Pirri excited for NHL opportunity in Florida

Brandon Pirri is at the point in his career where he believes he should be in the NHL and is willing to go wherever he is given that chance.

Pirri was hopeful that opportunity would come with the Chicago Blackhawks, the organization that drafted him and he has spent the last four years developing within.

But when Pirri failed to stick with the Blackhawks during two stints this season and they recently traded for center Peter Regin, Pirri began to wonder if his NHL shot might be somewhere other than Chicago.

After a stressful few weeks worrying about his fate, Pirri received a phone call from Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman on Sunday and was told he had been traded to the Florida Panthers for draft picks.

Pirri hoped for a better outcome with the Blackhawks, but ultimately he got what he wanted.

“You know it’s an opportunity,” the 22-year-old Pirri said in a phone interview on Sunday. “That’s what I was looking for. It was a great experience in Chicago and Rockford. It made me a much better player for it.

“Obviously you hear things [about being traded], but you never know. It’s all talk until something happens. Obviously it was a little nerve-racking. I’m glad it’s finally over. I’m excited to start my career in Florida.”

Pirri was considered one of the Blackhawks’ top prospects and was recently ranked among ESPN’s top 50 prospects. He was drafted in the second round in 2009 and led the AHL in scoring last season. He was named the MVP of the AHL All-Star Game this season, and his production had come on as of late, as he had seven goals and six assists during his last nine games with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.

Pirri had been penciled in as the Blackhawks’ second-line center during the preseason, but an injury derailed that and he was sent down to the AHL. Pirri was recalled in October and produced six goals and five assists in 24 games.

Pirri played mostly second-line center during those two dozen games but was moved to third-line center in late November. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t as satisfied with Pirri’s game, especially his defensive responsibility. Pirri was reassigned to the IceHogs in December.

Pirri was given another chance with the Blackhawks in late January, but he only stuck around for five games and was sent back down again. He had no points during his second stint.

Pirri said he didn’t have any ill feelings toward the Blackhawks and felt he was given a fair chance by them.

“They got to do what they think is best for their organization,” Pirri said. “They’re obviously the defending Stanley Cup champions. They’re there for a reason. I would have loved it to work out with the Hawks. At the same time, I’m excited for this opportunity in Florida. A fresh start is good for me.”

Pirri will join former Blackhawks prospects Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes with the Panthers. The Blackhawks traded Olsen and Hayes to the Panthers earlier this season. Panthers general manager Dale Tallon also drafted Pirri while Tallon was the general manager of the Blackhawks. The Panthers are 23-31-7 with 53 points.

“I’m going to a young team trying to find their way,” Pirri said. “That’s exciting for me. There’s going to be opportunities for me. I’m going to be able to show and prove to people what I can do. They went out and made a trade for me. They put some trust in me. I want to prove that they made the right decision.”