect.
After Zach Aston-Reese went down in the second period of Sunday's win over the Bruins, the Penguins recalled forward Joseph Blandisi from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Blandisi's recall allowed Nailers forward Trevor Yates to get a well-deserved promotion to the AHL.
Yates, 24, is playing in his first full professional season after spending four years at Cornell. He was acquired by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Feb. 8 in a trade with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Yates had played in just two games with Grand Rapids this season, having spent the most of the season in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye, where he recorded two goals and five assists in 27 games.
Wilkes-Barre assigned Yates straight to Wheeling following the trade, and Yates went on a tear. He produced at a point-per-game pace with six goals and eight assists in 14 games, including his first professional hat trick on March 6, his 24th birthday:
"It's been good," Yates said of his time in Wheeling. "In Toledo I wasn't given much opportunity compared to what I've been given here in Wheeling. I'm just trying to take advantage of it. I'm not really focused on the points or anything like that, I'm just trying to play well and play my game. If you do that, the points just come."
Yates has played on the first and third lines during his time in Wheeling, although he plays big minutes regardless of his spot in the lineup. He is comfortable at both center and wing, and plays on both the penalty kill and power play, giving the Nailers a lot of ways to use Yates.
Yates, one of the bigger forwards on the roster at 6-feet-2 and 215 pounds, has strength in both his stride and his shot.
"I think I have a pretty good shot," Yates said of his game. "I think the things I'm constantly improving on are my speed and ability to get myself in position to use my shot."
One of Yates' biggest focuses this season has been consistency. He's played two games in the AHL this season, and two on an amateur contract last spring after his college season ended. His biggest takeaway from the stint was that the players are bigger, stronger, and more skilled at the AHL level, but it's the consistency that sets those players apart from those at a lower level. That taste of AHL action had Yates all the more driven to earn another shot at that level.
"As a hockey player, you're always looking how to get better, how to get to the next level. I think being there before, maybe I took it for granted a little bit. Whenever I get the chance to get back up there, hopefully I can make the most of it."
Less than an hour after I spoke with Yates on the phone on Monday, Wilkes-Barre officially announced that they had recalled Yates. So, that chance came sooner rather than later.
When Yates steps into Wilkes-Barre's locker room, he'll be met with some familiar faces. He played alongside Sam Lafferty for three years in high school at Deerfield Academy. The two kept in touch after school and are still good friends.
[caption id="attachment_790837" align="aligncenter" width="352"] Trevor Yates, Sam Lafferty. -- PSPPHOTO.COM[/caption]
"He's a good player," Yates said of Lafferty. "He's fast, he's got a good shot, and he's got good hockey sense. It was really great playing with him."
When Yates was at Cornell, he played for three years with another one of Wilkes-Barre's top forwards: Anthony Angello. In their final year at Cornell in 2017-18, the pair recorded matching stat lines of 13 goals and 13 assists in 33 games.
[caption id="attachment_790840" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Trevor Yates, Anthony Angello. -- CNYCENTRAL.COM[/caption]
"One of my best friends on the team," Yates said of his time with Angello. "He's a great guy, a really good player also."
Someone who has had a big impact on Yates' hockey career is his father, Ross. Ross played professionally from 1981-92, playing in the AHL, seven games with the Hartford Whalers, and in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Following his retirement, Ross coached in Europe before coaching the AHL's Syracuse Crunch from 2000-10. His last coaching job was with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, from 2012-15. He now works as an amateur scout for the Red Wings.
For Yates, having someone like his father who both understands him and the game has been huge.
"My dad coached forever, so he can't just turn it off usually," Yates laughed. "He helps me out a lot, looking at specific things. He knows me the best as a player, more so than anyone else in the world. When I was struggling earlier in the year, he was awesome, helping me get back to playing at the level and doing the things that make me the player I am. He understands, he's been through tough times as a player and a coach. He was awesome helping me off the ice, dealing with those kind of things and making sure I wasn't getting complacent and continued to work hard, so when I got an opportunity like I did in Wheeling, I could take advantage of it."
In addition to being more consistent, Yates would like to continue to improve on his skating, something that could help him take that next step.
"It seems the NHL is getting quicker and quicker every year," he said. "Players that can play with pace and speed really excel in today's game. That's something I think I can work on and continue to work on every day."
THE ROSTER MOVES
• Zac Lynch was released from his tryout deal with the Hartford Wolf Pack and was returned to Wheeling.
• Yates was recalled to Wilkes-Barre.
• Defenseman Aaron Titcomb was injured on Feb. 5 and has not played since.
• The Nailers are holding a contest to design the t-shirts to be used in next season's t-shirt tosses. Fans can submit designs here.
• March 6: at Fort Wayne, 6-5 loss
A slow start was the difference-maker for the Nailers on Wednesday. The Komets outshot the Nailers 26-13 through the first two periods. By the time the Nailers picked up the pace in the third period, it was too late.
The Komets scored in the first minute of the game and then again four minutes later to jump to an early lead. The Nailers scored two goals in 39 seconds -- Johnny Austin's third goal of the year, and Yates' fifth -- to tie the game. The Komets responded 48 seconds later to take a 3-2 lead, and carried the lead into the first intermission.
The Komets scored a power play goal and a shorthanded goal in the third period to increase their lead to 5-2.
Yates scored his second of the game early in the third period, but the Komets made it 6-3 midway through the period. Yates completed the hat trick and Mark Petaccio scored his fifth of the year to cut the Komets' lead to 6-5 with seven minutes remaining, but the rally fell short.
Jordan Ruby took the loss with 29 saves on 35 shots.
The Nailers went 0-for-6 on the power play, and 6-for-7 on the penalty kill.
• March. 10: at Kalamazoo, 4-3 shootout loss
The Nailers again fell into an early hole after the Wings scored 1:39 into the game. They were able to rebound, and outshot the Wings 16-11 in the first. Cedric Lacroix's 18th of the year and a shorthanded goal from Yates gave the Nailers the lead.
The Wings scored the lone goal of the second period, a power play tally, to tie the game. Michael Phillips scored his 16th of the year, another power play goal, to retake the lead in the third period, but the Wings tied the game to force overtime.
The Nailers outshot the Wings 7-2 in the extra frame, but the game remained tied and went to a shootout. Lynch scored the lone goal for the Nailers through five rounds, while Yushiroh Hirano, Alec Butcher, Mike Fazio, and Yates were stopped. The Wings scored twice on five attempts to earn the win.
Ruby took the loss with 37 saves on 40 shots. Kalamazoo's Jake Hildebrand had a great game, stopping 46 of the Nailers' 49 shots.
The Nailers' power play went 1-for-6, and the penalty kill went 1-for-2.
• Goals: Troy Josephs, 21 in 32 games.
• Assists: Lynch, 38 in 55 games.
• Points: Lynch, 53 in 55 games.
Renars Krastenbergs — Cedric Lacroix — Winston Day Chief
Mark Petaccio — Zac Lynch — Michael Phillips
Alec Butcher — Trevor Yates — Yushiroh Hirano
Robbie Hall — Danny Fick
Jake Schultz — Blake Siebenaler
Kevin Spinozzi — Dane Birks
• After this week, the Nailers sit fifth in the six-team Central Division with a record of 27-25-6-2, four points out of a playoff spot. Only six points separate the third-place Kalamazoo Wings and sixth-place Indy Fuel.
• The Nailers’ power play sits in fourth in the league at 21 percent, and the penalty kill is 23nd in the league at 80.4 percent. The Nailers have the third-most power play goals (53) and the most shorthanded goals (18) in the league this season.
• The Nailers have an early 10:45 game on Tuesday against the Indy Fuel (33-18-5-3). They'll visit the Cincinnati Cyclones (33-18-5-3) on Friday, and the Toledo Walleye (42-10-4-3) on Saturday. Including this week, there are 12 games remaining in the regular season.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Austin took this shot:
Lynch took advantage of a Komets turnover in their own zone, and Petaccio finished it off:
WHEELING FUN THING
Fazio and Craig Skudalski played Heads Up, and Fazio's acting skills are unmatched:
And the Emmy goes to... pic.twitter.com/qXFcrytjB8
— Wheeling Nailers (@WheelingNailers) March 11, 2019
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