By Josh Yohe
Zach Sill #38 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on December 3, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. The Penguins defeated the Islanders 3-2 in overtime. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
This is the era of hockey formulas devised by men named Corsi and Fenwick, as well as skill and puck possession.
Zach Sill has made himself a home, anyway. The forward has worked his way to the NHL because of a physical style that is timeless, as far as his teammates are concerned.
“It's old-time hockey,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said. “And he does it well.”
Sill has entrenched himself on the Penguins' fourth line this season. His physical play and attention to defensive detail have overcome any limitations he may have with the puck.
On the surface, Sill's style doesn't seem to mesh with coach Mike Johnston's preference for puck possession. But his teammates tell a different story, one that suggests Sill could become an integral member of the Penguins' forwards.
His presence in the locker room is becoming difficult to deny. Sill has played 22 NHL games and hasn't registered a point, but he is roundly accepted by the team's stars. Penguins management wanted a livelier dressing room this season, and Sill has done his part.
“No question,” Dupuis said. “Everybody likes him and everybody respects him. He's a fun guy to be around.”
Defenseman Simon Despres has played many games with Sill and confirms everything the Penguins' front office has believed about Sill's character.
“He's from the old school,” Despres said. “Just a really great guy. Honestly, he's one of the best teammates I've ever had.”
While being a strong presence in the locker room is noteworthy, Sill still must perform on the ice to remain in the NHL.
After participating in 343 minor league games and 195 junior games, Sill, 26, promises to take nothing, including a roster spot, for granted.
“That's pretty safe to say,” he said. “I know what I have to do to stay here. I think I have to keep showing my worth, keep showing I can play here.”
Early indications are that he can play at the NHL level, even without registering a point in 22 NHL games.
Johnston said Sill's play with the puck — hardly his trademark, given his strong penalty killing and physical nature — has been especially strong.
“He played with energy,” Johnston said of Sill's first two games this season. “He was physical, and he played well with the puck. His puck decisions the other night (against Toronto) were very good.”
Despres said Sill's ability to score and handle the puck go unnoticed.
“The thing about him is that he really can play the game,” Despres said. “He's a warrior, of course, but he's got good hockey sense.”
Dupuis believes Sill has a real opportunity to stick around permanently with the Penguins.
The bottom six were a significant problem for the Penguins last season, and Sill would like to play a role in enhancing that group.
“He does have one big physical gift,” Dupuis said. “He is strong. So strong. And you know, if he's here at this level then he must be doing something right with the puck. He's a really, really smart player. He's always in position. And obviously, he isn't afraid to sacrifice his body. More power to him.”
After practice, Sill sat in the locker room beside goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the two shared a laugh. Players with 22 games of NHL experience usually don't look so comfortable sitting beside goaltenders with 290 career wins. But Sill didn't look out of place during the conversation, nor has he looked out of place on the fourth line, even if his simple, physical style is no longer the norm in the NHL.
“I love it here,” Sill said. “Everyone on this team is so talented, so good. But I play an old-school style of hockey. I prefer to keep to my roots.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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