by Nick Hart | AHL On The Beat
Wine gets better with age. Heartbreak gets better with time. Ethan Prow gets better with experience.
Prow went through his fair share of trials and tribulations last season as a first-year pro, but he was always a consistent staple of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ line-up. At the start of this season, he found himself on the outside of the team’s top six defensemen looking in. However, as the season has gone on, Prow has evolved into the player the Penguins organization thought it was getting when they signed him as a coveted college free agent in 2016. He’s solidified himself as an important part of the team’s success moving forward.
“He’s come a long way,” said Penguins assistant coach J.D. Forrest. “With time and reps, sometimes that’s all it takes to get comfortable and get some confidence. And it shows, because he’s producing points every other game and providing us with so many chances.”
This past summer, the Penguins acquired a series of towering defenseman; the likes of Jarred Tinordi, Zach Trotman and Andrey Pedan will always intimidate opponents based on their size alone. But Prow provides Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with a different element. He’s definitely not the biggest or strongest blueliner, but he thrives at passing.
“His role on the team is to move the puck on the breakout, through the neutral zone and get it into the hands of our forwards,” Forrest said. “He’s been exceptional at it. And his time on the power play, we have him working a lot on the first power play unit, and he makes smart decisions and ushers the puck to our weapons on either wall.”
Prow’s big opportunity this season came at the misfortune of his teammates. The Penguins were hit with injuries on the blue line early in the year, and he stepped in nicely before an injury of his own slowed his roll. He got another chance in the winter, when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s defense corps was bitten by the injury bug again, and again Prow filled some big shoes and a lot of ice time.
“You don’t like seeing anybody go down, but at the same time, when you see players get injured, you just have to step your own game up,” Prow said. “Not just for yourself, but for the team too. At that point in time, you’ve got to give a little extra. Hopefully, you open some eyes and grab some attention.”
It’s fair to say he’s grabbed the attention of Forrest, who praised Prow’s puck-moving ability as well as the progress he’s made since being a healthy scratch through the early parts of the season.
Even if he wasn’t getting the affirmation of his coaching staff, Prow knows for himself that he’s improving. He says he’s learned a lot from Forrest and his veteran teammates in terms of shoring things up in his own end, but when it comes to his signature skill, dishing the biscuit, the increased experience this season has helped him thrive. And the more he thrives, the more his confidence grows.
“You can’t say enough about having confidence on the ice,” Prow said. “Showing that for your teammates, too, having confidence in you and your play, it goes a long way. It gives you that little extra to be able to make an extra pass or make another play that you may not have before.”
The Sauk Rapids, Minnesota native has already eclipsed his goal total from his rookie year despite playing in half the games with three tallies this season, and he’s well on his way to establishing a new career high in points, too. Prow’s development is not complete, though. He still believes he has a lot of work to do before he can be considered for a call-up to Pittsburgh.
“Playing a whole 200-foot game, there’s a reason everyone talks about it,” Prow said. “You need it. You have to have it. From all the way starting in your own defensive end trying to be physical when without the puck to getting us out of the D-zone and being smart on offense. Plus, like I said, just trying to get it into the forwards hands. I can get even better, refine it, because the quicker you can do that, the quicker you get down the ice to score goals and win games.”
If that’s what he wants to work on, it’s safe to assume that he will seize the opportunity as he gains more and more experience in the pros. He’s done that already, so there’s no reason to think that Prow’s upward trend will stop anytime soon.