When Brandon Pirri last played for the Chicago Blackhawks, the 2009 second-round draft pick was 22 and had 35 NHL games under his belt.
The Hawks traded him to the Florida Panthers in March 2014, and his topsy-turvy experiences since have shaped him as a person and a player.
“The last time around I was a kid. This time I have two kids,” said the 29-year-old Pirri, whose wife, Elyse, is expecting their second child in December. “A lot has changed in my game. I figured out how to be a good pro; I think I was trying to figure it out back then.”
Back then, the Hawks had enough depth at forward and traded Pirri for the Panthers’ fourth-round pick in 2014 and a fifth-rounder in 2016. His career has been a whirlwind since.
The Panthers traded him to the Anaheim Ducks late in the 2015-16 season. He played a season with the New York Rangers in 2016-17, then signed with the Vegas Golden Knights before the 2017-18 season but had trouble sticking on the roster.
He was sent down to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL for the rest of that season and the start of 2018-19 before getting another shot with Vegas in December. He split last season between the Golden Knights and Wolves.
“(When) I signed with the Wolves (in 2017), my wife was pregnant and we just wanted to be at home,” said Pirri, who bought a home in Bucktown in April 2016, according to a Tribune report. “That was a great situation; we were just fortunate enough to be with the Wolves.
“I was fortunate to get a couple games up (in Vegas) at the end of the year, and then the following year they had some injuries and I got an opportunity and I kind of got hot and forced their hand to take me. That was nice for me after a couple of years in the American League proving to myself and everyone else that I can play in the NHL.
“That’s always been my dream; I’ve always believed in myself. When you get an opportunity, making the most of it is a pretty darn good feeling.”
But that wouldn’t be the last time Pirri would face adversity. He had legitimate hopes of making the Golden Knights’ postseason roster bound for Edmonton this summer but didn’t make the cut.
“I think last year, for whatever reason, I just went cold,” he said. “I’ve never been a player to have the longest leash. So it was just unfortunate, they had some other guys that were playing well and they went in another direction.”
Ultimately, though, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman brought Pirri back to Chicago and dealt longtime prospect Dylan Sikura to Vegas.
When Pirri got the call from the Hawks, he was playing golf with a trio of former Hawks: Jeremy Morin, Adam Clendening and Terry Broadhurst.
“All three of those guys have done two stints with the Hawks organization, so it was kind of fitting that I was with those guys when I got the call,” he said.
Pirri said he has a better idea of what he can contribute to the Hawks this time around.
“Over the years, I’ve kind of figured out with my size (6 feet, 183 pounds) and the way I play, I’ve become a shoot-first player,” he said. “My first go-round in the organization, I was kind of a playmaker, hold the puck, puck possession, and then over time I just became a shoot-first mentality. … A big skill of mine is to find that quiet area and, when I get an opportunity, make the most of it.”
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