Pirri making most of opportunity with Golden Knights

American Hockey League

The 27-year-old forward had nine points (six goals, three assists) in seven games since being recalled by the Vegas Golden Knights from Chicago of the American Hockey League on Dec. 19.

But he was sent back down Jan. 3.

It was disappointing from a hockey standpoint, but there was one reason he was happy to head home.

“It was my son’s birthday party [Sunday],” Pirri said of 1-year-old Luca. “That’s a positive.”

It’s that attitude that has helped Pirri find success this season as he gets shuttled back and forth between the NHL and AHL.

Video: NYR@VGK: Pirri taps in loose puck for PPG

Since making his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks during 2010-11, he has struggled to find a permanent spot in the League because of roster numbers, injuries or his own performance. But when the Golden Knights sent Pirri to the AHL last week after forward Max Pacioretty returned from injured reserve, they knew they wanted to see more of him.

“We fully intend to bring him back when we can create room,” Vegas assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon said.

He was back with Vegas on Monday after forward William Carrier went on injured reserve because of an illness, and it took Pirri little time to pick up where he left off.

Playing on the second line with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch on Tuesday, Pirri scored a power-play goal at 7:06 of the second period of Vegas’ 4-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The win moved Golden Knights (27-15-4) into a tie with the Calgary Flames for first in the Pacific Division. For Pirri, it was another indication he can play at any level.

“I believe in my abilities, and playing with two fantastic hockey players like that makes my life easy,” said Pirri, who scored three goals in two games with Vegas last season. “Whether I’m here or [the AHL], I believe in myself and I want to show everyone what I can do.”

Pirri has made several stops around the NHL. He has 111 points (67 goals, 44 assists) in 236 games with the Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Rangers and Golden Knights.

He scored an NHL career-high 22 goals in 49 games with the Panthers in 2014-15 and played in 60 games in back-to-back seasons with the Panthers and Ducks in 2015-16 and the Rangers in 2016-17. But since signing as a free agent with Vegas on Oct. 14, 2017, he has played in 10 NHL games.

Video: VGK@ARI: Pirri buries wrister on breakaway

Pirri’s ability to create offense long has been a strength; his play without the puck has been what’s held him back. But Rocky Thompson, who coaches Vegas’ AHL team, said Pirri entered this season knowing he had to play a more all-around game.

“It was just a matter of he was waiting, I think, for the puck to come to him,” Thompson said. “Now he’s going and getting it. The idea is to try and get the puck more and you have to compete without it. When he started doing that and started getting more touches, he started feeling good and Vegas rewarded him.

“When he got here I think it was hard on him at first, but he knew that there were areas of his game he wanted to grow,” Thompson said. “Sometimes guys at that time … and he’s still young, but at 27 they’ve been there, they come back, they don’t end up putting [the work] in and they become career guys down here or go to Europe. But that’s not what he wanted. Deep down he knew he could play at the next level and he was willing to come out of his comfort zone, if you will. You got to give him a lot of credit.”

To his AHL teammates and coaches, Pirri’s success is no surprise. He leads the AHL with 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 29 games and was named the AHL player of the month of December, when he had 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in eight games.

T.J. Tynan, Pirri’s AHL linemate since last season, said Pirri’s shot is a big reason for his success.

“I think it’s really hard and quick, and he can change the angle on it pretty well,” Tynan said. “And he’s not always shooting; sometimes he’ll pull it in like he’s shooting and give it to a guy backdoor and he’ll score. So it’s just the deception of it, and then when he does let it go it’s extremely hard. I think all of that plays a part in it.”

How long Pirri stays with the Golden Knights this time is uncertain. Tuesday was his eighth game. If he plays 10 games and Vegas decides to reassign him, he would have to go through waivers. The 10th game, coincidentally, could be against the Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday. Vegas plays the San Jose Sharks at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ATTSN-RM, NBCSCA, NHL.TV).

Pirri tries not to think about that. He’s focused on the latest positive.

“It’s stuff you can’t control,” Pirri said. “I’m just trying to be the best player I can be every day, get a little better and prove myself.

“I think even in Chicago (AHL) every game is an audition. Our airport [O’Hare] is one of the biggest in the country. People come to watch, and I tell the young guys that. You want to be up (in the NHL), but people are watching. I was fortunate to get a look here and it’s showing what I can do. I’m enjoying my time here and proving myself.”

NHL.com correspondent Danny Webster contributed to this report.

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