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ASU hockey defenseman Josh Maniscalco feeling 'surreal' after inking NHL contract

After two seasons in a Sun Devil uniform, defenseman Josh Maniscalco has inked a rookie contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins


ASU freshman defenseman Joshua Maniscalco (24) handles the puck in ASU’s 5-4 overtime victory over American International in Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, Arizona on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2019.

ASU hockey Head Coach Greg Powers flew his team to Minnesota to play the U18 U.S. Development Program at the end of the 2016-17 NCAA hockey season. The purpose of the game was two-fold: round out the season campaign and play against potential recruit Josh Maniscalco

Maniscalco had joined the USDP for the 2015-16 season after a successful career at Shattuck St. Mary's and was hopeful he would have an opportunity to compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship representing the U.S. 

But just days before the U18 team was scheduled to play ASU, Maniscalco was cut from the roster and sent down to the U17 team. 

Instead of being scouted by playing against ASU in the two-game series, Powers watched the young defenseman compete in a junior showcase following the games.

"I thought he was awesome," Powers said. "I couldn’t understand why he was moved down. It didn’t make any sense to me. He just looked so good."

After a conversation in a hotel lobby that weekend and an official visit to campus that followed, a formerly dejected Maniscalco committed to ASU.

"Sitting down with Coach Powers and Coach (Alex) Hicks, they just reiterated the plan they had for the program here at Arizona State and right away, they let me know I would be a big part of building it and what they had going here," Maniscalco said. "Coming from a situation where I had just gotten cut and I didn’t play a big role in the team, that really spoke to me."

Maniscalco arrived in Tempe in 2017 after a successful year with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League, where he served as captain and finished tied for fifth on the team in points with 32. His success as an offensive defenseman translated well to his freshman year as a Sun Devil, where he put up 20 points in just 35 appearances.

"He’s a prime example of the kind of kid that can handle all of the responsibilities you give him," Powers said. "The more you give him, the more he is going to give back and the better he is going to perform. We really gave him that from day one."

With Maniscalco gaining his footing in college hockey, more doors opened up for him; he attended the Boston Bruins' development camp in the 2019 offseason and returned for his sophomore year at ASU in unique company alongside linemate Brinson Pasichnuk in what became one of the most dominant defensive pairs in the country.

"Josh is one of my best friends," Pasichnuk said. "Me and him work so well together, (and) he was by far the best (defense) partner I've ever had. He's an all-around great human being."

Despite the 2019-20 season being halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maniscalco and Pasichnuk both finished in the top six in the NCAA in points among defensemen, and the two collectively combined for over 20% of ASU's total points during the year.

Their success paid off over the summer. Pasichnuk, signed with the San Jose Sharks, and Maniscalco was named one of two ASU captains for the hopeful 2020-21 season. But as Maniscalco noticed the calendar was getting closer to the start of the new academic year and spread of the pandemic had not improved, he decided to make other plans.

"At the end of the day, there’s still uncertainty surrounding what college hockey season looks like for everybody," Powers said. "Josh turned down NHL contracts to come back for a normal college hockey season that he was going to be a part of as a captain of our program ... (but) if you have a max NHL contract, under these circumstances, you gotta go." 

Maniscalco was looking forward to captaining the 2020-21 team with defenseman Jacob Wilson. But when the opportunity presented itself to go to the next level he knew he couldn't afford to turn down a life long dream of playing in the NHL.

"Nobody in the world expected the COVID situation to go on (as long as it did)," Maniscalco said. "For me personally, I just think that now it is time. I just feel that I can’t turn down an opportunity like this given the current situation here at school in regards to the season (being) up in the air."

Despite having interest from several NHL clubs, Maniscalco chose to sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that plays just hours away from his hometown of Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania.

"I think the overall deciding factor was just the fact that (the) Pittsburgh (Penguins) is such a well-known organization," Maniscalco said. "They’ve had success in the recent past, so I think just the fact that they want to win now and the history as an organization they have, it was just a no-brainer.” 

His departure from ASU makes him the fourth player to sign a contract with a professional team and the seventh player overall to leave the program this summer. With three of those departures being defensemen — and two of them the most offensively productive ones — Powers believes the turnover will not hinder the team's future defensive success.

"We feel great about our defensive core, (and) we were prepared for this in case this happened," he said. "We are built. I think that any good program can and should be able to sustain some losses, even as big as they were with Brinson and Josh."

Though Powers has confidence in the returning defensemen in the program, he also believes that Maniscalco's influence, not just his game, was a significant asset to the program.

"The most special thing about Josh that I can honestly (say) is that I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid at ASU who, behaviorally, was literally perfect like Josh," Powers said. "He’s so impactful in every area, not just on the ice. In the locker room, in the gym, in the community. He makes everyone around him better. That’s just the kind of person he is.” 

Maniscalco said he came into the ASU hockey program as an "unconfident 18 year old." But now, he's setting his sights on cementing himself as an NHL regular.

"Every kid’s dream and goal is to play in the NHL, but until I came to ASU I never really had the feeling that it would ever happen," Maniscalco said. "You work so hard for so long, and just to see it all come together, it’s surreal. I honestly don’t think it’s set in for me personally. 

"Gosh, it is going to be amazing when it does."

Reach the reporters at and follow @averyklatsky on Twitter. 

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