When the Steelers took Kenny Pickett 20th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, keeping the Pitt star in Pennsylvania, Penguins forward Corey Andonovski was at the quarterback’s draft party in his native New Jersey to witness the excitement and joy in person.
Andonovski and his girlfriend have been close with Pickett’s wife Amy since they were freshmen at Princeton, with all three playing college sports for the Tigers. When Amy started dating Kenny in 2021, he visited campus a few times and got to know her friend group, so the crew came out for the big night.
Andonovski had signed a two-year entry-level deal as a college free agent with the Penguins a couple of months earlier, so he said it was really cool to both be taking the next steps in their pro careers with two storied Pittsburgh franchises.
“Just to have somebody as kind of a familiar face with him and his wife, it’s pretty cool when I get to come and hang out with them when I’m here for camp or whatever it is,” Andonovski said. “He’s super down to earth. He’s a great guy and they’re great people. So, it’s definitely very neat. It’s a cool connection to have.”
Being from Ontario, Andonovski had never been hugely invested in American football. But he’s gotten more into it now, having attended his first Steelers game last season during Pickett’s rookie year.
“He wasn’t playing at the time, but it was still cool to see the atmosphere in the team and how much the city loves football and loves the Steelers,” Andonovski said. “I think he’s going to do great with that team.”
The two of them have joked about Andonovski coming to live with the Picketts if he ever gets the callup to Pittsburgh, with Kenny saying they’ve got a guest room. Andonovski certainly has the potential to make that happen someday, as the Penguins really like the 22-year-old forward.
“He’s got all the tools,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach J.D. Forrest said. “It’s more about just finding the consistency. We’d like to see a certain style of game. Sometimes, he’ll get caught between what he was able to do in college and what’s going to be effective here, what got him in the door here, and how he has to adjust a little bit as a player and what he needs to bring every night. I’m looking forward to seeing him playing with that certain edge shift in and shift out.”
Forrest called last season a “good learning opportunity” for Andonovski, who appeared in 62 games with WBS, recording eight goals, 19 points and 66 penalty minutes. In talking with a lot of people, Andonovski said it felt like a typical first year of pro hockey, experiencing highs and lows while adjusting to a new level of play.
This summer, he focused on his skating, working with his coach Ashley Jones back home in Canada. “She’s great,” Andonovski said. “We try to do a lot of edge work, just ways to be more explosive coming out and stuff like that. Then obviously, the regular skillwork that a lot of guys probably go through. But for me, it’s not super flashy, not pretty. If I can be effective, that’s kind of what I try to focus on, just trying to get more effective every year.”
Andonovski is keeping an open mind going into training camp, as he knows what the situation is like in Pittsburgh, and that he’ll most likely be spending another season in WBS. Right now, he’s focused on maintaining a certain level of compete, which has been on display at the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, trying to engage as much as possible.
“Physicality is something I kind of try to take pride in in my game,” he said. “It opens up the ice not only for me, but for other guys too. So if you can play that style and also play a little bit of skill game or a hard skill game as they say, I think that kind of works out perfectly for me.”
On the first day, Andonovski played on a line centered by Pittsburgh’s 2023 first-round draft pick Brayden Yager, who called him the “main guy that we look up to.”
“Whether it’s just asking questions, or usually he’s asking coaches certain questions for us, I think he’s just comfortable,” Yager said. “Obviously, he’s a guy that’s easy to talk to, and he was super welcoming for me coming in here.”
Andonovski is a natural leader with his teammates here in Buffalo, and that’s a quality he should take with him to the American Hockey League even as a younger guy in that league, which will be welcomed by Forrest and the coaching staff.
“He has a presence about him. He’s a real intelligent guy, too, a Princeton guy. I think that says something,” Forrest said with a smile. “But he does have some sway in the locker room. He plays a hard game, and when he does that, guys, they respond.