Chicago Blackhawks center Brandon Pirri has been itching for a chance to prove he belongs in the NHL. The rookie seems intent on making his case to head coach Joel Quenneville—even with the limited playing time he is receiving.
It isn't often that a fourth-liner who has logged fewer than 10 minutes of ice time earns the game's first star. However, that's just what Pirri did in Chicago's 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Skating with Joakim Nordstrom and Brandon Bollig, Pirri got just 9:37 in against Toronto. He certainly made it count with a two-point evening.
Pirri had the primary assist on Michael Kostka's eventual game-winner midway through the second period. Six minutes later, he fought off Paul Ranger in front of the Leafs' net and banged home Brandon Saad's feed for a power-play goal.
A training camp injury hampered Pirri and opened the door for Nordstrom to open the season. Pirri bided his time, logging three points in Rockford of the AHL before being called up on Oct. 12. Pirri scored his first career NHL goal on Thursday in Carolina and has three points (2G, 1A) in three games so far in 2013-14.
That said, he has been on a short leash in terms of minutes. His appearance Saturday night was his longest of the season thanks to Quenneville throwing him 1:44 of power-play time.
The 22-year-old played in five NHL contests back in the 2011-12 season, logging a pair of assists. He has single-game appearances in two other seasons, but this current stretch is the closest thing that he has had to showcase his game at the highest level.
A second-round selection in the 2009 NHL draft, Pirri spent a year in college at RPI before turning pro. His scoring numbers improved in each of his three seasons with the IceHogs, culminating in an AHL-leading 75 points in 76 games in 2012-13.
The knock on Pirri is that he is suspect defensively, though he recorded a positive plus-minus rating in each of the last two seasons with Rockford. As he has matured, Pirri has progressed in this area.
Pirri was touted by general manager Stan Bowman as a potential fit for the second line, though Quenneville doesn't seem as sure of that. As a result, Pirri is going to have to win his coach over while picking up whatever minutes he can find.
If his last two appearances are any indication, Pirri is prepared to make the most of his time on ice.