PURE DETERMINATION PROPELLED GRUDEN TO CAREER-BEST YEAR
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Most people want the same things. Money. Happiness. Love. Pizza. Surely, Jonathan Gruden wants all of these things. But he also wanted one thing in particular this past season.
“I wanted the puck on my stick a lot more this year,” he said. “I think I’ve just gotten a lot more comfortable with the puck. You know, carrying it, making plays.”
This desire to play with the puck led to Gruden driving the action frequently with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and it also led to career-high point totals.
He reached 16 goals, six more than his previous best. Thirty-one points were four more than his prior season.
He also set career marks in power-play goals (3), game-winning goals (2) and shots (87). Gruden did all of this in 21 fewer games than his previous career-best season.
Meet Jonathan Gruden
Throughout this breakout campaign, Gruden never compromised his identity as a player to chase points.
“He gets a lot of his points around the net,” said Penguins head coach J.D. Forrest, before adding, “A lot of that is just pure determination.”
That determination is exactly what makes Gruden such an effective player for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He’s in the fight for every puck. He’s never backing down from blocking a shot, nor will he shy away from a scrum at the net-front (whether that’s backing up a teammate or providing the spark that starts the skirmish.) Frankly, Gruden’s dogged style is emblematic of the way Forrest likes his entire team to play.
This unceasing drive not only garners the trust of his coaching staff, but also the admiration of his teammates, both young and old.
“He kind of reminds me of myself when I was that age,” said Drake Caggiula. “Just a little pit bull running around, not afraid of anything.
“I hadn’t seen him play, obviously, prior to this (season), but I had a blast playing with him. Every time I was in a battle, I could look over my shoulder, and I knew he was right there with me.”
Caggiula and Gruden
Two peas in the same pugnacious pod, if you will, Caggiula and Gruden formed quite a combo skating on a line together in the later stages of the 2022-23 season. In the Penguins’ last 12 games, Caggiula led the team with seven goals. Gruden assisted on five of those tallies, while picking up 12 points for himself in that time.
In his first two seasons as a pro, Gruden established himself as a hard-working depth player for the Penguins, who could be relied on to win faceoffs and kill penalties. This year, he showed that he’s got more upside than just a grinder.
“I always thought that I’ve been more than just a defensive-minded player,” Gruden said. “My offensive instincts have always been there, it just took a couple years to kind of develop. That happens, it’s a tough league being a young guy to come in and produce right away. Luckily, things kind of went my way this year.”
Furthermore, he also parlayed his strong, all-around play into an NHL debut. At 22-years-old, Gruden didn’t have to wait as long as some other Wilkes-Barre/Scranton products to get that shot, but he definitely didn’t take the opportunity for granted.
That was evident from the laser-focused, fiery, almost scowling look on his face before he took his “rookie lap” prior to his debut in Pittsburgh. Seriously, go back and watch that moment and observe the sheer intensity on his face.
How to Learn More
If anything outside of game tape or boxscores is going to tell you what Jonathan Gruden is all about, that’s it right there.
A restricted free agent this summer, Gruden will need a new contract, but is expected to return to the Penguins organization for next season.
He’ll be bringing his newfound and growing confidence with him, along with that signature determination. Who knows what new levels they can lift him to in year four?
DON’T MISS OUT ON THE NEXT PENGUINS SEASON
Season-ticket packages for the upcoming 2023-24 season are on sale now. Full-Season, 22-game, 12-game, Flexbook and Premium Seating plans are available by reaching out to the Penguins directly at (570) 208-7367.