The 2019-20 prospectus: Zach Aston-Reese


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The Penguins have made a few significant changes to their major-league roster since being swept out of the playoffs by the New York Islanders in April. They've added forwards Dominik Kahun, Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Tanev and traded right winger Phil Kessel and defenseman Olli Maatta, while Garrett Wilson went to Toronto as a free agent.

What's more, it's almost guaranteed that at least one more move is coming, because Jim Rutherford says the Penguins have to clear some salary-cap space before re-signing defenseman Marcus Pettersson.

But even though the roster likely will be adjusted a bit before training camp opens in just over a month, the basic makeup of the group that will start the preseason seems to largely have taken shape, so it's a good time to begin assessing those personnel.

Starting today, we will take a look at a member of the Penguins' major-league roster, as listed alphabetically on the team's website, each weekday until all have been addressed:


Age: 24
Size: 6 feet, 204 pounds
Position: Left/right wing
Acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent, 2017
Salary cap hit: $1 million, through 2020-21
2018-19 NHL stats: 8 goals, 9 assists in 43 games

How he fits: Aston-Reese is a responsible two-way player who has shown promise as a penalty-killer. He seems like a logical candidate to play alongside Teddy Blueger on the fourth line.

Shortcomings: The scoring touch he showed at Northeastern, where he put up 31 goals in 38 games during his senior season, has not been evident since he turned pro; he has 12 goals and 11 assists in 59 games with the Penguins. Although Aston-Reese has moved up and down the lineup during his time with the Penguins, he is not going to climb the depth chart on a permanent basis unless he adds more of an offensive dimension to his game. And while it wouldn't be entirely fair to call him injury-prone because most of his medical issues have been the by-product of violent contacts -- a concussion and broken jaw sustained on a suspension-worthy hit by Washington's Tom Wilson during the 2018 playoffs and a broken hand sustained during a fight last season, for example -- Aston-Reese has to be able to stay in the lineup if he wants to develop into an integral part of this team.

Strengths: Aston-Reese's size makes it possible for him to be effective along the boards and in the corners, and to be an effective forechecker. He also has a pretty fair offensive pedigree, even though he has shown only flashes of it in the NHL.

Hidden variable: Although Aston-Reese isn't going to earn his living as one of the game's great heavyweights, he's earned attention -- and, seemingly, appreciation -- from Mike Sullivan with his willingness to fight, when he believes the situation calls for it.

2019-20 expectations: The Penguins figure to do a lot of experimenting with forward combinations during training camp -- and quite possibly the season that follows -- so it's conceivable that Aston-Reese might occasionally get some time on the top two lines. More likely, though, he'll work primarily on the fourth line and pick up some extra minutes when the Penguins are short-handed.

The big question: Can Aston-Reese mature into more of an offensive force as he gains more experience at this level, or will the Penguins have to settle for him being a blue-collar laborer?

All profiles to date can be found here.

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