PITTSBURGH – The question was broached when Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville announced Brandon Pirri, fresh off a lower-body injury, would play in his first preseason game tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What are the chances Pirri, who’s been sidelined for more than a week, makes the team?
“He’s still here,” Quenneville said. “We’ll play him (tonight) and get a better assessment.”
It’s not the most positive endorsement, but it’s an understandable statement considering where the young center is right now. But Pirri’s confident he can make an impact in his remaining training-camp time.
Pirri was one of several Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman mentioned this summer as ready to get his chance with the big club. But considering the lower-body injury he suffered early in camp, other players capitalizing on their playing time, and Michal Handzus the likely No. 2 center to start the season, Pirri may be the odd man out.
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But when asked if he’s worried about being left behind, Pirri wasn’t worried.
“I’ve been here three years. I think they know what I can do,” Pirri said. “I just have to show what I can do today.”
Indeed, he does. Yes, Pirri’s been in the Blackhawks system for that long now, but just about all of it has been with the Rockford IceHogs. Pirri was the American Hockey League’s leading scorer last season, a tremendous feat. But there’s still a big difference between the AHL and the NHL, and Pirri has yet to prove himself on this level.
Pirri gets his first opportunity to really show what he can do tonight, although Quenneville understands he’s just coming off an injury.
“We still have an awareness of where he’s coming from, where he’s at,” Quenneville said prior to the game. “We’ll gauge the way he’s working and playing. We don’t expect him to be out there flying around if he was in top game shape.”
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Pirri is once again fighting for a spot on the Blackhawks’ roster. He can’t do anything about the injury he suffered or the time he missed because of it. All he can focus on is getting the team’s attention, and keeping it.
“I’ll just try to focus on today, just have fun with it,” Pirri said. “To get to this point, I’ve done the same thing. And I’ve improved on a lot of things. I get to put the Blackhawks uniform on today, so it’s fun.”