Zach Aston-Reese

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Hornqvist getting closer to return for Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a rough start to the 2017-18 season (probably an understatement, actually) as they head into Saturday night’s Stanley Cup Final rematch with the Nashville Predators.

They did get a little bit of positive news on Saturday morning when injured forward Patric Hornqvist was able to return to the ice and take part in the team’s morning skate. He is recovering from hand surgery that sidelined him for the entire preseason and the Penguins’ first two regular season games.

He still has not been cleared for contact and is not quite ready to return, but he said on Saturday that he is hoping to back in the lineup very soon.

“The first step was to get back on the ice with the players,” Hornqvist said via the Penguins’ website. “Hopefully Monday I can improve, Tuesday improve and hopefully I’m back pretty soon.”

Hornqvist was the Game 6 hero for the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final series when his goal with less than two minutes to play helped the team clinch its fifth Stanley Cup and second in a row.

His absence, as well as the offseason losses of Nick Bonino (who returns on Saturday night as a member of the Predators),  Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz, has put a pretty significant dent in the Penguins’ forward depth. They have some young players down in the American Hockey League, Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese specifically, that could make an impact later this season and but will still probably need to address the third-and fourth-line center spots via trade.

After hosting Nashville on Saturday night the Penguins return to action on Wednesday night in Washington against the Capitals.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the QMJHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.