CHICAGO — The #FreePirri movement got its start here more than five years ago, which made Brandon Pirri’s return to the Windy City on Saturday all the more ironic.
Pirri played his 10th game with the Golden Knights in Saturday’s 4-3 overtime victory over Chicago, signaling the one-time Blackhawks’ prospect will be in the NHL for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t think this really means anything,” Pirri said after the morning skate at United Center. “I’ve got to be good every game and prove myself every game, because if I don’t, I’m going to be back in Chicago. But I believe in myself, and every game I’m treating it like this is an opportunity to show that I should be here.”
By appearing in 10 NHL games, Pirri now must clear waivers if the Knights want to return him to their AHL affiliate in Chicago.
With his recent scoring surge and bargain $650,000 salary, Pirri almost certainly would be claimed by one of the other 30 teams looking for instant offense.
Pirri was sent to the Chicago Wolves on Thursday and recalled less than two hours later, according to transactions listed on the AHL’s official website. Those moves were removed from the website Friday.
It was reported that Pirri’s quick down-and-up was to bring him back as an emergency recall, stopping his waiver clock at eight games.
General manager George McPhee denied in an interview Friday with Fox Sports radio (98.9 FM/1340 AM) that a move was made involving Pirri. A Knights spokesperson confirmed that Saturday was Pirri’s 10th game as a nonemergency recall, thus removing his waiver-exempt status.
Pirri’s agent, Matthew Oates, did not return a voicemail or email seeking clarification on his client’s status.
“There wasn’t a transaction, so I don’t know where that’s coming from,” McPhee said in the interview. “He deserves to be here like a lot of the other players we have. … He’s made our team better, so he’s going to get to play.”
Pirri, a second-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2009, led the AHL in scoring in 2012-13. The #FreePirri hashtag was born soon after when he couldn’t crack the NHL lineup.
Pirri had 29 goals in 57 games with the Wolves last season and was the AHL’s top point producer at the time of his first recall in December.
He has seven goals and 11 points in 10 games with the Knights and skated with center William Karlsson and winger Jonathan Marchessault against the Blackhawks.
“I think his game’s rounded out real good,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “I think he’s better defensively, he’s working harder. He’s in better shape, and he just looks good on the ice. He’s 27 years old, he wants to play in the NHL, and he deserves to.”
Defenseman Colin Miller traveled with the team on its two-game trip and participated in the morning skate Saturday.
Miller was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 17, when he was hurt in the second period of a 1-0 loss at Columbus. He missed the past 12 games, including Saturday’s against the Blackhawks. The Knights play again Tuesday at Winnipeg.
“He’s trending in the right way, and everything’s going good,” Gallant said. “He feels better, and hopefully he’s going to be back real soon.”
Reilly Smith (undisclosed injury) also made the trip and skated on his own at the end of the morning skate. He is eligible to return Tuesday.
Winger William Carrier (illness) and goaltender Malcolm Subban (undisclosed) did not travel.
Brandon Pirri’s NHL stats
Year: Team, Games, Goals, Assists, Points
2010-2011: Chicago — 1, 0, 0, 0
2011-2012: Chicago — 5, 0, 2, 2
2012-2013: Chicago — 1, 0, 0, 0
2013-2014: Chicago — 28, 6, 5, 11
2013-2014: Florida — 21, 7, 7, 14
2013-2014: Total — 49, 13, 12, 25
2014-2015: Florida — 49, 22, 2, 24
2015-2016: Florida — 52, 11, 13, 24
2015-2016: Anaheim — 9, 3, 2, 5
2015-2016: Total — 61, 14, 15, 29
2016-2017: New York Rangers — 60, 8, 10, 18
2017-2018: Golden Knights — 2, 3, 0, 3
2018-2019: Golden Knights — 9, 7, 4, 11
Career: 237, 67, 45, 112