My Take: Pens Make Roster Moves on D
Thursday, 02.07.2013 / 12:16 AM
Features By Sam Kasan

The Penguins made a couple roster moves late Wednesday evening that will give the defensive corps a slightly new look.

The Penguins traded defenseman Ben Lovejoy to Anaheim in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2014. They followed that by recalling blueliner Dylan Reese from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Reese, 28, will be a welcome addition to the Penguins’ blue line. He is a solid, two-way defender with smarts and speed. He’s a perfect fit for the way the Penguins want their defensemen to play. He has the intelligence to know when to join a rush to create an odd-man break, but also has enough speed to get back into a defensive posture if the puck were turned over or countered.

Reese’s speed allows him to be solid in puck retrievals, and he’s shown a good ability to quickly move the puck to his forwards (which is what you want to do with the talented forwards the Penguins boast).

Reese is not an overly big guy (6-foot-1, 201 pounds). But what he lacks in size, he makes up in smarts. His biggest area of improvement since coming to professional hockey has been his positioning and stick work. Look for him to pick his spots and to have an active stick. Reese might not outmuscle guys, but he will outsmart them.

Reese’s arrival in Pittsburgh will be a sort of homecoming. He’s a Pittsburgh native, born and raised in Upper St. Clair. Watching legend Mario Lemieux lead the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and ’92 inspired Reese to pick up his first hockey stick – even though he initially wore roller skates (four-wheel variety) and shot balls in a local tennis court. Now he is a step closer to possibly suting up for his boyhood team.

But Reese didn’t sign with the Penguins just because he was from Pittsburgh. And the Penguins didn’t sign him just because he was a native son. It’s a nice story. But both sides agreed to a one-year deal in the summer because each side saw it as a perfect fit, with the homecoming a nice anecdote.

“For me it’s just a great opportunity to play for a team that’s a winner,” Reese told me in September. “I’ve played with three different organizations and they all were good organizations, but we didn’t do too much winning to be honest. The Penguins are a perennial powerhouse; a team that’s expected to win with a couple of the best players in the world. It’s great to be at home with family and friends and play for a winner. It’s an organization that’s establishing itself over the last six, seven years as one of the best to play for in the league.”

I had a chance to sit down and interview Reese during WBS training camp in September. He’s a very intelligent and humble player. He’s very laid back and likable. Reese should be a good fit in the locker room.

Some final notes on Reese:

•As previously mentioned, Reese became interested in hockey after Lemieux helped lead the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and ’92. He’s a part of the early generation of Pittsburgh players that became interested in the sport due to their championship success and having the greatest player to ever lace up skates. As he told me after signing with the team in July, “I’m a product of the Cups in the ‘90s and Mario.”
•He played for the Pittsburgh Hornets elite travel team in his youth.
•Before joining the Penguins, Reese played 74 NHL games with the NY Islanders over a three-year period.
•Reese was originally drafted by the NY Rangers in 2003 (seventh round, 209th overall), but never played for the Rangers.
•He played four years of college hockey at Harvard. How do you like them apples?

I have to add that the Penguins did a great job of scouting/developing to create an asset in regards to Lovejoy. The team saw his potential while he was defending for Dartmouth. The Penguins signed him as a free agent and developed him in the American Hockey League. Three years later, Lovejoy matured into a quality NHL blueliner.

However, the emergence of Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo means there are limited minutes to be handed out. So Lovejoy gets the chance to see more ice time in Anaheim and the Penguins add a draft pick. Now they’ll use that fifth-round pick to select a player and develop him into an asset down the road.

Lastly, I (and fellow writer Michelle Crechiolo) have to wish Lovejoy good luck in his venture out to the West Coast. “Lovey” was a great guy and one of the funniest people in the locker room, quality sense of humor. This is a huge blow to the local sports media, who could always rely on Lovejoy for a golden quote – either serious or hilarious in nature. And I’ll miss using headlines like “In the Name of Love(joy)” and “All You Need is Love(joy).” He’ll always hold a spot in the hearts of Penguins fans from his scene-stealing performances in HBO’s 24/7 series. My personal favorite was when “some players” took all the furniture out of his room as a rookie prank and he responded with “We’re going to find out who did this and probably do nothing about it.”

Best of luck Ben.