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Son's debut will be 'special' for Ulf Samuelsson - 12-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

 

A familiar and popular name is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Penguins face the Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center as Philip Samuelsson will make his NHL debut.

Also expected to be present will be the reason that name is familiar and popular for Penguisn fans. His father, former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelson, is making the trip to Pittsburgh to see his son's first taste of NHL action.

Ulf, currently an assistant coach with the Rangers, roamed the blue line for the Penguins in the early 1990s as a hard-hitting and antagonistic defenseman who helped the franchise claim its first two Stanley Cup titles. His style of play made him a villain everywhere outside of Pittsburgh where he became a fan favorite. Even hall-of-fame Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert claimed Ulf Samuelsson as his favorite player.

Philip, a second-round pick in 2009, will try to make his own name at the NHL level beginning tonight.

Earlier this afternoon, Ulf Samuelsson talked by phone about his son's NHL debut:

What's your reaction to your son being recalled?

"Well very exciting obviously. I know Philip has worked really hard. I think it should be a credit to him and a lot of credit to the Penguins organization and to [head coach John] Hynes and [assistant coach Alain] Nasreddine in Wilkes Barre. They’ve really taken their time and put in a lot of hours into this. Philip should be proud and they should be proud. I’m proud as a father."

What is the scouting report on him? How similar is he to how you played?

"He’s very good defensively. I think that’s his strength. He’s developed into one a top AHL penalty killer. He’s also had a shutdown role. That’s really similar to what I was. I think Phil is a better passer than I was. He sees the ice well. I think he’s a modern-day defending defenseman that is good enough to pass himself out of trouble a lot instead of trying to bang it out."

How involved have you been in coaching or developing him?

"It’s obviously a common interest we have. It’s really all about hockey our family. We have four kids and they’re all involved in hockey. So it’s obviously a topic that comes up a lot. Phil, he’s been with the Penguins, a great organization, a great system and place to grow and work. They’ve done the grunt work. I’ve just helped out here and there. He’s done a lot on his own."

How often do you communicate with him?

"A daily basis. That’s one thing, the communication in our family, we have cell phones everywhere. We’re keeping up with each other frequently. We’re a pretty strong-bonded family that way."

Will you be able to get to Pittsburgh for tonight's game?

"We’re going down here in about an hour so. My wife is here. My daughter is in from Sweden – she was over there trying out for the Swedish Olympic team - and my youngest son is also going to come down. The only person who is going to miss is my second oldest son, [Coyotes forward prospect Henrik Samuelsson]. He is in Minnesota trying out for the [United States World Junior Championship] team."

What does it mean that he's making his debut with the Penguins given your history with the organization?

"He’s trying to make his footing somewhere. He feels that our family has that history [in Pittsburgh] so it’s certainly special for Philip too. It’s a new era and everything down there. I certainly have a sweet spot in my heart for the Penguins organization. It really is special."

You made your NHL debut with the Hartford Whalers in 1984-85. What do you remember about your first NHL experience?

"I remember how hard it was. I played three years in the [Swedish Elite League] before I came here and I thought I was going to come waltz in and play. Being over there the last couple of years coaching in Sweden and being back over there the last couple of years coaching in Sweden and being back here you realize how good [NHL] players are. To me, it’s just amazing of the performances and the skill on a daily basis in the National Hockey League. I’m really thrilled and excited to be a part of it again. I think that to me is what I remember, how good players are in the National Hockey League."

It's very possible he will be in the lineup Wednesday when the Penguins face the Rangers in New York. What will the balancing act of being a father versus being an opposing coach be like?

"Well I told him I’m coming down now to watch his team play, not him play. I told him we’re not friends … maybe a little of friends today. Maybe, I’ll be harder Wednesday if he’s in the lineup. No… seriously, with coaching you’ve got to be really focused and on top of your game with matchups and taking it all in. When the game starts, you really don’t have a lot of time. I’m sure I’ll be looking at Philip if he’s in the lineup a couple of times and trying to regaine my focus. It will be a challenge."

(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

 

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A few more notes from Aaron Donald's awards week

Written by Sam Werner on .

After a whirlwind week around the country, Aaron Donald is now back in Pittsburgh with his team, getting ready to face Bowling Green in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl Dec. 26 in Detroit. Pitt's practices early this week are closed to the media, but we'll be able to attend later in the week, at which point I'll provide some team updates.

If you haven't already, check out my story from yesterday's Post-Gazette chronicling my time with Donald over the past week, as well as how he got to where he is today. Here are a few notes and outtakes that didn't make it into the story.

- Donald says he keeps in constant contact with his older brother, Archie, Jr., who played at Toledo and even got a couple of sniffs in the NFL. Much like Aaron, Archie is a bit of a perfectionist.
"We're the best of friends," Aaron said. "My brother constantly comments [on my games]. He breaks it down like he's watching himself. He breaks down and is like 'You had a good game, but you took this play off. You could've made this tackle if you would've run full speed.'"

- As anyone who knows him knows, Donald really isn't one to read his own press clippings, so to speak. He did say the one thing he really enjoys about being a star college football player is when he gets to interact with younger fans.
"The best thing is when kids come up to me and go, 'Are you Aaron Donald?' And they're excited to meet me and see me," he said. "I always enjoy that just to see that the kids are looking up to me. That's a great feeling to see that. I can't explain that. It's just a real good feeling to see the kids look up to me."
Donald got to enjoy some time with kids last week when he visited the Texas Children's Hospital as part of the Lombardi Award festivities.
Earlier this season, Donald got a hand-written letter from young fan in Louisiana requesting an autograph/
"As soon as I read it, I started writing him right back," Donald said. "I wrote him a letter, put a little card in there, signed it for him. It's a blessing, man, to see that kid looking up to me and cheering for me."

- Pitt coach Paul Chryst said the Panthers' recruits are aware of Donald's accomplishments, but he also didn't want to take advantage of Donald's hard work for recruiting purposes.
"First of all, it's an individual award," Chryst said. "Aaron earned this. Fortunately, for me personally, I was able to be a part of two of those years. I think, for the program, it just reinforces what's already happened in that you can accomplish anything at Pitt. You just look at the major awards. Heisman? Yeah, it's been done there. The Biletnikoff, Outland Trophy. I think it would be really wrong to grab the spotlight. Our guys know about it and the recruits will know about it, but it's about Aaron and what he did."

- Chryst didn't have one favorite moment from Donald's season, but pointed to the blocked extra point at Syracuse as a play that ended up deciding the game. He also enjoyed when Donald tackled both the quarterback and running back on a zone-read run at Duke.
"I don't think there is one," Chryst said. "If you were to say one picture that encompasses all of them, it'd be like the Duke one. It brings back the memories of the other ones. There's a lot of them."

- Chryst has talked a lot this year about the benefits of Donald being one of the hardest workers on the team, as well as one of its most talented players. In our conversation this week, Chryst specifically brought it up with regards to a player who I think will end up being pretty good on Pitt's defense: Darryl Render.
"Darryl Render sees it every day, and I think Darryl's smart enough to pick up on it," Chryst said. "It's good that way."
Render will likely fill Donald's position at defensive tackle next season, and while he obviously won't replace Donald's production, I think he has shown at the end of this season that he has potential to be a very good defensive lineman.

- As far as the comparisons go, Chryst compared Donald to J.J. Watt (who Chryst coached at Wisconsin) and Donald's high school defensive line coach Demond Gibson compared him to former NFL defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.

- When I talked to former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, he compared Donald to former Pitt running back Dion Lewis, in terms of recruiting profile. Neither guy had the ideal physical characteristics for the position, but in both cases, the production outweighed the measurables. Wannstedt also said Donald's work ethic was immediately evident.
"He was one that always enjoyed the weight room, he always enjoyed working out," Wannstedt said. "Back then, with our strength coach Buddy Morris, if you didn't you didn't last long. He was always one of Buddy's favorites in terms of work ethic and the kind of attitude he had."

- Wannstedt was confident Donald would find a niche in the NFL. In fact, Wannstedt pointed to Buccaneers defensive tackle Akeem Spence (who is just a hair taller than Donald and a little bit heavier) as an example that a guy that size can make it. The Bucs drafted Spence in the fourth round last year, and he developed into a starter for them along the defensive line.

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Toronto's Smith familiar with Penguins' young defensemen - 12-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

When the Penguins take the ice tonight, they'll likely have two defensemen in the lineup who have never played a game of consequence at Consol Energy Center.

Injuries and a suspension have forced the team to recall Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton within the past week. Dumoulin made his NHL debut Saturday in Detroit while Samulesson is expected to appear in his first career NHL game tonight.

It's doubtful there be many sets of eyeballs present at Consol Energy Center tonight which have seen Dumoulin, Samuelsson or any of the Penguins' other young defensemen quite as much as Maple Leafs forward Trevor Smith.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' leading scorer last season with 54 points, Smith, who appeared in one NHL game with the Penguins last season, got a first-hand view of Dumoulin, Samuelsson, Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres last season at the AHL level. He even got a glimpse of Olli Maatta who made his professional debut by appearing in a handful of postseason games last spring.

After today's morning skate, Smith offered a brief scouting report on the Penguins rather green blue line.

You probably didn't expect to see so many of your teammates in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in one game at the NHL level.

"I didn’t. I saw the wire. I saw the guys getting called up. I went out and said hello to a couple of the guys. It’s nice to them get an opportunity."

What's the scouting report on Samuelsson?

"I’d say he’s a good puck-moving, skilled defenseman. He’s quick in the [defensive] zone and he’s good at jumping in the play. He’s got a well-rounded game."

Samuelsson skated with Despres during today's morning skate. What were they like as a defensive pairing in the AHL?

"They have good chemistry. They move the puck well together. Obviously, defense first but Despres loves to jump in the play and [Samuelsson] is always following it up looking for offensive opportunities."

What's the scouting report on Brian Dumoulin?

"I don’t know what it is with Pittsburgh. They love those offensively-skilled defensemen. Dumoulin is a very skilled guy. He moves the puck well. He’s deceptive with the puck. He’s a good point on the power play and he’s got a lot of skill. They said he played a lot of minutes [against the Red Wings Saturday]. Hopefully it will continue."

And Robert Bortuzzo?

A big strong guy back there. He’s a defensive guy. A mean guy in front of the net. He’s hard to play against.

The Penguins coach the same system at the AHL and NHL levels? Does that make it easier for young players to transition to the NHL?

Definitely. It makes it so much easier when guys are going up and down. It makes it seamless for the change. It’s obviously a change in venue, a change in atmosphere but it’s pretty straight forward to stick to the same base system. Obviously, there’s going to be a little couple of tweaks here and there depending who you’re playing against and what the opposition is doing. Straight from training camp, when you pound a system into a team, these are the basics, these are the guidelines of what we’ve got to do from top to bottom in the NHL and AHL.

You've bounced between the NHL and AHL for various franchise. How many teams use the the same systems at both levels?

We do that here in Toronto and a few other teams that I’ve been on. It’s very similar with a few tweaks here and there depending on the opposition.

(Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

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Empty Netter Assists - 12-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-UPDATE: The Penguins have placed defenseman Kris Letang ("upper body") and recalled defenseman Philip Samuelsson and forward Harry Zolnierczyk from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. A second round pick in 2009, Samuelsson is the son of former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. In 26 AHL games this season, Philip Samuelsson, 22, has recorded six assists and 35 penalty minutes. Zolnierczyk, 26, has appeared in 21 AHL games this season and has 14 points (10 goals, four assists).

-Note: Philip and Ulf Samuelsson (above) can become the fifth father/son duo to play for the franchise. The would join Wayne (father) and Alex Hicks (son), Bob and Brent Johnson, Greg and Ryan Malone as well as Gilles and Eric Meloche.

-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Hynes has been getting quite a few phone calls from a 412 area code as of late.

-“It’s a big number. Significant. Obviously, by putting that number [on it], they’re trying to get rid of that kind of action.” - Pascal Dupuis on Bruins forward Shawn Thornton being suspended 15 games for attacking Brooks Orpik.

-Under the current collective bargaining agreement, Thornton has the right to appeal the suspension.

-Ben Duffy had two regulation goals and an assist for the Wheeling Nailers in a 5-4 shootout lossto the Florida Everblades. Carter Rowney added a goal and an assist for Wheeling while teammate Mike Condon made 29 saves.

-After the Jump: Detroit's Petr Mrazek has the coolest - literally - set of pads you've ever seen.

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Empty Netter Assists - 12-15-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Penguins

-Dave Molinari's recap from last night's game. “We stuck with it and found ways. But we’re not making it easy on ourselves, that’s for sure.” - Sidney Crosby.

-The Detroit News' recap. "[Jeff Zatkoff] made some big saves and once they got to a two-goal lead, they played a 1-2-2 trap and we weren't very efficient, so we didn't get through." - Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith.

-The Detroit Free Press' recap. “To me, they skated us. We can talk about who’s not in our lineup. They were without their top four [defensemen]. They played yesterday. They came into our building, and they left happy." - Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

-MLive.com's recap. "If you guys see the replay he obviously did get the head. I know what it feels like because I've been in that position. It's a quick game, things happen." - Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith on forward Justin Abdelkader being injured on a hit to the head by Deryk Engelland.

-The Associated Press' recap. Evgeni Malkin (above) left the game due to an unspecified injury.

-Highlights:

-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-Malkin's injury:

-Dan Bylsma speaks:

-Crosby speaks:

-Ray Shero speaks:

-Engelland will have an in-person disciplinary hearing with the NHL Wednesday in regards to his hit on Abdelkader.

-Kris Letang missed the game due an "upper-body" injury.

-Bruins forward Shawn Thornton was suspended 15 games by the NHL for attacking Brooks Orpik.

-"I am aware of today's ruling by the NHL Department of Player Safety. I will be consulting with the Bruins, my representation and the NHLPA about next steps, and will be in a position to address the matter publicly after speaking with those parties. Until then I will have no further comment." - Thornton in a prepared statement from the Bruins.

-"Higher than I expected and higher than I think is warranted. It was ugly the way it played out. But, if (Brad) Marchand gets hurt (when kicked in the head by Penguin James Nealy) is it 15 games for a knee to the head? We've had our fair share of players hurt badly by concussions. I don't think anyone's gotten a 15-game suspension out of those. Thornton is a guy who plays the role he plays and has never had any suspensions or issues. It comes down a little harsh for me." - Bruins president Cam Neely.

-Chris Kunitz, a hopeful for Team Canada, got to show off his ability to Red Wings and Canada head coach Mike Babcock.

-How does the compressed Olympic schedule impact how NHL teams practice?

-Eric Hartzell made 22 saves for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a 1-0 shutout of the Utica Comets.

-Highlights:

-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenseman Nick D'Agostino scored his first professional goal.

-This game was delayed a half hours due to issues with a Zamboni.

-Zack Torquato had a regulation goal and two assists for the Wheeling Nailers in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Florida Everblades. Carter Rowney recorded three assists for Wheeling while teammate Mike Condon made 26 saves.

-After the Jump: A Paul Bissonnette goal and flaws "the code."

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