Michael Leighton is one of the most accomplished goaltenders in American Hockey League history, and most notably holds the league’s record for career shutouts with 50.
Much to the chagrin of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton fans, six of those clean sheets have come against the Penguins.
But after being acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins via trade this week, Leighton is now looking forward to stopping pucks for club instead of against it.
“I always liked playing against this team and in the [Mohegan Sun Arena]. I always felt comfortable,” Leighton said after his first practice with the Penguins on Wednesday morning. “Hopefully I can turn that around and help the team win.”
A well-traveled veteran, Leighton suited up for eight eight AHL teams, as well as four NHL clubs, between 2001 and the end of the 2016-17 season. But his hockey odyssey this season has been nothing short of frustrating for the native of Petrolia, Ontario.
Leighton signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning over the summer, and was assigned to the Syracuse Crunch to start the 2017-18 season.
After appearing in nine games with the Crunch, Leighton was traded with forward Tye McGinn to the Arizona Coyotes on November 14.
But his travels didn’t stop in the desert southwest.
With the Coyotes’ minor league club, the Tucson Roadrunners, already with two goaltenders, Leighton was loaned out to the Chicago Wolves, who were short on pucks toppers due to a rash of injuries with their parent club, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Leighton filled a gap in Chicago, playing in five games with the Wolves between November 21 and December 10. But, with Vegas’ goaltending situation returning to near normal, Max Legace was reassigned to Chicago, making Leighton the odd man out once again.
He was returned to Arizona, but never pulled on a game sweater for the Roadrunners.
“They were just looking to trade me the whole time,” Leighton said. “I was doing a lot of sitting around, not practicing much, kind of just waiting for a trade to happen.”
That move finally came on Tuesday, when Pittsburgh sent Josh Archibald, second-year goaltender Sean Maguire and a sixth round draft pick to Arizona in exchange for Leighton and a future fourth-round pick. That has opened the door for the 17th year pro to play a prominent role with the Penguins.
At 36-years old, Leighton would be the oldest player on most teams in the AHL. But, with Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos clocking in at 38, Leighton is happy to deflect some of the ‘old man’ jokes from his teammates.
“I’m actually really excited. I’ve been the oldest guy on my team for a little while now,” he laughed when the subject was brought up. “I played with Tommy in Carolina a long time ago, so it’s good to see a friendly face.”
But Kostopoulos isn’t the only player Leighton is familiar with inside the Coal Street locker room. He’s also played alongside Ryan Haggerty (Rockford IceHogs), Tom Sestito (Adirondack Phantoms), and even Penguins assistant coach J.D. Forrest (Albany River Rats) during his AHL career.
“It’s difficult coming in meeting 25 new guys,” he said. “So to have a couple of friendly faces you’ve played with or at least played against, they know you, it makes it a lot better.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s next game is Friday, Dec. 22 against the Binghamton Devils at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. Puck drop for the first meeting of the season between the Penguins and Devils is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Individual tickets for all Penguins home games are available at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza box office, online at TicketMaster.com, or by calling 800-745-3000.
Season ticket packages for the 19th season of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey, including 22-game, 12-game and Flexbook plans, are available by contacting the Penguins directly at (570) 208-7367.