Every hockey player’s goal is to play in the NHL, even those who do not play professionally. But those like Brandon Pirri, who suited up with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves 86 times since the start of the 2017-18 season, are especially eager to get a shot in the world’s best league.
Pirri has registered 10 goals and 15 points through 20 games thus far with the Vegas Golden Knights, since he was recalled from the Wolves in mid-December.
But while Pirri would obviously prefer to be wearing the newly famous gold and black uniforms that feature a knight’s shining armor as its crest, that doesn’t mean his time playing in the AHL for Chicago wasn’t a cherished experience for the 27-year old Toronto, Ontario native.
In fact, if Pirri’s game hadn’t developed as much as it did on “the farm,” he would still be riding buses and eating fast food in lieu of traveling on a private jet and staying in five-star hotels.
And while his Wolves teammates and coaches would love to have him in their lineup like they’ve grown accustomed to during the past couple of seasons, they’re equally pleased to see that he’s being rewarded for his hard work and perseverance.
“I think everyone in this locker room is happy about the success he’s having right now with Vegas,” said Wolves forward Reid Duke.
“He’s been a big part of this team for a while, and he’s very deserving of the opportunity he’s getting from the Golden Knights right now. I’m not surprised that he’s scoring key goals up there,” echoed Stefan Matteau.
Not only has Pirri scored some important goals since his call up, Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson said he’s been impressed with his 200-foot game, and his ability to respond as well.
“He had a little bit of a drought there, but I thought he’s responded really well in the last couple of games. He’s played some really good games, and he’s helped Vegas particularly in their last game get back in the win column. He’s a big piece of their puzzle now,” Chicago’s coach said.
“I watch every game that Vegas plays, and we’re very happy for Brandon. We’re very proud of him too, because he was here for quite a while with us. And to see one of your players that you’ve grown close with have success is special. He’s got a great family, and he’s got a little boy here, who I think might even be with him over in Vegas,” Thompson added.
Whether or not Pirri can sustain this level of success indefinitely with the Golden Knights is still an unknown, but those in the Wolves organization hope his next visit to Chicago is for a game against the Blackhawks.
It’s been nearly ten years since Brandon Pirri heard his name called by the Chicago Blackhawks, in the second round of NHL entry draft in June of 2009, and he’s played nearly 600 games at the pro level since then. However, more than half of those have been at the American Hockey League level in recent years.
After breaking in with the Blackhawks in 2013, Pirri had a steady run of NHL success playing for the Panthers, where he managed a 22-goal-season in 2014-15, as well as the Rangers and Ducks.
Despite a productive season last year for the Chicago Wolves, Pirri only managed a three game call up with the NHL’s Golden Knights. But while some people in his shoes might be discouraged by the lack of opportunities received by Vegas, Pirri has kept his nose to the grindstone, and may finally be on the precipice of earning his way back to the world’s best hockey league.
Following an exceptional start to the regular season with the Wolves in Chicago, in which Pirri registered 42 points in 29 games played, the Toronto native has finally been rewarded with a couple of recent call ups since the end of November. Of course, these opportunities have also come as a result of injuries to the Golden Knights forward group.
Nevertheless, Pirri is making the most of his NHL chances, having posted eight goals and 13 points in just 14 games for Vegas this year. In fact, Pirri has scored 11 goals and 16 points in his 16 total games at the NHL level as part of this organization.
According to Ryan Quigley, who covers Vegas and authors the blog Knights on Ice, it is Pirri’s defensive play without the puck that has ultimately kept Pirri from being a full-time NHLer for Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant.
“If anything is holding Pirri back from a more permanent spot on the Vegas roster (and the NHL as a whole), it’s his skills on defense… or lack thereof. Both the forward and Gerard Gallant have admitted that defense isn’t his strong suit. Scoring goals is meaningful, obviously, but in a season that’s seen a lot of defensive struggles, the Golden Knights may want players who can play the full 200 feet.”
While Pirri’s defensive play may still be a work in progress, his offensive production is becoming difficult to ignore.
“At this rate, Pirri’s productivity on offense goes above and beyond to the point where it doesn’t matter. Not to mention, Pirri is improving. Against the Los Angeles Kings, the only game that he didn’t earn a point [since his most recent call up], he forced a turnover that directly led to a Golden Knights goal,” acknowledged Quigley.
The Brandon Pirri saga has been a long term news story for the Golden Knights, for a while, but perhaps things might be resolved if Vegas decides to keep him on their roster full time. If not, he very well could be used as a trading piece by the Golden Knights in advance of the NHL’s Feb. 5th trade deadline.
If Vegas refuses to make a long term gamble on Pirri soon, my bet is that another NHL organization will. Stay tuned following the All-Star break, as this story continues to unfold.