Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had an outstanding regular season in 2016-2017, winning the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy which is given to the team with the best record in the regular season. This regular season success did not transfer to the playoffs, however, and the Penguins were dumped out in the first round by the Providence Bruins. Many pointed to the NHL Penguins draining the WBS Penguins of offensive talent as a result for this and in a move to address this issue, WBS GM Billy Guerin signed 22 forwards for the Baby Penguins. This includes a plethora of guys with NHL experience as well as two premium offensive forwards to AHL contracts in Colin Smith and Christian Thomas.
Wilkes-Barre also get a new team to play against in the division this year with the Charlotte Checkers moving from the Western Conference to the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference and creating an 8 team division.
Always a difficult thing to predict due to the scheduling nature of the AHL where you’ll regularly play 3 games in 3 nights, and there’s also the issue of the ‘Veteran Rule’.
This rule is implemented to maintain the AHL’s main purpose as a development league and says that a team must dress at least 13 development players, 12 of which must have played less than 260 professional games (which refers to AHL, NHL and European Pro) and 1 of which must have played less than 320 professional games. This determination is made at the beginning of the season, so if a player is at 259 pro games to start the season, they are not considered a veteran.
Looking at the WBS forwards and D, the following players are considered veterans as per this rule:
- Tom Kostopoulos
- Greg McKegg (Still partially eligible due to not reaching 320 games)
- Christian Thomas (Still partially eligible due to not reaching 320 games)
- Tom Sestito
- Colin Smith (Still partially eligible due to not reaching 320 games)
- Garrett Wilson (Still partially eligible due to not reaching 320 games)
- Chris Summers
- Jarred Tinordi (Still partially eligible due to not reaching 320 games)
This means at least one of these players must be rotated out of every game, if not more in order to allow younger players the chance to play. That point becomes moot if McKegg makes the NHL Penguins, which is entirely possible given his performance in the preseason and training camp. However, for the sake of this projection, I will consider him in the AHL. There is also undisclosed injuries to Colin Smith and Dylan Zink and as such, they will not be considered healthy enough for the sake of these lines.
With this in mind, my best guess at the most consistent forward lineup would be, with the suspected healthy scratches in red:
|Zach Aston-Reese||Greg McKegg||Daniel Sprong|
|Dominik Simon||Teddy Blueger||Christian Thomas|
|Garrett Wilson||Adam Johnson||Tom Kostopoulos|
|Thomas DiPauli||Troy Josephs||JS Dea|
|Tom Sestito||Jarrett Burton||Reid Gardiner|
|Chris Summers||Lukas Bengtsson|
|Jarred Tinordi||Zach Trotman|
|Jeff Taylor||Frank Corrado|
|Kevin Czuczman||Ethan Prow|
This would lead to the following players being demoted to Wheeling:
- Freddie Tiffels
- Cody Wydo
- Gage Quinney
- Riley Bourbannis
- Patrick McGrath
- Ryan Haggerty
The WBS Penguins should stand a great chance of winning the Atlantic Division again in the coming year. While the pieces may have changed from this year, and the defense perhaps getting less dynamic with the puck with David Warsofsky moving on to Colorado and Chad Ruhwedel and Derrick Pouliot both presumably graduating to the NHL Penguins, the forwards signed to provide steady offence in spite of call-ups will offset any potential issue with those graduations. Wilkes-Barre also gets the benefit of Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese joining the club full time, at least for a part of the year. Expect a huge offensive year out of Christian Thomas and an increased point output from Teddy Blueger as well this year.
The additions of bigger defensemen on the backend should help the Penguins with teams like Providence, Springfield and Charlotte who are top 10 in average height in the AHL, while the Baby Penguins are at 25th. Players like Tinordi and Trotman should allow the Penguins to match the physicality of these teams without losing their ability to move the puck, while also bringing a plethora of AHL experience to help young players like Zink, Taylor and Bengtsson to learn how to manage a full professional North American season and as Jarry and DeSmith return in the net, the Penguins should once again be at the top of the league in team GAA.
I predict the WBS Penguins will once again have a 50 win season, leading the Atlantic Division. I expect them to make a deeper run into the playoffs than last season due to increased forward depth. This is, as always, dependent on the health of the NHL Penguins and how that might affect WBS, especially on D. I do consider WBS as one of the favorites for the Calder Cup providing they are not forced to lose so many of their players to call ups. Retaining one of Sprong or Aston-Reese for the entire year will be a huge step to achieving that goal.