Dylan Reese finally got his long-awaited chance to debut with the team he grew up watching, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Jewish Upper St. Clair native, whom the New York Rangers drafted in 2003, came to the Penguins organization this summer only to find himself beginning the season with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, the team’s minor league affiliate. But when the Penguins needed a defenseman, he was first on their list to come up from the minors.
“It was what I had hoped for from the beginning of the year,” Reese said in an interview with the Chronicle following a Penguins practice at Consol Energy Center last week. “I wanted a chance to make the team, but obviously with the lockout and the situation with camp it didn’t work for me. But with injuries early in the season I got an opportunity.”
Injuries to Penguins defensemen Kris Letang and Matt Niskanenen, and the trade of another defenseman, Ben Lovejoy, required the Penguins to recall Reese.
But his stay did not last long.
Both Letang and Niskanen returned to the active roster last week and the Penguins sent Reese back to Wilkes-Barre Scranton.
But the hometown favorite enjoyed his time with the team, however short.
“It is great playing for the Pens,” said Reese. “It’s a childhood dream playing for the team I grew up cheering for in front of family and friends.”
The Penguins played three games while Reese was on the roster, and he saw action in all of them.
The Penguins recalled Reese on Feb. 6 and he got into the game the next day as the Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals 5-2 on Feb. 7.
“I’ve played enough in the NHL to feel good about it,” Reese said about jumping right into a game. “I had a strong game and the team played well against the Caps.”
Reese played that game in front of the home crowd at the Consol Energy Center with friends and family in the audience including his parents, Barry and Marcie Reese.
The Penguins dropped the two other games while Reese was on the roster. Both losses came at the hands of the New Jersey Devils and by the same score, 3-1.
“We wanted to get some wins against the Devils,” said Reese. “I don’t think we played our best hockey.”
Although the team only won one game with Reese, he contributed to the strong season that the Penguins defense is having.
“We have great veteran defenseman in Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik who are just playing great and obviously Kris Letang is one of the best in the world,” said Reese. “I think we just have a good cast overall and a good group.”
Reese was paired with a familiar face in defenseman Simon Despres.
“We’ve played together a little bit in Wilkes-Barre and I know what to expect of him, from his game,” said Reese. “He’s a skilled guy that can make plays and I just want to give him support and make sure we’re communicating on the ice.”
Reese said that he takes pride in communicating and helping his teammates when he is on the ice.
Although Reese did not score a point in his time with the Penguins, he said that he felt “confident.”
“I’ve really been focused on making sure my defensive game is sound,” he said. “It’s something that the coaches have been very clear with me. It’s defense first around here and we have the offense and the fire power to score goals so it’s making sure we’re taking care of our own zone first and if we can make plays from there then great.”
Even though Reese is back with Wilkes-Barre Scranton, if the Penguins lose another defenseman to injury or trade, he would likely be the Penguins first choice to fill in at the NHL level.
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com.)