Why The Pittsburgh Penguins Called Up Tom Sestito


Ahead of their tilt against the New Jersey Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins called up forward Tom Sestito from their AHL affiliate. What can he bring to the team?

This morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they had called up Tom Sestito from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Sestito, 28, is perhaps most famous for the time he managed to rack up 27 penalty minutes after only being on the ice for one second, against the Los Angeles Kings.

That should already tell you everything you need to know about his hockey career.

Over a nine-year professional career, Sestito has played a grand total of 137 NHL games – yes, that includes the aforementioned one where he only saw one second of ice time. He has mostly spent time with his teams’ AHL affiliates, and prior to joining the Penguins this past offseason he had been cut after playing only ten games with Vancouver’s affiliate, the Utica Comets.

Sestito is obviously not a great hockey player. Then-ESPN sportscaster Keith Olbermann described him as a “boxing hobo on skates” and the “worst sports person in the world” following the disastrous game against the Kings.

So what would prompt the Penguins to call up a player with such glowing reviews?

Dec 22, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Tom Sestito (29) fights Arizona Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura (24) during the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 22, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Tom Sestito (29) fights Arizona Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura (24) during the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /

Quite frankly, they’re getting destroyed. The Penguins are not a physical team, which is obvious in how frequently they are out-hit by their opponents. That lack of physicality is often detrimental to their overall game, since the momentum of a game can turn with just a hit – as similarly esteemed hockey enforcer Zac Rinaldo pointed out after laying an awful hit on Kris Letang last year.

The Pens potentially could have alleviated the issue sooner if they had actually slotted Steve Oleksy into the lineup one of the many times he was called up following Ben Lovejoy‘s injury. However, Oleksy seems more fated to an eternal commute between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre without seeing any actual playing time.

With the deadline day addition of Justin Schultz, there is no room in Pittsburgh for another defenseman now. Undoubtedly facing pressure to put Schultz in the lineup, head coach Mike Sullivan would be unlikely to play Oleksy if he was recalled again.

Ian Cole is probably the most physical player on the Penguins right now, and there’s a good chance he’ll be the one taken out of the lineup if and when Schultz comes in. Evgeni Malkin‘s size is intimidating when he lays hits, but often the Penguins seem to struggle with finding a balance between scoring and playing aggressively.

When it comes down to it, Malkin should probably focus more on the first part and less on the latter.

So in comes Sestito: 6’5″ and and 228 pounds, he’s the biggest guy on the Pittsburgh roster. His reputation and size hopefully will combine to deter any bad hits by opponents, and – given that he plays more than a second here – will up the Penguins’ hits.

Before a long stretch against Metropolitan Division rivals, someone like that is just what the Penguins need. They often have difficulty solving their divisional foes, and games against teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers are always physical affairs in which the Pens usually get out-hit and outplayed.

The thing that Sestito will need to watch, however, is not to take too many penalties. There’s a fine line between providing an effective physical presence and taking dumb penalties that disrupt the rhythm of the game and put your team at a disadvantage. A guy once referred to as a “talentless thug” may not be the most useful in this category. 

More from Penguins News

In that case, Sullivan will have to be very careful in how he utilizes Sestito. Unlikely to get more than a few minutes of playing time per game, Sestito will need to be sent out only when it could have a positive impact on the team.

The Penguins’ lack of physicality is not a problem that can solved by bringing up only one player. However, it may help level the playing field just a bit. The Pens need to learn how to hit harder and smarter or the front office needs to bring in a whole corps of guys who are skilled in that arena.

It remains to be seen if they will even play Sestito tonight against the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins also recalled Conor Sheary today, and he is significantly more offensively skilled than Sestito (okay, honestly, I can barely skate and I’m probably more offensively skilled than Sestito).

It’s a very likely scenario that they will keep him up to travel with the team and practice with them, and scratch him for games where the coaching staff doesn’t perceive a major threat. And when they do, he’ll be waiting in the press box, ready to swoop down onto the ice and deliver a beating.