All posts by Steven Czarnecki

January Prospect Review

4th monthly recap, and a few more changes. Jarry will be added back onto the list next month (as he only appeared in 1 game this month) after losing the backup job to DeSmith and Simon will be removed as he’s seemingly carved out a role for himself in the NHL full time. All stats are accurate up to January 31st

Forwards:

Jordy Bellerive, 5’10, 194 (UDFA, 2017) – Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

In the 14 games since we lasted checked in Jordy Bellerive, he added 13 goals and 8 assists to get him to 68 points (33 goals, 35 assists) on the year. He has also been bestowed the honor of being named captain of Lethbridge after they traded away their previous captain. That trade also left Bellerive as the only player on the Hurricanes who is over a point per game. Lethbridge aren’t particularly good, but by the nature of their weak division, they’ll sneak into the playoffs more than likely. After being bounced early, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bellerive play some significant minutes for WBS.

Jan Drozg, 6’0, 174 (5th round, 2017) – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

Drozg has added 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in the 9 games following the last update and despite his best efforts, Shawnigan have managed to fail their way into being the worst team in Quebec. Drozg has sole possession of being the leading scorer on his team, and with the trade deadline passing, he’s unfortunately going to have to stick it out with the team. His team’s failing may benefit him, however, as he’ll be free to join WBS on an ATO at the end of March.

Daniel Sprong, 6’0, 181 (2nd round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

While he managed to get 8 games in at the NHL level, with 2 goals and 1 assist as the return, Sprong managed all those points in 1 game while going pointless for the other 7. While he didn’t play bad, he was clearly not impressing and was sent back to WBS, where he’s put up 1 goal and 3 assists in the 3 games he’s appeared in since being returned. It doesn’t appear there will be a spot for Sprong up in the NHL this year, so expect him to continue to light the AHL on fire.

Sam Miletic, 6’0, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

Miletic has appeared in 13 games with a trade to Niagara coming in between, and has been on a blistering pace, adding 12 goals and 13 points in those games. This is especially impressive as Niagara are far from a high scoring team. Perhaps it is time to admit I was wrong about Miletic as a prospect, and that he has a future that I didn’t see. I’m interested to see how he translates to the AHL.

Kasper Bjorkqvist, 6’1, 205 (2nd round, 2016) – Providence College (NCAA)

Currently on quite a decent run with 8 games played with an additional 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) since our last check in, Bjorkqvist is trending in the right direction. Any additional offense would be nice from this point from Bjorkqvist, as we wait patiently to see if his junior provides an additional bump in offence for him.

JS Dea, 5’11, 175 (UDFA, 2013) – WBS Penguins (AHL)/Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)

In the 6 games Dea appeared in before being called up to the Penguins, he added 4 goals and 2 assists and then appeared in 5 games for the NHL Penguins, potting his first NHL goal in the process. He has slowly been earning more trust from Mike Sullivan, but the 4th line still sees Crosby and Sheahan rotate in as their center from time to time. Regardless, Dea has shown the ability to be a depth forward in the NHL and that’s a big step for him.

Teddy Blueger, 6’0, 185 (2nd round, 2012) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Blueger’s offensive output dropped off a little bit, putting up 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in the 11 games since the last update, but he’s still playing exceptional defensive hockey despite an ever revolving cast of linemates with call ups and demotions affecting the WBS roster on a nightly basis. Not much has changed in the way of a projection for Blueger, and I expect him to keep ticking over the way he has.

Thomas DiPauli, 5’11, 187 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

A disappointing month for DiPauli with only 3 assists through the 11 games he appeared in. Without a doubt, the passing of his family relative that led to his absence around Christmas time had a profound impact on DiPauli and it will take time for him to rebound. He’s certainly not playing badly, but it’s obvious there’s a lot going on behind the scenes for him.

Adam Johnson, 6’0, 175 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Johnson started out January really well, getting 1 goal and 3 assists through the first 4 games of the month, but has since gone pointless in the 6 games that he appeared in following. This inconsistency is another product of his slight frame and something that will likely be addressed by the Penguins in the offseason. There’s clear talent there.

Linus Olund, 5’11, 185 (5th round, 2017) – Brynas IF (SHL)            

Brynas still aren’t good, and that only allowed 3 additional points (all assists) in the 9 games Olund. This isn’t a great return, but his 16 points on the year through 39 games puts him in the top 30 for scorers under the age of 24 in the SHL. I’m excited to see him over in the AHL where he’ll play with some better linemates relative to the quality of the league.

Nikita Pavlychev, 6’7, 212 (7th round, 2015) – Penn State (NCAA)

Pavlychev has only added 2 assists in the 8 games he’s played through January, which leaves him at 12 points through 28 games on the year. Not the best month, which seems to be a common theme right now, but we’ll see how the rest of his year goes. Pavlychev is still a sophomore, so there’s time for him to develop a little more, but not a great month.

Anthony Angello, 6’5, 205 (5th round, 2014) – Cornell University (NCAA)

9 goals, 2 assists, 8 games for Angello through January. Certainly cannot complain about that return and Angello is up to 20 points (12 goals, 8 assists) through 21 games this year, giving him the lead on Cornell for point scoring after a ridiculous return in the month of January. If he continues along a similar path, I very much expect an ELC to be tabled for him by the end of his college career.

Zach Aston-Reese, 6’0, 205 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Aston-Reese appeared in all 11 games for WBS in January, scoring 4 goals and 8 assists in the process while scoring a goal in each of his last 3 games. Much like Angello, ZAR has bucked the trend of downtrending January for the Pens prospects and has got himself to a respectable 28 points (9 goals, 19 assists) through 40 games. Aston-Reese appears to be more confident with his shot as of late and I expect his goal scoring to continue to trend upwards.

Sam Lafferty, 6’1, 185 (4th round, 2014) – Brown University (NCAA)

Lafferty has 2 goals and 2 assists in 9 games, and this hasn’t been a great year for Lafferty after breaking out as a junior. Certainly not helped by Brown being awful at hockey, but they also weren’t good last year and that didn’t stop Lafferty from putting up points. I’m interested to see how he does on an ATO.

Freddie Tiffels, 6’1, 201 (6th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)/Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

Adding 3 assists in 6 games for Wheeling, as well as 1 goal and 1 assist in 8 AHL games, Tiffels has bounced up and down between Wheeling and WBS pretty freely. There’s still not much upside there for me, so I don’t expect him to carve a role for himself in WBS for a little while yet.

Defence:

Clayton Phillips, 5’11, 174 (3rd round, 2017) – Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA)

Phillips enrolled in Minnesota, where he’s appeared in 9 games through the month. He has, unfortunately, not managed to register any points in the time he has got for Minnesota, but he has managed to pick up 19 PIMs, which is impressive if nothing else. His offense will trend up as he is not long turned 18, so he’s still young.

Lukas Bengtsson, 5’10, 192 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Can’t tell you much about Bengtsson as he’s been on the shelf with an upper body injury all of the month. He has recently returned to practice, though, so expect to see him pop into a game soon.

Dane Birks, 6’2, 183 (6th round, 2013) – Michigan Tech (NCAA)

Dane Birks only added 2 assists in the 8 games he’s played, but he’s never been an offense first guy, so anything he adds is plenty useful. I still believe the Pens will try to convince him to turn pro, but it remains to be seen how his limited offense will translate to the pro game. It’s not a death knell because Michigan Tech aren’t very good, but it’s not a great sign.

Niclas Almari, 6’3, 210 (5th round, 2016) – HPK (Liiga)/LeKi (Mestis)

Still suffering from some suffocating systems, Almari hasn’t added much to this point return, but the sooner his season is over, the sooner he gets over to North America and likely never leaves. I’m very excited about his upside and I cannot wait for him to hit NA soil.

William Reilly, 6’3, 196 (7th round, 2017) – RPI (NCAA)

1 goal, 3 assists in 8 games through January for Reilly, putting him at 7 goals and 5 assists through 27 games and on course to exceed his returns from last year, which got him drafted as an overager. I expect him to continue to trend positively, and his size/skating combo makes him an intriguing prospect going forward.

Connor Hall, 6’3, 190 (3rd round, 2016) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Hall has appeared in 11 games through the month of January, adding 4 assists in that time. A slight uptick in offense doesn’t make him much in the way of a prospect and I’m still of the belief that there won’t be much of a desire from the Penguins to tender an ELC to Hall. Injuries just derailed him as a prospect.

Antti Palojarvi, 6’1, 176 (6th round, 2017) – Luuko U20 (Liiga U20)

He’s certainly putting forward a better year than his draft year, but I don’t see much there for Palojarvi either. He’s not got a great offensive game, and being good defensively in a Finnish junior league doesn’t make me excited about his upside.

Joseph Masonius, 6’0, 190 (6th round, 2016) – Connecticut (NCAA)

Masonius has hit 5 points in his last 7 games, a goal and 4 assists. A little undersized for a guy who isn’t producing a tonne of points, but he possesses a very strong defensive game with good puck moving ability, so he’s a standard Penguins pick. I expect the Pens will also try to lure him out of school as he hasn’t got too much left to prove in college.

Zachary Lauzon, 6’1, 190 (2nd round, 2017) – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

Still no games for Lauzon. As such, no update. Sorry friends.

Ryan Jones, 6’2, 192 (4th round, 2016) – University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)

Jones added 3 assists in his last 8 January games. He’s still of questionable upside in regards to NHL impact, but the Nebraska-Omaha D are not relied upon to greatly produce offense so there may be some room there for improvement when he turns pro, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Jeff Taylor, 6’0, 185 (7th round, 2014) – Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

Taylor, much like Tiffels, has spent much of the month bouncing between the ECHL and the AHL, appearing twice to WBS without registering a point and then returning to the ECHL for 7 games in which he registered 2 goals and 5 assists. Taylor’s a victim of a stacked blue line, but has looked pretty solid when he has played in the AHL. I expect him to earn a full time spot next year.

Ethan Prow, 5’11, 185 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Appearing in 6 games for WBS and registering 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists), Prow had a solid month of January and looked remarkably in control while playing in the AHL. While I’m not sure of his NHL upside, he’s carving a role for himself as a depth D at worst. Not what the Pens had hoped for as a highly touted college free agent, but not a bad pickup.

Goalie:

Filip Gustavsson, 6’2, 183 (2nd round, 2016) – Lulea HF (SHL)

Gustavsson was named in the media team of the WJC in Buffalo as the best goalie in the tournament and while I thought he was the 2nd best, it’s a nice honor. It boosted his confidence, clearly, too as he has bounced back to an outstanding 2.31 GAA and .913% in the SHL for a middle of the pack Lulea team. He already has an ELC that will kick in next summer, so Gusatvsson is going to be the next highly touted goalie to play for the WBS Penguins.

Alex D’Orio, 6’3, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

I have nothing but sympathy for D’Orio who is trying his best to keep his head above water with a terrible Saint John team. He’s currently at an unpleasant 3.81 GAA and .894%, but it’s super difficult for him to put up anything worthwhile with the team he’s on. I’m sure he can’t wait for the season to be over.

Advertisements

WBS Results Recap: Wednesday 17th January

JS Dea has been recalled which is well deserved as he’ll likely serve as the 13th forward for the Penguins west coast road trip. Wydo also went down and back up with the ECHL, as he’s becoming very familiar with. No injury updates.

Wednesday Night (1/17/2018)

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Home) – 4-1 Win

Quinney slides in to Dea’s spot on the top line, and Smith slides back in after getting Saturday night off and will play on the 4th line for the night. Trotman and Corrado get back in for Prow and Spionzzi. The game was open, if not particularly exciting, for the first 15 minutes at which point Pedan took an undisciplined roughing penalty. On the ensuing powerplay, Lehigh Valley broke the deadlock through the stick of Philppe Myers ripping a one timer that deflected off the stick of Tinordi in front of the net. This put the game at 1-0 going into the first intermission. The Aston-Reese and Haggerty line, now with Quinney, get on clicking as they have been doing 5 and a half minutes into the 2nd intermission, as Aston-Reese passed it across the blue line to Haggerty, who dropped the puck for Quinney who attacked down into the high slot and shot over the glove of Tokarski to tie the game at 1. WBS then took a lead through their powerplay as McKegg drove down the right wing and put the puck to the front of the net where Aston-Reese had set up shop. His initial bid was rejected by Tokarski, but Christian Thomas was also lurking around the goal and dragged the puck to his forehand and roofed it for a 2-1 WBS lead. A 3-1 lead followed very shortly after with DiPauli winning a puck on the board and releasing Colin Smith and Blueger on a 2 on 1. Smith found Blueger through the stick to give a partial breakaway to Blueger who outwaited the goalie for a cool finish to a quick transition and a 2 goal lead that the Baby Penguins took into the 2nd intermission. In the 3rd, Lehigh Valley did put a puck in the back of the net, but thankfully for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the referees ruled that Phil Varone had interfered with Anthony Peters’ attempts to stock the point shot. Aston-Reese then got some great luck to put the game beyond doubt as he tried to bank pass it into the neutral zone, bounced the puck off of the linesman and back to himself, which he happily deposited into the empty net for a 4-1 lead.

Wednesday 17th January

WBS Results Recap: Weekend of January 14th

Reid Gardiner was sent back down to Wheeling after being a healthy scratch, while Casey DeSmith returns to Pittsburgh which results in Adam Morrison being signed to another PTO to serve as the backup through the Canadian trip with some of the fathers coming along for the trip. Gage Quinney has returned from his day to day injury and Tom Kostopoulos appeared at practice in the week for the first time in 3 months. Christian Thomas also deserves some congratulations for making the Canadian Olympic Team.

Friday Night (1/12/2018)

Belleville Senators (Away) – 6-2 Win

Wydo and Quinney get into the lineup in place of Tiffels and Burton, and on defense Corrado and Taylor get in for Summers and Prow. The Baby Penguins got off to a great start with a Tinordi block of a point shot rebounded out to Zach Aston-Reese who fed Ryan Haggerty to get off to the races and wrist the puck on the rush over the glove of Hogberg in the Senators net 5 minutes into the game. Belleville didn’t hang around waiting to respond, tying the game just before the 10 minute mark after some questionable defensive work from Czuczman and certainly a goal that Anthony Peters would want back, and we entered the 1st intermission tied at 1. At 3:38 of the second period, Haggerty once again struck, this time pulling up just inside the Belleville blue line on the rush and once again using his deadly wrist shot to snipe his 2nd goal of the game over Hogberg’s glove once again. The Penguins then gave themselves a cushion 90 seconds later though some solid forechecking work by Adam Johnson winning the puck for Quinney who set up Canadian olympian Christian Thomas to snap a puck over Hogberg’s glove once again. Belleville did claw one back through some good PP work finished off by Colin White for his 2nd goal of the night as he shot a one timer from inside the dots. In the third period, Haggerty completed his hattrick as he skated in on the left hand side of the offensive zone, cut across the zone and shot from the right hand side to put the game at 4-2. Garret Wilson then scored from just off the goal line into the top corner for a 5-2 lead that put the game beyond any doubt for WBS. JS Dea added an empty netter with just under 3 minutes left in the game for a 6-2 WBS victory.

Friday 12th January.jpg

Saturday Night (1/13/2018)

Laval Rocket (Away) – 4-3 Win

Smith, Quinney and Wydo out up front for a new 4th line of Tiffels, Burton and McGrath. On defense, Prow, Summers and Spionzzi in with Taylor, Trotman and Corrado having a night off. Anthony Peters still between the pipes. Laval took an early lead through a goal a weak wrister from the blueline that somehow evaded the body of Peters, much to his dismay. Andrey Pedan, of all people, responded immediately, skating the puck from the defensive zone coast to coast and firing a wrister that looped into the net off the glove of McNiven in the Laval net. To start the 2nd intermission, Laval once again took a lead through a tipped shot by Cracknell to put the game at 2-1. This lasted all of 23 seconds as good work defensively by Summers freed the puck up for Blueger to backhand a breakout pass to DiPauli on the right half wall, who skated to the defensive blue line before chipping the puck off the wall and into the path of a streaking Johnson who pulled up, took a shot that generated a rebound in the slot that Blueger, who started the entire rush, followed up and deposited into the empty net for a 2-2 tie. Andrey Pedan, getting powerplay deployment, then added to the WBS side of the score making the game 3-2 from a point shot thanks to a Garrett Wilson screen with Laval equalling 4 minutes afterwards, also on the powerplay, after a point shot was knocked down and the rebound deposited behind Peters. The wild 2nd period didn’t stop there as the 5th goal of the period was Andrey Pedan’s hattrick goal (yes, you read that correctly, I know, I can’t believe it either), as almost a carbon copy of his second goal with Wilson providing the screen, and Pedan finding the back of the net through the obscured vision of McNiven. This put the game to 4-3 and this is how it finished through the relatively boring 3rd period.

Saturday 13th January

Three Takeaways

1) Andrey Pedan had himself quite the weekend, getting a hattrick on Saturday and a two assist night on Friday for a 5 point weekend. I still don’t think there’s a lot of NHL upside there, but as weekends go, I don’t think you can ask for much better. Pedan has these moments where he looks amazing, his first goal against Laval being that where he went end to end on a rush and scored. If he could find some consistency, then he would be a legitimate prospect, but I’ve yet to see that.

2) With DeSmith up in Pittsburgh, Anthony Peters got to take over in the starters net again and keeps his run going of winning his last 5 starts. Not bad for a PTO goalie! He’s earned an AHL contract at some point, which unfortunately might not be with the Baby Penguins because of Leighton still being around, but depending on the outlook of the injury, he might end up here. He’s done well in his limited work.

3) Talking of streaks, WBS themselves are on a 7-game winning streak. As we talked about when they went through their downswing of sorts when they lost 8 of 14 games, there was always enough talent in the team to bounce back from that swing and go on a streak of their own and through this current winning streak, they’ve propelled themselves back up to the top of the Atlantic division and trail only the Marlies in regard to winning percentage in the Eastern Conference. There’s a lot of hockey left to play, but the Penguins are in a really strong spot.

WBS Results Recap: Wednesday 3rd January

As always, we start with transactions. Wydo and Gardiner come back up to WBS after they went down to Wheeling for a few days and Simon only spent a game down in WBS before heading back up to Pittsburgh. Adam Morrison was released from his PTO as Murray returned from injury and DeSmith, Pedan and Wilson come back down. However, with Jarry picking up an injury in Pittsburgh, DeSmith is likely to head back up so we’re turning back the clock with Sebastien Caron signing a PTO to be the backup goalie for tonight. Christian Thomas also returns from the Spengler Cup

Wednesday Night (1/3/2018)

Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Home) – 3-2 OT Win

Pedan, Wilson, and Thomas all straight back in, as Taylor and Prow stay in on the D. Spionzzi, Trotman and Johnson take a seat to make space for the returning players. Anthony Peters takes the start in net. A bad start for the Penguins saw them down 1-0 early to Bridgeport as Travis St Denis scored on the powerplay, ripping a one timer from the right half wall on a Blueger cross checking minor. Bridgeport then doubled that lead to 2 through Michael Dal Colle finishing off a rebound opportunity despite Peters’ best attempts to thwart him. Bridgeport carried much of the play for the rest of the first and the second period as well, registering 22 shots to the Baby Penguins 13. A stick tap must be given to Peters for keeping them in the game up to that point. In the third, the Penguins woke up and after a questionably waived off goal for DiPauli, WBS were undeterred and continued to pile on the pressure, with Zach Aston-Reese being rewarded for his hard work throughout the game with a bobbling shot off a face off win by Dea bringing the game to a 2-1 scoreline. Despite the unrelenting pressure, it wasn’t until 24 seconds left in the game that the Penguins tied it up through Greg McKegg on the powerplay after Bridgeport captain Ben Holmstrom took an incredibly ill advised penalty for roughing Czuczman with under 2 minutes left in the game. As we hit overtime, Blueger drew the first shift and responded with a wicked backhanded shot on a St Denis turnover, poetically writing his wrong from earlier in the game and giving Blueger his 10th goal of the year as well as Wilkes-Barre’s 3rd win on the bounce

Wednesday 3rd January

December Prospect Review

For our 3rd monthly prospect update, we’re going to lose a couple of guys from the goalie category. Sean Maguire got traded out of the organization and Tristan Jarry is the full time NHL backup. I don’t think we can really consider a full time NHL player a prospect, so here we are. All stats are accurate up to 31st December.

Forward

Jordy Bellerive, 5’10, 194 (UDFA, 2017) – Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

With the year he’s having, I cannot understand why Jordy Bellerive didn’t get drafted. He’s now at 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 35 games, with an additional 36 PIMs. While it’s not much clearer if he’s going to be a center or a winger in the pro game, he has the ability to translate between the two pretty effortlessly and his skillset is one that the Penguins will appreciate with his speed and grittiness.

Jan Drozg, 6’0, 174 (5th round, 2017) – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

Shawinigan is still awful and haven’t yet found a home for Jan Drozg as a trade piece. His production took a little bit of a hit as he tied for 2nd in points with 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) in 31 games, but he did get to spend 5 games playing for Slovenia at the 1B World Juniors where he put up 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 5 games as he dragged them kicking and screaming to a bronze medal. That’s a nice showing for a guy who’s not having a great time with his junior team.

Daniel Sprong, 6’0, 181 (2nd round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Daniel Sprong is clearly a player in need of adversity and external motivation. Through the 12 games in December following his healthy scratch, he scored 9 goals and 5 assists for 14 points with his consistency away from the puck increasing. His need for external motivation was no clearer than when he did not get called up when Bryan Rust got hurt, so he responded with a 4 point night against Hartford. Pittsburgh noticed and called him up for his first NHL game on the 31st of December, where he put in a good showing. If Mike Sullivan can keep him engaged, Sprong will be better for it.

Dominik Simon, 5’11, 176 (5th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)/Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)

Dominik Simon has become pretty familiar with the trip between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, as he was called up for 6 games at the beginning of December, was sent back down on December 31st and then recalled on January 1st. In his time with the big Penguins, he was a healthy scratched occasionally, but he looked good as he played up and down the lineup, getting 2 assists in 6 games. Plenty of fans would argue he was more deserving of a lineup spot over a handful of Penguins, but his recall would hopefully indicate that is to be the case going forward.

Sam Miletic, 6’0, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – London Knights (OHL)

Another good month for Sam Miletic as he ups his production to 44 points (12 goals, 32 assists) in 31 games. His goal scoring production is down from last year, and his goal total is what got him signed by the Penguins, so I’m not exactly sold on him as a prospect, but we’ll see how he fits when he turns pro. He likely won’t turn pro until next year as London looks to make a deep playoff run.

Kasper Bjorkqvist, 6’1, 205 (2nd round, 2016) – Providence College (NCAA)

Compared to Patric Hornqvist by his own college coach, Kasper Bjorkqvist is probably a more defensively inclined incarnation for Providence, who won the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh to end the year. His production is better than last year at 9 points (7 goals, 2 assists) through 20 games, but certainly not where the Penguins would have liked it. While he has a skill set that means he’ll likely be a 4th liner at worst, there’s not much ceiling there for Bjorkqvist. What is working in his favor is that he is only a sophomore, so we’ll have to wait and see if he gets a bump in production as a junior.

JS Dea, 5’11, 175 (UDFA, 2013) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

The production for JS Dea isn’t as good as you would hope for a 4th year pro at 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in 31 games, but he’s been a victim of WBS hitting a rough stretch of games. He stills plays all situations for the Baby Penguins and is showing a translatable bottom 6 skill set, so I expect him to make a strong push for a bottom 6 spot next year as he just misses out on Group 6 UFA status, thankfully for the Penguins.

Teddy Blueger, 6’0, 185 (2nd round, 2012) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Teddy Blueger is still as solid defensively as he’ll ever be, but has seen a little uptick in his offensive production recently, getting to 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 31 games, with 10 of those points coming in the 14 December games and not registering a point on the marginal powerplay time he has received. His production is really impressive considering his defensive deployment and he will push for NHL time next season right out of camp.

Thomas DiPauli, 5’11, 187 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

While he only added 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) through 10 December games, Thomas DiPauli played through a lot of bad games for WBS and missed 4 of their better games through an undisclosed family issue around Christmas time. I advocate for him to make the NHL team sooner rather than later, as he brings speed, forechecking and penalty killing ability and has found a bit of a goalscoring touch this year.

Adam Johnson, 6’0, 175 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Adam Johnson is still without a home of sorts in the lineup, but remains mostly at wing now. He’s played both defensive deployment with Blueger and also saw some offensive time with Greg McKegg and Sprong. He appeared in 10 games in December, scoring 5 assists and 1 goal in that time. He has great skating, but his current struggle is adding weight and strength to his frame. That is something that should come in the offseason.

Linus Olund, 5’11, 185 (5th round, 2017) – Brynas IF (SHL)            

With Brynas dwindling in mediocrity, Linus Olund is struggling to really rack up the points, but as a 20 year old in a men’s league, 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) through 30 games is plenty respectable. Good skating and being defensively reliable are what you get out of Olund and we’ll see him in NA soon enough. He’s a nice piece to have in your depth chart going forward.

Nikita Pavlychev, 6’7, 212 (7th round, 2015) – Penn State (NCAA)

Nikita Pavlychev is putting together a nice season for himself considering his size and his project status. He’s currently at 10 points (7 goals, 3 assists) in 20 games, and I very much expect him to return for his junior year, then turn pro. He has good size and skating, so if nothing else, will become a difficult to play against defensively minded player. Any added offense would be a nice step.

Anthony Angello, 6’5, 205 (5th round, 2014) – Cornell University (NCAA)

Anthony Angello now sits at 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) through 13 games for Cornell which puts him on course for a similar offensive output as his stellar freshman year. I suspect the Penguins will try to encourage Angello to come out of college this summer as he has the size and skating of a pro hockey player already, and his deployment in Cornell isn’t as offensive as they’d like it to be. He’ll be a nice addition to WBS and you can’t ever say no to a big bodied center with some solid offensive skills.

Zach Aston-Reese, 6’0, 205 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Appearing in all 14 games for WBS through December, Zach Aston-Reese added 7 points to his total on the year through 3 goals and 4 assists. His contributions on the score sheet, however, are not as impressive as his off puck work, where he regularly wins his board battles and has begun to be worked into the PK rotation. Another prospect likened to Hornqvist, this time by Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin, he’s considered a good guy to play with as he does all of the dirty work on the boards and behind the net to free up his team mates. He’s also not afraid to mix it up as he picked himself up 2 fighting majors against tough AHL players in Tyler Lewington and Michael Latta.

Sam Lafferty, 6’1, 185 (4th round, 2014) – Brown University (NCAA)

Sam Lafferty got noted for his athleticism by Guerin and Erik Heasley, a hockey operations assistant for the Penguins. While he’s not the fastest skater, he has a strong athletic base which shows in his strength on the puck and his above average skating ability. He’s having a bit of a down year production wise with only 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 13 games, but the Penguins have a lot of interest in him signing his ELC as he has good hockey IQ and skills. It will be interesting to see how he does on a better team.

Freddie Tiffels, 6’1, 201 (6th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Frederik Tiffels got sent down to Wheeling again to start the year, where he’s at 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 15 games, before coming back up to WBS where he’s got into 3 games that he didn’t register a point in. Tiffels hasn’t got himself into any PK rotation with the AHL team, and seems likely to go back down to Wheeling soon enough. He’s still fast, but his puck skills still have a lot of room for growth.

Defense

Clayton Phillips, 5’11, 174 (3rd round, 2017) – Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA)

Clayton Phillips didn’t add any points in the extra 2 games he played in the USHL this year, but he did get some good news as the Golden Gophers added him for the spring semester as they wanted to add offense from their blueline. While Phillips didn’t score in either of the two games he got into with Minnesota, he had 6 shots and was a +1. Phillips is going to see a nice amount of time with Minnesota and it’s only going to be good for his development.

Lukas Bengtsson, 5’10, 192 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Unfortunately for Lukas Bengtsson, he only managed to appear in 4 games for WBS in December as he picked up an upper-body injury that has kept him for ‘week-to-week’, whatever that means in non-coach speak. He did receive some praise from Guerin however, talking about how you won’t be wowed by him, but he makes all the little ‘under the radar’ plays that will help you to win games and he has a strong competitive spirit.

Dane Birks, 6’2, 183 (6th round, 2013) – Michigan Tech (NCAA)

Dane Birks is just keeping on with what he’s keeping on with, up to 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 21 games and continuing to be a steady defensive presence for a not particularly strong Michgan Tech team. Expect Birks to get an ELC this offseason. He’s earned it from where he was 2 years ago and the Penguins don’t have many prospects who are pro on D.

Niclas Almari, 6’3, 210 (5th round, 2016) – HPK (Liiga)/LeKi (Mestis)

Thankfully, Niclas Almari has managed to get into some games for LeKi in the Finnish 2nd division. There was also an explanation from Guerin on Almari’s point total being pretty awful as HPK play some ‘1995 Devil’s Hockey’ and has reportedly added some serious mass to his frame, bumping up 30 pounds from his drafted weight of 181 pounds. Guerin also waxed lyrical on his skating ability and how eager Almari is to come over. Be excited for the kid, I think he’s going to be a good one pretty soon.

William Reilly, 6’3, 196 (7th round, 2017) – RPI (NCAA)

After starting the year at a blistering pace, William Reilly has cooled off and now sits at 8 points (6 goals, 2 assists) through 19 games. RPI are not a good team, but you’d have hoped for a bigger bump in production from Reilly with his sophomore year and his cooling off leads to questions about his consistency. He’s still an intriguing prospect because of his size and skating ability, but his junior year will be very interesting.

Connor Hall, 6’3, 190 (3rd round, 2016) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Hall has only appeared in 3 games since our last update as he’s been out of the lineup with an injury since the end of November, and added 0 points to his 6 assists on the year so far. He can still skate pretty well for a 6’3″ defender, but his long and lengthy injury history alongside his lack of offensive production as a soon to be 20 year old in a junior league really puts a damper on his ceiling as a professional hockey player and I wouldn’t be awfully surprised to see the Penguins only offer him an AHL deal.

Antti Palojarvi, 6’1, 176 (6th round, 2017) – Luuko U20 (Liiga U20)

Appearing in a further 7 games and registering another assist, Antti Palojarvi’s disappointing year continues and it’s unsure what his next step is going to be as his junior contract expires this year. A stint in the NCAA would likely be the best step for his development, but it’s unsure whether he is interested in that route. He needs to add weight and find some additional offensive ability from somewhere or face being left behind by the other prospects in the system.

Joseph Masonius, 6’0, 190 (6th round, 2016) – Connecticut (NCAA)

Joseph Masonius is now up to 14 games with 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists), and looks to be chugging along at an okay rate. His size and lack of offensive production, however, doesn’t fill me with confidence with his future in professional hockey. I wouldn’t expect Masonius to be given an ELC right now, but he may wish to come out and work his way up through an AHL deal translating into an ELC. A lack of defensive prospects turning pro works in his favour.

Zachary Lauzon, 6’1, 190 (2nd round, 2017) – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

I would love to give you an update on the ridiculous reach that Zachary Lauzon was for the Penguins and if it looks like a shrewd piece of scouting, but he hasn’t played a game in December as he remains out with an undisclosed injury. A bad pick isn’t looking any better with the less time he plays.

Ryan Jones, 6’2, 192 (4th round, 2016) – University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)

Ryan Jones added 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in his last 6 games to get to 16 games and 6 points on the season. A random offensive explosion for Jones is a good thing, as it shows he has some puck ability that he hadn’t shown recently and bumps him to 3rd on Nebraska Omaha in points for a D. If he continues to show some development offensively, his size makes him an intriguing prospect and I’ll have to reconsider my thoughts on him.

Jeff Taylor, 6’0, 185 (7th round, 2014) – Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

Getting into a game for WBS and appearing in another 4 for Wheeling in between being a healthy scratch providing cover in WBS, Jeff Taylor has been moving back and forth across Pennsylvania for the best part of December. In his WBS season debut, he registered his first AHL point on an assist, and looked pretty solid, albeit in the 1 game I saw him in. A nice AHL debut is good progress for Taylor and I expect him to be a staple for WBS next year or if injuries start to take hold this year.

Ethan Prow, 5’11, 185 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Ethan Prow only got into 4 games with WBS, but looked very strong in those games, adding 2 assists and handling some PP duties. He also got into 3 games for Wheeling, but didn’t add any stats in those games. His games in WBS were a solid basis to get into more games, and with Bengtsson missing through injury, there’s a good opportunity for Prow to build off those games.

Goalie

Filip Gustavsson, 6’2, 183 (2nd round, 2016) – Lulea HF (SHL)

The stats aren’t there for Filip Gustavsson, who’s down to a 3.04 and an .887 in the SHL, but he is the #1 goalie at the WJC’s for Sweden, one of the favorites, and has put forth an incredibly good 1.62 GAA and .923% as one of the top goalies at the tournament. I am excited to see how he translates his positive play here back to the SHL and furthermore how splitting time in the AHL from next year onwards.

Alex D’Orio, 6’3, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Alex D’Orio is dragging his stats up despite Saint John being awful, getting himself to 3.35 GAA and a .901. D’Orio’s resilience in the face of his bad team is a really nice thing for him to show and adds another solid goaltending prospect to the Penguins pipeline, which is never a bad thing to have.

WBS Results Recap: Weekend of December 31st

Transactions first, again. DeSmith, Corrado, Pedan and Wilson all go up to the NHL, Wydo goes back to the ECHL and Anthony Peters (who was previously with the Penguins) and Adam Morrison (most recently of Wheeling in the ECHL) come in as goalies on PTOs. Injury wise, Bengtsson, Kostopoulos, Prow and Sestito all remain out, and DiPauli and Leighton join them on the injury list. A back to back for the Baby Penguins with Hartford at home on Friday night then Saturday night is a road game in Hershey.

Friday Night (12/22/2017)

Hartford Wolf Pack (Home) – 5-1 Win

McKegg gets back into the lineup alongside Taylor and Spionzzi dressing to deal with the call ups to WBS, with McGrath also returning. Peters gets the start in net. A chippy start to this game including a fight between Trotman and Graves saw the Penguins jump out to a 1-0 lead on a delayed tripping call that Smith drew and finished off by tipping in a Sprong one timer fed to him by Taylor who got his first AHL point of his career with the secondary assist. Hartford did tie the game at 1 with under a minute left as sustained pressure in the WBS defensive zone resulted in Pionk finding Whitney on the backdoor wide open who finished with aplomb. WBS then proceeded to take over the game after McGrath managed to accrue 27 penalty minutes in one fight and somehow not leave the Penguins shorthanded, as Sprong added to his assist in the 1st with 2 goals in the second, both assisted by Adam Johnson, sniping each goal into oppsite top corners of the Hartford net. One came from a McKegg dump in that Johnson turned over and fed to Sprong in the slot who shot over Mazanec’s glove, and the second came from Sprong himself forechecking on a Hartford D who turned the puck over to Tinordi who fed Johnson in transition, who performed a nifty drop pass that Sprong then ripped over the blocker of Mazanec and subsequently trash talked a Hartford forward who tried to check him after his shot. A more reserved 3rd from WBS saw Peters making 13 saves to give him 27 saves from 28 shots on the night. In between his good work, the Penguins got a shorthanded goal from Aston-Reese who received a pass off the boards from Blueger after he single handedly cleared the zone off a defensive draw, then ZAR shot 5-hole on Mazanec to give the Pens a 4-1 lead. The win was all but put to bed after Sprong completed the hat trick with an empty netter after good work again from Blueger turned the puck over and Sprong shot from just outside the offensive zone and saw the hats rain from a packed Moheagan Sun Arena.

Friday 29th December.jpg

Saturday Night (12/23/2017)

Hershey Bears (Away) – 2-1 OT Win

A few transactions occurred, with Wydo and Gardiner coming up from Wheeling and Simon coming back down from Pittsburgh as Sprong finally gets the call up to the NHL that fans have been clamouring for (somewhat prematurely) for over a month. Simon immediately gets back into the lineup, alongside DiPauli and Prow who both return from injury and Wydo up from Wheeling, knocking McGrath, Quinney and Taylor out of the lineup. Peters gets the back to back starts. After an early PK for WBS, they took over the majority of the first period, including two deadly looking powerplays, but couldn’t find the back of the net before the buzzer and we entered the 2nd period looking for someone to break the tie. It took until 7:26 in the 2nd for the first goal of the game, and what a goal it was, with Aston-Reese finding himself space in the slot where he was fed the puck by JS Dea and ZAR sniped the puck bar down to give WBS a lead that held until the 2nd intermission as they take a 1-0 lead into the 3rd period. However, the 3rd period started off poorly for the Penguins with Graovac scoring 3 minutes into the 3rd and Hershey continued to pile on the pressure as a result of 2 minors taken by the Baby Penguins. However, at about 10 minutes, momentum changed and at 16:21, Dea was adamant he had put the puck into the net off a scramble. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the referees initial ruling of no goal was confirmed by a review. Despite this, WBS kept up their pressure that they had generated until just over 2 minutes left when Summers took an ill advised interference penalty to give Hershey a great opportunity to win. After some good chances for Hershey, they took a tripping penalty to even the game at 4 on 4 30 seconds into their powerplay. A dramatic end to regulation saw a 4 on 2 for Hershey dissipate just as Summers stepped out the box, which then led to Summers getting a breakaway opportunity that was thwarted by Vanecek and we headed to OT tied at 1. In OT, after some perimeter passing by both teams, Dominik Simon broke in 1 on 1 against a D, used him as a screen and sniped it into the opposite corner to Aston-Reese to give WBS the 2 points and the W on the night.

Saturday 30th December.jpg

THREE TAKEAWAYS

1) This was the rebound weekend the Baby Penguins would have been looking for, and what a pair of performances it was. Absolutely blowing away Hartford on the scoreboard and then dominating large parts of the game against a strong Hershey team, this is a great response from a team that had something up with it for the last 10 games. Hopefully WBS can build off this and go on another long streak like they did earlier in the year.

2) While I don’t fully understand why Simon was demoted when Sprong was recalled given he looked better than a number of regular NHL Penguins, but what the NHL loses by not having Simon is the AHL’s gain as Simon looked as good as he ever has in the game at Hershey. He was consistently forechecking, turning pucks over, laying the body and made numerous great plays with the puck to get himself free or find an open team mate. If he keeps playing this way, it’ll be hard to not keep him on the NHL roster. I’ll admit, I was down on Simon’s upside in the NHL, but I have been converted.

3) You have to give a stick tap to Anthony Peters. He once again answered the Penguins call on a PTO and stopped 47 of 49 shots he saw over the weekend and looked strong throughout, especially early in the 3rd period of the Hershey game when Hershey started to pour on the pressure. With Matt Murray seemingly not far away from returning, you have to think that Peters’ time with the Penguins was short again, but it’s a nice person to have available should the Penguins ever encounter another goalie situation.

Who is Derick Brassard?

Derick Brassard has been the subject of a number of rumors that have linked him to the Penguins, the Blue Jackets and several other teams, and those rumors were reignited when Brassard missed practice today with a ‘maintenance day’:

Given that the roster freeze is now over, it’s time to dive into who Brassard is and what kind of fit he’d be with the Penguins.

Brassard is a 30 year old 6’1″, 205 pound center whose contract expires in 2019 and carries a cap hit of $5 million AAV. Regularly deployed as a 2nd line center, Brassard averages 0.6 points per game in the NHL and is currently in the midst of a 9 goal, 14 assist in 35 game season for the Ottawa Senators. While Brassard does not have an extended history of killing penalties for any team he’s been on, he’s been a strong defensive presence as a center for Ottawa as he possess an incredibly strong 5.24relCF% and a 6.09relxGF%, so possess the abilities required to translate over and play some PK. Brassard also holds an admirable playoff record, where he has produced 0.71 points per game in the NHL and Mike Sullivan has a brief history of coaching him as Sullivan served as an assistant coach for 25 games Brassard played in New York. He’d fill the Penguins 3C role and likely use his applicable defensive skills to be worked into the penalty kill rotation.

The issue with Brassard is the salary cap. As he holds a $5 million dollar a year contract, the Penguins will have to dump significant salary in order to fit his deal under the current. A player like Carl Hagelin will have to be moved to fit Brassard into the cap, but moving Hagelin is difficult due to his salary compared to his production.

It remains to be seen if this will be who the Penguins target for their 3C position, but if they manage to make it work, this would be a considerable upgrade on Nick Bonino of last year and certainly over Riley Sheahan this year. Below is a highlight video put together by a Rangers player after he got traded to Ottawa: