Corey Andonovski did a lot of research before accepting a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
No surprise there.
It stands to reason that a guy with an Economics degree from Princeton wouldn’t be afraid to do some homework, to analyze the available information and follow the data to a logical conclusion.
So Andonovski studied the Penguins’ prospect pool and depth chart, assessed how his game would fit with the kind of game they play, and determined that this organization was the best place for him to launch his pro career.
“It came down just to the opportunity for me, as a college free agent,” he said. “I had some really good discussions with management and the scouting staff before I ended up signing here.
“Obviously, it’s hard to pass up playing with the likes of (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin and (Kris) Letang in the same locker room. That all factored into it, too. But ultimately, I just felt like it was a good spot for me to try to break into the league and get my opportunity.”
It also couldn’t have hurt that the Pittsburgh Penguins have a history of giving undrafted college free agents — guys like Conor Sheary, Zach Aston-Reese and Drew O’Connor — a chance to develop and, ultimately, get to the NHL.
Mind you, Andonovski, a right winger, is far from certain — pretty unlikely, actually — to share a locker room with Crosby, Malkin and Letang this fall.
During training camp, the main locker room at the team’s practice facility is, with few exceptions, the domain of established NHL veterans, and Andonovski, who signed in March, has yet to skate a shift at this level.
And unless he absolutely dazzles the coaches and front office during the preseason, he’ll be in Wilkes-Barre when 2022-23 gets underway.
At least for now, however, cracking the major-league roster for Opening Night is Andonovski’s objective.
“I would love to get the chance,” he said. “That’s what I’m working for. My dream has always been to play in the NHL, not to play in the AHL. I would love to get the opportunity this fall, but realistically, I’m going to take it day-by-day. … Hopefully, I get the opportunity at some point, whether it’s sooner or later.”
One factor working in his favor is that, at 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, his game includes an element of physicality, a commodity in relatively short supply among Penguins forwards.
“I play a two-way, physical game,” Andonovski said. “But I also contribute offensively, with my skill and my shot. And I like to think that I’m a pretty good skater.”
He had 10 goals and 12 assists in 31 games during his final season at Princeton, running his career totals with the Tigers to 21 goals and 29 assists in 80 games. (Princeton did not play during his third year on campus because of the pandemic.)
After accepting a two-year, entry-level contract from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Andonovski joined their farm team in Wilkes-Barre on an amateur tryout agreement.
That arrangement turned out to be the five-game equivalent of a first date, as Andonovski returned to Princeton after a couple of weeks to take his final exams.
Although he did not get a point during his stint in the American Hockey League, Andonovski did acquire a little knowledge about what he could expect in the transition to pro hockey.
“There’s definitely a difference (from college),” he said. “Speed-wise, obviously, it’s a little bit quicker and you’re playing with guys who move the puck quicker, skate a little quicker, all of that.
“They’re also bigger and stronger. That was a big thing, coming from college, where I may have been a bigger guy on the ice, or one of the stronger guys on the ice. Now, I’m kind of average. … So, (the challenge is) finding ways to get a competitive advantage, if I’m not going to be one of the bigger, stronger guys.”
In that case, he can only hope that being one of the better-educated ones will work to his advantage.