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Pens a surprising choice for Sterling

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

Where some players see a traffic jam, Brett Sterling imagines an opportunity.

He’s already tried out what might have been perceived as a fast lane to the NHL, but that didn’t work out so well. So now his view of career advancement has taken a 180-degree turn, and it points him toward Pittsburgh.

The free-agent forward signed a two-way deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization when the market opened. He picked Pittsburgh ahead of interest from Edmonton, St. Louis, Phoenix and Florida — organizations that would appear to offer many more openings for talented depth players.

But Sterling, 26, has tested that philosophy before, and in his case, has found it lacking. He was a superb finisher for four seasons with the AHL Chicago Wolves, producing 144 goals and 119 assists in 254 games. But the exchange rate on that sort of sustained excellence was a mere 19 games with the Thrashers.

Given the chance to sample something new, Sterling figured he couldn’t do any worse making the counter-intuitive move of trying to squeeze himself through a tighter window of opportunity with the talented Pens.

"When you are a young guy and you haven’t been in the lineup (of the parent team), sometimes you are the first one to get sent down because they have to prove they are doing everything they can to win," Sterling said. "It makes it tough at times. When you do have so many talented players, you have a lot of money committed to a handful of guys. It means you have to find guys who can contribute at certain positions for less money. Whether it comes to fruition or not, it could backfire on me. You just never know until you do it. It was time to do it and try something new."

Sterling’s 5-foot-7, 175-pound frame likely has been the largest checkmark on the minus side of his scouting report. But he said the Penguins were candid and specific with him in defining his role. If the organization needs a fourth-liner, it has other options in the minors. If Pittsburgh wants to shake things up with an instant scoring jolt on the wing, he’ll be the one with the ringing cell phone.

"What do the numbers mean if I can produce?" he said of his build. "If I didn’t think I could play in the NHL, I’d probably go over to Europe. If for some reason I don’t produce, well, then they’ve given me my opportunity."

Lindsay Kramer is the AHL correspondent for NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.