21 May, 24
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WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – A dream season could mean a number of things. It could be a breakout year on the scoresheet. It could be being thrust into a larger role during a Cinderella playoff run.

For Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forwards Jagger Joshua and Jonathan Gruden, they experienced a dream season this past year, but it was a dream that was realized simply by playing together.

“Not everybody really gets experienced playing with their best friend at the pro level,” Joshua “We’re super blessed to be able to play with something like that.”

Both Joshua and Gruden hail from Michigan, growing up in neighborhoods outside of Detroit. They played U16 AAA hockey together for renown, Michigan-based youth hockey program Honeybaked in 2015-16. The two were briefly reunited one year later for one week with the United States National Team Development Program during which Gruden and Joshua suited up for the Red, White and Blue for a showcase against other college-bound prospects.

Joshua ultimately committed to Michigan State University. Gruden played one season at Miami University before veering to the junior route in the Ontario Hockey League. Gruden was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2018, but traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins two years later. He made his pro debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 20-years-old in 2021.

Joshua went undrafted, but was so successful in his senior season with the Spartans that the Penguins inked him to a two-year, American Hockey League contract. As a result, he was reunited with his teenage teammate in Gruden.

“Playing together when we were 14, 15 and now playing pro, it’s pretty, pretty special how we developed and wound up here,” Gruden said. “Familiarity always helps, so it was nice playing with Jags again this year. He’s just a good kid, and a great friend.”

Perhaps to no surprise, Gruden and Joshua found chemistry on a line together early in the latter’s rookie season this year. As the season progressed, the Detroit duo spent increasingly more time together away from the rink, as well. Whether it was getting a group together to go to the movies, chow down at a restaurant or spending a Sunday afternoon watching the Detroit Lions, Gruden and Joshua were often in lockstep.

Joshua believes that these hangouts, in addition to other professional advice from Gruden, were a huge advantage for his transition to life in the AHL to be as smooth as possible.

“Credit to him a lot, helping me adjust socially,” Joshua said. “I mean, we have a good group of guys here all around, but he definitely helped me adjust to pro life, and it’s something I’m thankful for.”

Joshua is already under contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2024-25 season. Gruden is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Penguins organization can retain his rights simply by extending a qualifying offer to the 24-year-old. A new contract for Gruden would reunite him with Joshua for another tour as teenage friends turned pro hockey teammates.

White Tux


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