Penguins' Asham ready for debut; Big question is, where will he play?
Monday, October 25, 2010
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TAMPA, Fla -- Arron Asham doesn't have any formal medical training.
Hadn't seen an X-ray, either, or received an MRI.
But he didn't need any of those things to realize that something bad had happened to his shoulder when he absorbed a hit early in a preseason game in Chicago Oct. 1.
"I definitely knew something was wrong," Asham said Sunday.
The damage was extensive enough to knock him out of the lineup for three-plus weeks, but Asham reiterated after the Penguins' practice at the St. Pete Times Forum Sunday that he is ready to resume playing.
And that he hopes it happens no later than the Penguins' game against Tampa Bay Wednesday.
The decision on that will fall to coach Dan Bylsma, who suddenly has a surplus of healthy forwards, and he was noncommittal Sunday about whether Asham will make his Penguins debut against the Lightning, saying only that "that's a possibility."
Bylsma also declined to say precisely where Asham will be used when he dresses, perhaps because he anticipates using him in a variety of roles.
"[Asham] is a guy who can play up and down the lineup, and probably will do that," Bylsma said. "He's a guy I've seen play with [Miroslav]) Satan and [Alexei] Yashin on Long Island for 12 games and do well.
"He's also a guy who could be on the third or fourth line. I don't think he's going to get a full dose of where he normally might play, if he plays. We're certainly going to use him in different spots."
Asham was signed as a free agent Aug. 20 after spending the previous two seasons with Philadelphia. His injury has forced him to miss the first two games of the season series against the Flyers, but Asham is keenly aware that Philadelphia is scheduled to visit Consol Energy Center Friday.
And he certainly isn't interested in spending another game against his former employer in street clothes.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Asham said. "It's a team we have a great rivalry with, and I can't wait to get out there and battle with them."
Because battling is a major component of Asham's game, it is imperative that he be able to inflict -- and endure -- punishment if he is going to make a meaningful contribution.
"That's a big part of my game," he said. "I can't play the way I can without throwing the body. The first shift, I'm going to have to go out there and test it out. I've been working on it in practice a bit, so I'm not too worried about it."
Asham pointed out that, aside from a separated shoulder he got while playing junior hockey, he does not have a history of shoulder problems, so he has no real reason to fear a recurrence.
While it seems likely that Bylsma will get Asham back in uniform at the earliest opportunity, precisely where he deploys him will be interesting. Shortly before Asham was injured, Bylsma had used him on a line with Max Talbot and Matt Cooke that surely would rank among the most irritating in the league to play against.
Reuniting those three is an option that Bylsma will have to consider. Or, at the very least, one Asham hopes he will.
"I thought we played well in the three games we played together," Asham said.
He acknowledged, though, that "the team has been playing well and the lines seem to be clicking," which means Bylsma might be reluctant to make major alterations in his forward combinations.
"Wherever he decides to put me, I'm fine with it," Asham said. "I just want to get back in the lineup and start playing."
If there is a good time for a player to be injured, it remains one of hockey's best-kept secrets, and Asham understands that.
But exasperating as it was to be knocked out of the lineup when he was trying to settle in with a new team, he pointed out that the impact of his injury would have been much greater if it had come six or seven months later.
"Especially coming to a new team, you want to be out there, you want to be around the guys," Asham said. "To have a setback like that ... you have to try to look at it in a good way -- it didn't happen in the playoffs. It happened in the preseason.
"I'm feeling good and hope to be in Wednesday."