Patrick McGrath believes he made some major strides in his development last year.
Now, he’s hoping to take even bigger steps this season as he returns to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The Shavertown native signed a one-year, American Hockey League deal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday, returning to the organization for a third straight season. McGrath, 23, appeared in a career-high 19 games with the Penguins last season and hopes to build on the experience.
“I’m real excited to be back, especially with how things went last year. I definitely took some big steps - playing more games, practicing with the team every day, and that will only help,” he said.
McGrath became the first locally-born player to suit up for the hometown Penguins when he played in two games during the 2014-15 season. He has spent his entire pro career with the Penguins organization, dating back to 2013-14 when he played in 45 games with Wheeling. Known for his physical play, McGrath tallied 66 penalty minutes in 19 games with the Penguins last year. He said the rough stuff will still be a key to his game, but there are other elements he hopes to bring this season.
“I’ve spent the summer working on offensive skills, hands and those type of details,” McGrath said. “The more you do it the better you get, and I hope to bring more offense this year and maybe score a few goals.”
Still, that doesn’t mean McGrath will abandon his penchant for dropping the gloves. Even with the new AHL rules that call for a one-game suspension if a player fights 10 times in a season, McGrath said the change won’t hinder his game.
In fact, he said, it may even help.
“In today’s hockey, maybe 10 fights is all a guy gets anyway. It doesn’t bother me. Now, maybe I’ll be able to run around a little bit more, play more, and spend less time in the box,” he said. “It’s one less broken nose I’ll have to deal with.”
McGrath stressed he’s still is willing to drop the gloves when the situation warrants it, and he isn’t going to change that part of his game.
“If some takes liberties on a teammate, I won’t hesitate to step in regardless of what the rules are,” he said.
One element of McGrath’s game that he hopes to build on this season is speed. The 5-10, 200-pound forward has always been one of the faster players on the ice, and he’s spent the summer working on the ice at the Toyota Sportsplex to improve his skating.
Speed, McGrath said, will help make him a valuable player even as fighting in the league is reduced.
“The faster you are the better off you are. You can get it on the forecheck and cause some havoc, similar to what Bobby Farnham did when he was here,” he said.
McGrath will join several other familiar faces when training camp begins in September. Last year’s captain Tom Kostopoulos is returning, as are Tom Sestito, Steve Oleksy and Carter Rowney. Pittsburgh did sign several new defensemen who have excelled at the AHL level, and two new assistant coaches - Chris Taylor and J.D. Forrest, have been added.
McGrath likes the potential make-up of this season’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team.
“We’re going to be loaded on D, perhaps have the best defense in the league. The core guys are back and the goaltending is going to be excellent,” he said. “Plus, with two assistants it’s going to allow for more one-on-one instruction, which is great for a player. I’m really optimistic about this year’s team.”