Casey Pierro-Zabotel has been rewarded for his splendid start this hockey season.
The 24-year-old, who is from British Columbia's Bonaparte First Nation, was chosen as one of the six starters for the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) all-star game.
The contest will be held Jan. 23 in Loveland, Colorado. The match will feature the ECHL all-stars against the host Colorado Eagles.
Pierro-Zabotel, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third round of the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft, is in his fourth pro season. He's a member of the Georgia-based Gwinnett Gladiators.
"It's a great honor," he said of his all-star selection. "It feels pretty good and it gives me a little more confidence."
Pierro-Zabotel has spent the majority of his pro career in the ECHL. But this marks his first season with the Gladiators. And this will mark his first appearance in the league's showcase contest.
He's been one of the league's top performers this year, averaging a point per game. He has racked up 40 points (10 goals and 30 assists) in his first 40 matches.
But being one of the three forwards and half dozen starters selected for the league all-star squad caught him a bit off guard. The starting lineup was chosen following a vote of ECHL coaches, team captains, media directors, broadcasters and media members.
"I was a little surprised I was a starter," said Pierro-Zabotel, who is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. "But I have had a good start to the season."
Gladiators' head coach John Wroblewski believes his star forward is a deserving all-star starter.
"There's are so many good players in our league," he said. "But there's not a lot better out there in terms of his creativity."
Pierro-Zabotel has already surpassed the goal and point totals he registered last season in the ECHL, when he was a member of California-based Bakersfield Condors. He had 35 points, including eight goals, in 71 games with Bakersfield.
"I didn't mind it out west (last year)," Pierro-Zabotel said. "But I thought I'd switch it up and just ended up here (in Gwinnett) this season."
Since his NHL rights are no longer owned by the Penguins, Pierro-Zabotel was a free agent and eligible to sign a contract with any ECHL franchise.
Pierro-Zabotel had attended three NHL training camps, all with Pittsburgh. His last one was in 2010.
Despite attending those camps, he never got into any NHL exhibition contests.
Over the years the main knock about him has been that he is not a strong skater.
"Ever since I've been drafted I've been hearing I need to work on my skating," he said. "I still think that's the case."
Wroblewski, however, does not agree with the belief that Pierro-Zabotel's skating is a weakness.
"To me he'll never be able to be someone who stands out because of his speed," he said. "But I wouldn't say that's a weakness. His game doesn't rely on speed at all. And he never looks out of place."
Pierro-Zabotel said his consistency to produce has also been questioned at times.
But he does possess several other qualities that have enabled him to make it to the pro ranks.
"Definitely my passing," he said, when asked about the strengths of his game. "And I'm pretty good at protecting the puck when I have it. And I've got a good vision of what's happening on the ice."
Besides Gwinnett and Bakersfield, Pierro-Zabotel has also suited up for two other ECHL franchises, West Virginia's Wheeling Nailers and Ohio's Cincinnati Cyclones.
During his first season as a pro, 2009-10, he also played nine games in the higher calibre American Hockey League with the Wilkes/Barre Scranton Penguins.
Though he hasn't been invited to an NHL training camp in a few years, Pierro-Zabotel said he has not abandoned his dream of one day playing in the league.
"It's always going to be in the back of my mind," he said. "I'm just going to keep trying to move up the ladder."
Despite the fact he was an NHL draft pick and is still toiling in the minor leagues — enduring bus trips up to 13 hours for away games — Pierro-Zabotel is not complaining.
"I'm really happy with where I am," he said. "I get to play hockey. And I get paid to play."