And although he’s a player that’s always been relied on for his speed and tenacity instead of his ability to score goals, Vitale is on the fast track to a more expanded role with the Penguins with his all-around play.
“(His role) is going to get bigger if he keeps playing the way he is right now,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Vitale has seamlessly transitioned into the Penguins’ system since making his NHL debut on Feb. 10 against Los Angeles, filling the same grind-it-out role that he fulfilled with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Joe’s a smart guy that can skate,” his Pittsburgh linemate Ryan Craig said. “When you have those two things together, you’re usually around the puck and in the right position. He’s done it for four games here since he’s been called up, but he’s been doing it all year down in WBS.”
Bylsma continually emphasizes the fact that the Penguins have a standard of play that’s consistent throughout the entire organization – both in Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – and that comfort level has helped Vitale instantly make an impact.
“My game hasn’t changed much, whether I’m here or down in WBS,” Vitale said, who was in his second full season with WBS before being recalled. “So it’s comforting knowing I can just come up here and the game is the same. I just kind of have to up the speed a little bit.”
With his assist on Feb. 11 in a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers, Vitale now has two points through four games. But while he admits it’s nice to chip in offensively, he’s focusing more on the other details of his game in order to keep up with the speed and strength of the NHL.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s on the scoreboard or not, you’re going to notice him,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “Really, you have to watch the game to notice his impact because he does so many good things all over the ice in all three zones and he’s a huge asset to have here.”
Lovejoy pointed out Vitale’s impressive speed as his strongest asset. That speed enabled him to break free in the slot to score his goal against the Avalanche.
Bylsma also noted Vitale’s impressive forecheck, his ability to kill penalties and winning faceoffs as what adds to his game – and what will keep increasing his role.
“If he continues to play like that, the role’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger,” Bylsma said. “And really be a guy who could, in the next few games here, maybe play against other team’s second lines and be a factor for us that way.”