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Chipped Ice

July 25, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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An attempt at math

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If you visit capfriendly.com, you’ll see the Penguins are listed as being nearly $3 million over the salary cap. A story in the Boston Globe yesterday suggested the Penguins might have “more financial surgery ahead” due to salary cap reasons, citing the time in 2014 when the Islanders picked up Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy on the cheap because the Bruins and Blackhawks needed to move players for cap relief.

If you follow the Penguins’ roster construction process closely, you’ll know that neither of those is an entirely accurate picture of where the team stands cap-wise because of Pascal Dupuis’ long-term injury situation.

By putting Dupuis and his $3.75 million salary on LTIR, the Penguins have some cushion. They don’t need to trade anyone to be cap compliant. They could still sign Matt Cullen and have room for a call-up afterwards.

My math teachers always told me to show my work, so that’s what I’ll try to do after the jump.

I was a journalism major and I’m nobody’s salary cap expert, so my confidence that there won’t be any errors in this post is very low, but I’m proceeding anyway for two reasons. First, I think I can paint a broad-strokes picture that will be somewhat informative for fans who don’t follow this stuff closely. Second, this is the internet and we can crowd-source problems like this. In other words, if you notice something I screwed up in here, let me know and we’ll fix it together.

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July 22, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Unsung hero

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kael

At the end of the Penguins’ run to the Stanley Cup, we talked about unsung heroes.

That’s what you do at the end of a Stanley Cup run. Andy Saucier. Jeff Zatkoff. Unheralded contributors who played important roles on a championship team.

But if you want to get into a really, really unsung hero of this recently acquired title, boy, have I got a name for you.

Kael Mouillierat.

Mouillierat signed with Lulea in Sweden yesterday. Here are the details if you like to read Swedish.

It was a smart move for him. Undrafted out of Minnesota-Mankato, he started in the ECHL and climbed the ladder all the way to a few cups of coffee in the NHL. He played six games with the Islanders and one with the Penguins (the regular-season finale in Philadelphia). He made it to the top, and no one will ever take that away from him. He scored some cool lacrosse-style goals along the way. Now it’s time to go to Europe and make some money. Good times.

Let associated general manager Jason Botterill begin to explain why Mouillierat was an unsung hero for the Penguins.

“He did a great job,” Botterill said last month. “That line was one of the most dominant, if not the most dominant line in the American Hockey League at the start of the year. What we liked a lot about Kael throughout the course of the year was his versatility. Throughout the playoffs, I thought he played very well on the wing with (Dustin) Jeffrey at center. That ability to play multiple positions is something that we like in our prospects and it’s why we went after players  like Eric Fehr. Even (Evgeni) Malkin goes out to the wing at times. It’s great to have that versatility. You look at players such as (Carter) Rowney and (Jake) Guentzel and (Kevin) Porter and (Oskar) Sundqvist. All these players play center and wing and we feel that can be an asset.”

It’s interesting to see how much the Penguins value versatility up front, and I think that will be on display this season as the four players Botterill mentioned — Guentzel, Rowney, Porter and Sundqvist — will probably be needed at one point or another. The fact that they can slot in on the wing or in the middle will make the call-up process go more smoothly.

But what I really want to focus on is the first few sentences of Botterill’s quote.

The dominant AHL line he was referring to saw Mouillierat centering left wing Scott Wilson and right wing Conor Sheary.

Before they were split up by call-ups around Christmastime, Wilson had 15 goals in 25 games and Sheary had 19 assists in 24 games. Those are phenomenal numbers.

Wilson was a good scorer as a rookie out of UMass-Lowell two years ago, but he finished the season with 19 goals in 55 games. That’s not 15 in 25. Sheary was an accomplished scorer pretty much from the moment he stepped onto AHL ice as an undrafted free agent out of UMass-Amherst in the spring of 2014. But in his first full pro season, he had 25 assists in 58 games with WBS. That’s not 19 in 24.

While Sheary and Wilson were putting up those impressive numbers, Mouillierat was their center. He got them kick-started. They did the rest, becoming valuable NHL pieces.

The Penguins are going to need someone to play that same role in Wilkes-Barre again this season. Jake Guentzel and Dominik Simon, to name two, are young wingers who will benefit greatly from playing with a veteran scoring center in the AHL.

There are plenty of candidates. Porter is decidedly a fourth-line grinder when he’s in the NHL, but the guy won a Hobey Baker, let’s not forget. At the AHL level, he can be a playmaking center. Rowney is an undrafted 27-year-old who emerged as a big-time minor-league scorer last season. Someone will step into the role.

But for now, as he heads to Sweden, remember the job Mouillierat did in the first few months of last season. Thanks to him, kids like Sheary and Wilson undoubtedly know by now that women get weary, not woolly.

Bye for now,

jb

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July 13, 2016
by Bill West


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Conversation with new Nailers coach Jeff Christian

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The Wheeling Nailers on Tuesday named their new head coach: Jeff Christian, a former Penguin and a former Devils draft pick who grew close with Bill Guerin when both were rookies. Read all about his career and his connection with Guerin in the link.

Christian, who only joined the Nailers staff as an assistant in January, spoke at length about a variety of topics, and what stuck out to me was how many of his answers sounded like something Mike Sullivan would say. I put the most Sullivan-esque lines in italics.

Q: Did you have a good feeling about your chances at the job after the way last season played out?

A: “I hoped so. I was very hopeful, but I had to go through the interview process. Ultimately, with our playoff success (in Wheeling), I felt I had a very good shot at it, yes.”

Q: How did you end up re-connecting with Bill Guerin?

A: “I was coaching a kids team (based out of) Columbus, Ohio, and Billy’s son was playing for Pens Elite. We bumped into each other in December in Cleveland and just reconnected. I hadn’t seen him in years. We just started talking about it, and he asked me how I liked coaching. I said I loved it, loved being involved, loved working with the kids. So he had given me his phone number and said, ‘Keep in touch.’ So then it was a mutual friend’s birthday, and I texted him saying, ‘Hey, don’t forget it’s so-and-so’s birthday.’ And he called me right away, and he started talking about coaching. He said, ‘What about coaching at Wheeling?’ I said, ‘Yeah, when do I start?’ He said, ‘There’s no money in it.’ I said, ‘Look, I want the opportunity. I want to get back into hockey.’ … So that’s how it happened. He gave me a break. He took a chance on me. And for that, I owe him big time. He’s just an awesome guy.”

Q: You’d done just a little bit of coaching at the professional level, correct?

A: “I was the player-assistant coach (with the Missouri Mavericks in the Central Hockey League), so I did everything but stand on the bench. Like I did travel, and I did immigration… I just hadn’t stood on the bench before, and that was the biggest reason I wanted this job. That was the biggest thing that I was hearing (from employers), was ‘Hey, you’ve done all this other stuff, but you’ve never stood on the bench before.’”

Q: Finally getting the chance to stand on the bench with Wheeling, was it all that different from what you did with youth players?

A: “Yes and no. At the end of the day, I was telling those PeeWee guys that if I ever got a chance to coach pro or Junior or college, I’d teach them the same kind of things. Obviously it’s different, and you can really kind of expand the X’s and O’s and the systems. But ultimately for me, it comes down to playing the game the right way, developing over the course of the year, learning from your mistakes. I really harp on things like taking care of the puck, making good puck decisions. Those are things that you can teach kids. It’s a process of learning and developing, even at the pro level. It’s a process every day to try to help them get better. And that’s what I enjoy, the teaching aspect of it. And in the East Coast league, where we’re getting a lot of first- and second-year pros, I think that’s why we had some success last year. I said, ‘Hey, we’re all going to make mistakes. It’s what you do after the mistake that matters. And if you continue to make the same mistake, then I’m going to try to help you realize this is where you’re at and this is where you need to be.’”

Q: How much of your coaching philosophy do you draw from your playing career?

A: “My playing career was 21 years in the minors, so I may have played for more minor league teams than anyone ever, and I may have been sent down from more NHL camps, 11, than anyone ever. So what can I draw from that? A lot of experience. I’ve been the healthy scratch. I’ve been the extra forward who had to go fight the heavyweight. And I’ve been the league MVP and leading scorer. I’ve played every position except goalie — and I do not claim for one second to know anything about playing goalie except I want them to stop the puck. Pittsburgh has their development goalie guys, and I say, ‘Tell me what you see, because I don’t know anything about that.’ But I learned how to be a pro. Six training camps with New Jersey, four years in their system. Three training camps with Pittsburgh. Up and down between the minors. … I think the biggest thing in my playing career that held me back was my skating. I didn’t have explosive speed. And of course now, that’s what the whole game is about. But puck decisions, learning how to be part of the team, learning what a bad penalty is and selfish penalties. … As a coach, with regards to winning, I say we either have 100 percent complete and total buy-in to the system and to the team, or we have nothing. And if we don’t have that, then we’re going to find the right guys who want that. And it’s a process. Are you going to have that every year? Of course not. Is that your goal? Sure it is.”

Q: Arguably your best stretch in the NHL came in 1996-97 with the Penguins. (Two goals, two assists in 11 games). What does that stint mean to you in what you’ve described as a long and winding career?

A: “The biggest thing that happened that year was I was on pace in the minors to score 50 goals and get over 300 penalty minutes. That was my seventh year pro. I felt at times like I didn’t get my opportunity. Blah, blah, blah. What are you going to do, right? You keep on keeping on. So when I got up to Pittsburgh for an extended period of time, and I looked around and saw Lemieux, Jagr, Francis — the all-time greats. But the fourth-line, which I was on, I said, ‘You know what? I can play with these guys.’ I probably could be an NHL guy. I proved to myself that I could’ve done it. But the other side of the coin is that I made New Jersey’s roster when I was 21 years old. Was there for two weeks, didn’t play a game, got sent down. And my dad used to say to me, ‘Oh, they made a mistake.’ Blah, blah, blah. And I say, ‘What if I broke my leg during that time and never played another game?’ You can’t say ‘What if?’ I had an unbelievably great playing career. I want to have a very long coaching career. But you make the most with what you have. You celebrate every day. You come to the rink with a positive attitude, because it is a privilege to come to the rink every day. And I know that, being out of the game. I want guys who have great attitudes and want to be at the rink.”

Q: Is it your goal to eventually turn this job into an NHL future?

A: “Of course, everybody here in the East Coast league, I mean, if you’re not here to try to develop and get better as a coach or as a player, then you should probably be looking for a different job. We all have our warts, and that’s why we’re here. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’ve got a lot to learn. I sat and listened to Sullivan talk for five minutes the other day, and he had two or three things that came naturally to him that I hadn’t even considered. And I know that, so I need time to develop and learn. … The thing I’ve realized is I’m going to make mistakes. And the players are going to make mistakes. So we’ll be patient.”

Q: Do you hope to tie your future to the Penguins?

A: “Oh, I’m so happy to be a part of the Penguins organization. … They’ve given me not only the opportunity but the resources to succeed. It’s a process for me. I’m not in a hurry. … I went to Billy and Jason (Botterill) and said, ‘I want to be a coach. Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.’ And the answer is to keep on keeping on, learn, experience it. And when you have questions, ask.”

Q: During your playing days, you were someone who played with an edge and some meanness. Is that personality still there as a coach?

A: “I think the team takes on the personality of the coach, so if I’m behind the bench just losing my mind all day and all night, the team is going to feel out of control and kind of just in chaos. So I want to be cool, calm and collected. I want to talk and I want to have patience. Now there were times during the playoffs where I felt like I had tigers on a leash and I was holding them back, like ‘Discipline! Discipline! Patience!’ And then there were times where I felt like I was a jockey on a horse, and I was giving them the whip, just asking for some more. And that’s coaching. … I’m not a big motivational speaker guy. I do that outside of the rink, like when I go talk about coaching. But inside the locker room, I’m not giving you Herb Brooks’ Miracle on Ice speech. I’ll talk to you. I’ll explain to you. I’ll help motivate you. I think that’s a big part of coaching, finding out how each guy ticks. It’s like Billy said to me, great coaches will find out how to give players their cookies. … I want our players to play to their strengths. I don’t want to put you in a position to fail. … I always say, ‘Play to your strengths. Develop your weaknesses.’ And that’s what I’m here for. I want them to invest in themselves. I hope every player that I ever coach here gets promoted. Is that going to happen? Of course not. But that’s my goal. I’m going to help each one get better. And I love every minute of it. … I look at a guy like Sullivan, that guy is awesome. He’s got a plan. He’s got a presence. But he’s got the players’ backs, and they love him. That’s my guy. I want to be around that guy. I want to learn from him. I want to just be a fly on the wall to see how he does it.”

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July 13, 2016
by Bill West


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Justin Schultz on signing with Penguins

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After almost two weeks of testing the waters of NHL free agency, defenseman Justin Schultz signed a one-year deal worth $1.4 million with the Penguins on Wednesday.

The price tag certainly sat better with Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford than the almost $4 million that would’ve been required as a qualifying offer to retain Schultz’s rights as a restricted free agent. Schultz presumably wanted as much as the market would provide him, but in the end, no suitor presented an opportunity that swung the 26-year-old defenseman’s preference away from the Penguins.

Q: Was Pittsburgh always near the top of your list for places to sign?

A: “Right from the start, I wanted to go back to Pittsburgh. I felt comfortable there. I love the group of guys, the coaches, the city, everything about it. I wanted to go there, so it’s definitely a relief to get this done, and I’m excited to get back at it.”

Q: How vital were guys like Sergei Gonchar & Jacques Martin to you becoming the player you did, particularly in the playoffs?

A: “All of the coaches were a huge help. I think Sergei Gonchar was unbelievable for me. Just the little things that he’d show you. He always had something, which would always help. Jacques was a great, too. They obviously have a lot of knowledge about the game, so any time they talk, you listen.”

Q: What were you expecting during that restricted free agency period before July 1?

A: “I kind of had a feeling that I wasn’t going to get qualified, which was all right. You just become a free agent. Then I still wanted to go back to Pittsburgh. In the end, it all worked out.”

Q: Did it help that you went through free agency coming out of college? What did you draw from that experience?

A: “Just be patient. This time around, it was a lot less crazy than the last time, which was a lot easier. But yeah, just be patient. You have a team that you want to go to, and that was Pittsburgh for me.”

Q: Did you have a timeline in mind where you wanted to wait until a certain point and then make a decision? Or was it a day-by-day situation?

A: “It was day by day. July 1, I was just kind of seeing what was out there and going through the process. Pittsburgh was there. I felt it was time to sign and go back.”

Q: With a one-year deal, what’s your focus for this next season?

A: “I’ve got to have a big year. It’s as simple as that. A big summer here to try and get ready. Come into camp ready to go. Then hopefully I’ll stay in Pittsburgh for a lot longer. That’s where I want to be.”

Q: What’s your sense of where you stand in the Penguins’ depth chart going into camp?

A: “My mindset is just come into there trying to make the team. I think you have to have that mindset. Competition is always a good thing. I’ll come in, work hard and see where it goes from there.”

Q: So no resting on your laurels as the guy who finished in the top six to end the season?

A: “No. It’s a new season. You get a couple months off here. Everyone is working hard this summer to get ready to go. You’ve got to be ready, and if you’re not, you won’t be in the lineup.”

Q: Did free agency cut into any of your summer plans, or are you still finding time to enjoy yourself?

A: “I’ve been doing it all. (Free agency) definitely didn’t slow it down. I’ve got a Cup day coming up here soon (July 28), so that’ll be fun.”

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July 7, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Cost of Doing Business

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At first glance, it looks like the Penguins have been doing their free agent shopping at Big Lots this summer. They’ve signed seven players, all to two-way contracts that pay them the league minimum of $575,000 when in the NHL.

But a closer look reveals it’s expensive for NHL teams to acquire depth these days, no matter where they’re shopping.

Capfriendly.com has listed the AHL salary portion of the two-way contracts signed by five of the seven new additions to the Penguins. Figures aren’t yet available for the newest signing, power forward Garrett Wilson, as well as defenseman Cameron Gaunce. Here are the other five:

STEVE OLEKSY 300,000
DAVID WARSOFSKY 300,000
CHAD RUHWEDEL 250,000
TOM SESTITO 200,000
STUART PERCY 200,000

Kevin Porter and Tim Erixon also signed two-ways that pay them $575,000 when up and $200,000 when down. That’s a total of $1.65 million, minimum, for seven depth players.

I asked associate general manager Jason Botterill before July 1 where he thought the Penguins ranked as far as their willingness to spend on the minor league salaries of depth free agents. He said he didn’t know where the team stood relative to other teams, but …

“Ownership has always given us a lot of resources to try to find the best players available out there,” Botterill said.

Botterill said the majority of the time, depth free agents choose their destinations not based on their AHL pay but on their chances of reaching the NHL.

“When we talk to these players, you talk about best-case scenarios and worst-case scenarios,” Botterill said. “Best-case scenario is you’re playing at Consol Energy Center and have 18,000 fans cheering you on. We also ask them to make sure they’re aware of the worst-case scenario, and from our standpoint, the worst-case scenario is still pretty good. We treat players in Wilkes-Barre well. We give them direct instructions on what they have to do get back to the National Hockey League. Jeff Barrett has always set up a good model down there. But you always have to go over things with players to make sure they understand what they’re getting into with your organization and there’s no surprises once the season starts.”

Regardless, it’s not like the Penguins are the only NHL team spending significant amounts of cash on depth players. By my count, again using Capfriendly.com, 18 players have signed two-way contracts with AHL salaries of $300,000 or more since July 1. A list:

DEREK GRANT BUF 400,000
CHRIS PORTER STL 350,000
ANDREW BODNARCHUK DAL 350,000
VICTOR BARTLEY MIN 350,000
LINDEN VEY CGY 325,000
SPENCER ABBOTT CHI 325,000
PHIL VARONE OTT 325,000
MIKE KOSTKA OTT 325,000
JOE WHITNEY COL 325,000
ADAM CRACKNELL DAL 325,000
ADAM CLENDENING NYR 300,000
JUSTIN FALK BUF 300,000
TAYLOR FEDUN BUF 300,000
JAMIE MCBAIN ARI 300,000
MIKE SISLO COL 300,000
TJ BRENNAN PHL 300,000
CHRIS TERRY MTL 300,000
SAM CARRICK CHI 300,000

That doesn’t even count guys like Philadelphia’s Will O’Neill ($575,000) and Andy Miele ($600,000), Vancouver’s Jayson Megna ($600,000) and St. Louis’ Kenny Agostino ($625,000), who got one-way deals even though they’re likely to spend most or all of the season in the minors.

This represents a greater-than-inflation rise in AHL salaries.

In 2012-13, I could find eight players making at least $300,000 on the AHL portion of their two-way contracts — Andre Benoit, Andrew Ebbett, Kris Newbury, Micheal Haley, T.J. Hensick, Keith Aucoin, Mike Zigomanis and Trevor Smith.

In 2010-11, I could find two — Aucoin and Chris Minard.

It just goes to show you that even the cheapest of free agent signings are, in real-world money, getting more and more expensive by the year.

Bye for now,

jb

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July 2, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Prospect camp wrap-up

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Here are some notes from from the Penguins’ annual development, which wrapped up with a three-on-three tournament this afternoon. Let’s start with three stars for the entire week:

1. JAKE GUENTZEL

He’s quick, crafty, skilled and makes players around him better. That’s one thing when he’s setting up established pros like Carter Rowney and Tom Kostopoulos like he did in a late-season stint with WBS. It’s even more impressive when he’s setting up lesser-known development camp teammates for goals, like he did with Connor Lemirande in today’s scrimmage.

Assistant general manager Bill Guerin’s thoughts on Guentzel:

“He’s gotta focus on having a good summer. You can’t rest on something you did a couple of months ago because there’s always next year. The biggest thing for Jake is that (after) he came in and played so well and did so well, he’s not going to be a secret anymore. He’s going to have to come in and earn it all over again. We’re going to have to manage our expectations as a management group to make sure we’re giving Jake a lot of support and pushing him in the right direction.”

2. ANTHONY ANGELLO

The Penguins had a lot of big guys in this camp, a few 6-foot-7 kids, a handful of others between 6-3 and 6-5. Most of them skate and move like big guys. Angello doesn’t, even though he’s 6-4. He’s skilled and athletic. Lots of potential in this kid, who just finished his freshman year at Cornell. More on him later.

3. ETHAN PROW

He’s got four years of college under his belt, so when he looked more polished than most of the other players in camp, it wasn’t a surprise. But there was more to his successful showing in camp than that. He has legit puck-handling skills and a big-time shot.

Now, some other thoughts:

— C.J. Yakimowicz had 22 goals and 267 penalty minutes in 148 OHL games with the London Knights, so it’s no secret what kind of game he plays. But in the tournament final today, he roofed a backhand shot on a breakaway, sending the water bottle flying. Silky mitts, as the kids say. “Three on three just brings it out in me. I’m a 3v3 specialist, I guess,” he joked. More on him later.

— When the Penguins drafted Connor Hall last weekend, I think the perception of hockey Twitter was that he was a knuckle-dragging, face-punching Neanderthal who went against everything the Penguins were trying to build on defense. Not the case. At all. Hall scored two goals in the first scrimmage of the day, then netted the decisive shootout goal on a hard, accurate wrister blocker side in off the post. “At the start of junior, I just saw myself as a shutdown defenseman. I only had two goals this year. But to add some offensive ability and get more comfortable with the puck, it’s going to help my game going forward,” Hall said.

— Nikita Pavlychev, a 6-7 center who will attend Penn State in the fall, is an interesting prospect. He’s so big that your first instinct is to say he’s slow, but then you watch him in skating drills and see the way he turns and uses his edges and you think he’s actually a pretty good skater. He’s a long-term prospect to keep an eye on.

— Cameron Hebig and James McEwan were the two 19-year-old junior kids in camp and they both showed exceptional puck skills.

— Niclas Almari has a sneaky skill level to his game. Smooth.

— Freddie Tiffels is an outstanding skater.

— Lukas Bengtsson had a quiet scrimmage today until all of a sudden, he found a loose puck in the slot and scored off the crossbar on a bomb of a slapshot. All those defensemen the Penguins signed yesterday to two-way contracts may have pushed Bengtsson down the depth chart for now, but I don’t know how long he’ll stay down. He’s talented.

— Guerin’s thoughts on the defensive depth acquired on July 1: “Very happy with it. Very happy. We were able to land targeted guys. We’re very happy with what each individual guy brings to the table. For us, especially in those positions, the character we brought in we think is very, very high. I think our depth is back. We have guys that can come up and give us games, for sure. You have guys that are going to challenge for a spot on the big team. We’re very happy.”

Beyond that, when it comes to an event like development camp, there are more stories to tell than there are available column inches in a newspaper. So here are 3,000 words worth of some of the untold tales from this week.

REID GARDINER

JUNIOR HOCKEY SNIPER LOOKING FOR A CONTRACT

For the majority of players in Cranberry this week, Penguins development camp was more a learning experience more than a job interview.

Of the 35 players who were in attendance, 13 were unsigned draft picks, six were signed to NHL contracts and two have inked AHL deals. That left 14 players in camp on tryouts, but most of them will return to their college or junior teams in the fall.

So only a few young players were actually skating with their professional careers hanging in the balance.

Reid Gardiner was one of them.

A 20-year-old winger, Gardiner has been passed over in the draft process, likely because his skating isn’t a strong point.

“Every player wants to improve on the little things, stick position and body position, things like that, but the big thing for me has got to be skating,” Gardiner said. “I always have to try to be faster and quicker and more explosive on my skates.”

Skating concerns haven’t stopped Gardiner from being one of the top scorers in the Western Hockey League, however. He’s racked up 99 goals in 208 games over the past three seasons, numbers sure to open some eyes.

Gardiner has been to development camps before, once with Minnesota and once with Vancouver, but now it’s getting serious.

“It’s not really about experience now. It’s about earning a spot in an organization,” he said earlier this week. “Coming in here, that’s one of my goals. I’m very excited to be here. They showed a lot of interest in me and I’m excited for the future.”

Pittsburgh has become a coveted destination for prospects who don’t have flashy pedigrees because several players who fit that description played key roles for the Penguins in their run to the Stanley Cup.

Gardiner would like to add his name to that list.

“I think it’s a good camp to come to,” he said. “Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Matt Murray, their names have been tossed around here the last couple days. It’s exciting to come here and look at people on the team who have been late picks and free agents and realize it’s not just a dream. It could be a reality.”

 

DYLAN ZINK

MODERN DEFENSEMAN

Because the Penguins won a Stanley Cup less than a month ago with a group of defensemen who are much better at moving the puck that clearing the crease, the organization has become a beacon of hope for a particular brand of prospect.

The undersized but swift-skating offensive defenseman.

Lukas Bengtsson and Ethan Prow, undrafted free agents who signed with the Penguins in the spring, certainly fit the mold. So does 5-foot-10, 174-pound defenseman Dylan Zink, who attended development camp as a tryout.

“The last probably five, 10 years, the game has really changed,” Zink said. “Not all your defensemen are 6-foot-4 bangers. You’ve got guys who can join the play, get back to pucks, move the puck well, think the game as well as play physical too. I’m not going to be the biggest force out there on the ice, so I’ve got to use my brains and a little bit more skill.”

Zink has been successful in that quest over the past two seasons, hitting double digits in goals as both a sophomore and junior at UMass-Lowell. He is planning to return to school for his senior year in the fall, but his is a name to remember moving forward.

“I like to play a fast game, move the puck, kind of get up in the play a little bit,” Zink said. “You watch all playoffs how fast these guys play. The commentators talked about it all the time, how fast. At Lowell, we try to play fast too. I think the styles probably meshed a little bit.”

 

TEDDY BLUEGER

NOT FAR FROM HIS NHL DEBUT

Of the 18 forwards on the ice at development camp, Jake Guentzel is the closest to being ready for NHL duty. Teddy Blueger is probably second.

A 6-foot, 185-pound second-round pick from the 2012 draft, Blueger joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the end of his senior season in the spring and carved out a spot for himself as a fourth-line center and penalty killer.

“I was trying to come in and learn as much as I can,” Blueger said. “It was a lot of fun, just watching some of the older guys and the great players they had like (Tom Kostopoulos) and Dustin Jeffrey and those guys and trying to learn from them, seeing what they do in practice and their off-ice habits. I think it was a little bit tough coming into a team where everybody has their roles established. It was tougher in terms of seeing how you fit in and how you can help the team. I was glad I could be a part of it.”

Blueger’s NHL future may indeed be as a fourth-line center. He’s known more for using his smarts in all three zones than breaking games open with his offensive creativity.

“Those details are huge,” Blueger said. “It’s great to be able to play both ends of the rink. That way you’re versatile and the coach can trust you more and put you out there in all situations, special teams and stuff. That’s one of the biggest things my college coach taught me. You’ve got to be able to defend. That’s going to give you a lot more playing time.”

For now, though, Blueger is intent on showing another side of his game in the AHL. Blueger was, after all, Minnesota-Mankato’s leading scorer  with 35 points in 41 games last season.

“I think I’m a complete player,” he said. “I have more offense and more skill that I can show. At that time when I came in, that was the role I found myself in and I kind of embraced it. Whatever I can do to help the team.”

Center is a spot on the depth chart where the Penguins are a bit thin. After Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino, there’s a drop-off to Oskar Sundqvist, Kevin Porter, Carter Rowney, Jean-Sebastien Dea and Blueger.

For that reason, Blueger might be closer to the NHL than even he realizes.

“On the one hand, it’s kind of close. On the other hand, it’s still very far,” he said. “Everyone here is a great player. Everyone has a shot to make it. I try not to take that approach. I try to focus on controlling what I can control, and that’s my game and my work ethic and my attitude.”

 

ANTHONY ANGELLO

FAST-RISING PROSPECT

Anthony Angello has probably seen his prospect stock soar more than anyone else on the development camp roster in the last 12 months.

At this time last year, he was a lanky 6-foot-4 center coming off two solid but unspectacular seasons with Omaha of the USHL. He was considered more of a long-term project.

He burst onto the prospect radar with a superb freshman season at Cornell, leading the team with 11 goals and finishing second in scoring with 24 points in 34 games.

Angello is from Manlius, N.Y., which is only about an hour from Cornell’s campus, so he knew what to expect when he arrived on campus.

“It was pretty close to my expectations,” he said. “Growing up, I got to go to a lot of Cornell games. I got to see the speed and the size of the guys. It was nice because I had guys like Christian (Hilbrich) and Jeff Kubiak who checked in with me in the summer and made sure things were going well. Between talking to them and being able to get down there because I was so close to home, it made the adjustment a little bit easier.”

What he didn’t expect was his role. Cornell’s coaching staff asked him to play in a more offensive capacity.

“It was a little different than what I was used to playing juniors,” Angello said. “In juniors, I was more a third or fourth-line guy, kind of a two-way forward, more energy and physical play. They expected the same thing at Cornell, but they also expected more of a goal-scoring role. I just tried to do my best in the role and look for little things to work on along the way.”

 

MATT PETGRAVE

TAKING THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Defenseman Matt Petgrave stands out at Penguins development camp because of the unusual route he took to get there.

Petgrave, 24, was one of the top defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League a few years back, but when it was time to turn pro in 2013, he took a left turn. The contract offers he received didn’t blow him away and he took education very seriously, so instead of signing with a minor-league team, he enrolled at the University of New Brunswick.

In the three years since, Petgrave has learned a lot, both in his business classes – he’s an accounting major – and about hockey. The University of New Brunswick, he found, isn’t a place for young players to forget about being prospects for a while. It’s a place that helps them on their way.

“It’s a really good program, so they focus on trying to get guys to the next level while also focusing on academics,” he said. “It was a big decision for me, but it was an easy one, to be honest, because UNB has a great history of developing guys, turning them into pros and also getting their degrees.

“I thought it was a little bit of a different route, a longer route. Some guys take a step off the treadmill and go to school, but out east, college hockey is really good. It’s not a step off the treadmill.”

Petgrave stands out in camp for another reason. Unlike many of the puck-moving defensemen on the roster, there’s another part of the game he likes better.

“I like open-ice hitting,” he said, “and after that, getting pucks up to the forwards and letting them do the work.”

 

TRISTAN JARRY

GETTING BACK TO WORK AFTER A WILD SPRING

It’s easy to forget now, what with the playoff twists and turns and Stanley Cup celebrations that followed, but at the start of the recently completed postseason, 21-year-old Tristan Jarry was one errant shot to Jeff Zatkoff’s collarbone away from being thrust into the biggest spotlight a goalie can occupy in the game.

Jarry backed up Zatkoff while Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray were out with concussions for the first two games of the playoffs.

He’ll never forget the playoff cloak and dagger he was thrown into.

“It was pretty crazy,” Jarry said. “I was something I’ll never forget and something that was different. Coming out of the locker room whenever the cameras were in the room just so they didn’t know who was backing up and who was starting, it’s always something different here I guess you could say.”

He’ll also never forget the atmosphere at Consol Energy Center.

“You see the fans wearing their gold to every game, how much they’re behind their team, it’s amazing to see,” Jarry said. “To be around throughout the whole playoffs, you see the fans were even better every game.”

Playoff drama aside, Jarry’s first pro season was a mixed bag. Overall, he was pretty good, going 17-13-3 with a .905 save percentage in the regular season. But he also lost his starting spot to undrafted Casey DeSmith by the end of the AHL playoffs.

“It’s a lot of ups and downs and a lot of getting used to different things,” Jarry said. “I started out as the back-up and ended as the starter with Matt getting called up. It’s one of those things you have to keep working on and get better every day.”

With 2016 second-round draft pick Filip Gustavsson now hot on his trail on the goaltending depth chart, Jarry needs to keep progressing to maintain his spot in line. The best way for him to do that is to have a quiet, hard-working second season in the AHL.

“I think every year I like to think I’m growing as a player and a person,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is to grow every camp and do a little bit better each year.”

 

AUSTIN ORTEGA

USING CONOR SHEARY AS A ROLE MODEL

With his success in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Conor Sheary has become a patron saint to undersized, undrafted scoring wingers everywhere.

Austin Ortega is no different.

A 5-foot-8, 174-pound right wing from Nebraska-Omaha, Ortega is in development camp with the Penguins, trying to show he can follow Sheary’s lead.

He’s got two things going for him in that respect. For one, he can fly. His speed was a perfect complement to Jake Guentzel’s skill on a UNO scoring line over the past three seasons. For another, he has produced. Ortega is coming off back-to-back 20-goal seasons.

“The game’s changing. It’s more of a speed game. The smaller guys can make it, but you’ve got to be tough enough and show you can play,” Ortega said. “Conor Sheary is a great example. He shows what can happen for smaller guys, if you work extremely hard and move your feet.”

 

TROY JOSEPHS

BALANCING STATS WITH THE EYE TEST

If they gave out a captain’s C at Penguins development camp, it might go to 22-year-old forward Troy Josephs, a seventh-round pick from the 2013 draft. He’s a crusty veteran when it comes to prospect camp experiences.

“It’s been a lot of fun, trying to be the mature guy and help the younger guys get intertwined in Pittsburgh’s culture, taking on that role because I’ve been here a few times now,” Josephs said.

The 6-foot-1, 184-pound Josephs is an interesting prospect because the eye test and his career stats tell different stories.

Watching Josephs in drills, he’s quick and dynamic, hitting holes in the defense with an explosive skating stride.

Looking at his college numbers, though, he hasn’t put up more than five goals or 17 points in any of his three seasons at Clarkson.

Josephs said his stats aren’t indicative of his game.

“I’m a two-way forward. I play a 200-foot game. I like to play strong defensively, taking the body, and transition off that to offense,” he said. “A lot of people, when they focus on points, it doesn’t show my type of game. You have to see me play to acknowledge the good things I do on the ice. It’s hard to go to the NHL and be a top-six guy. I see myself as a third- or fourth-line guy when I make the transition, but I want to be the best I can be at that position.”

 

CJ YAKIMOWICZ

RIDING A RISING TIDE IN LONDON

While the Penguins were busy winning the Stanley Cup, the OHL’s London Knights had one of the most memorable playoff runs in recent junior hockey history.

After going to six games with Owen Sound in the first round of the playoffs, they authored three straight sweeps to win the OHL championship. They then went 4-0 in the Memorial Cup final to win that title too. All told, they went 51-14-3 in the regular season and 20-2 in the playoffs.

Afterwards, they had seven players picked in last month’s NHL draft.

CJ Yakimowicz, a 20-year-old forward in Penguins development camp as a tryout, was in the middle of it.

A physical presence who made room on the ice for some of his smaller, skilled teammates, Yakimowicz had six goals, 11 points and 117 penalty minutes in the regular season. He added six points in 18 playoff games.

“It was unbelievable. We had some special players on that team and it was just proven with how many guys got drafted,” Yakimowicz said. “Everyone that got drafted deserved it. We all helped each other out. I helped them get there. They helped me get here. It’s the London family. We all love each other and are glad to help each other.”

A draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2014, he went unsigned and is now looking for a contract. An AHL deal with the Baby Pens might be just what the doctor ordered for Yakimowicz, who grew up across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre in the town of Kingston.

 

SAM LAFFERTY

BLUE MOUNTAIN MAN

The Johnstown area has always been a strong hockey market, which was proven again when the team was named Kraft Hockeyville and hosted a well-received exhibition game between the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning last fall.

The State College area is an emerging hockey hotbed as well, with the Penn State program on the upswing and Terry Pegula bringing an NHL exhibition game between Buffalo and Minnesota to the University Park campus this fall.

Penguins prospect Sam Lafferty, a Hollidaysbur native, hails from right in the middle of those two towns.

“It’s good to see,” Lafferty said. “I know a lot of my friends went to that exhibition game in Johnstown. What a cool environment that was. I think the game is steadily growing in the area and it’s good to see.”

A fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Lafferty has put up modest numbers in his two seasons at Brown University since being chosen. In his estimation, though, his prospect development is on the right track.

“I think just all-around, just staying on the right path, trying to get a little better,” Lafferty said. “I think that adds up over time. I definitely feel a step faster this year. I feel good.”

These days, Lafferty is fighting a perception problem when he lets people know he plays at Brown. The college’s most famous hockey alumnus, among Penguins fans anyway, is agitating winger Bobby Farnham.

No, Lafferty has to tell people, all Brown forwards don’t spend all their shifts flying around the ice like their hair is on fire like Farnham does.

Lafferty is more of a two-way forward with good athleticism and smarts who can kill penalties and chip in a bit offensively. He doesn’t play like Farnham, but he does look up to him.

“He’s done a great job, fighting to stay in the NHL,” Lafferty said. “He’s a guy I can definitely learn from.”

Bye for now,

jb

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July 1, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


4 comments so far - add yours!

Where are the new boys?

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I’m going to play 575 in the daily number on my way home from the rink today.

While teams all over the league were spending millions of dollars on impact free agents, the Penguins were doing the grunt work. They were refilling the bottom end of the NHL depth chart, handing out two-way contracts worth the league minimum of $575,000 to six different players.

The lone forward was Tom Sestito, which makes sense. If they didn’t bring back Sestito, they were going to have to find someone like him. Mike Sullivan obviously likes having a guy in the organization that he can call up when things get ugly, and Sestito enjoys that role.

The other five signings were all defensemen, which speaks to where the organizational prospect pool is deep and where it’s shallow. Associate general manager Jason Botterill explains.

“It’s interesting how organizations go through different sort of swings. A few years ago, we had a plethora of young defensemen throughout our system. Now, we’re very excited about some of the young forwards we have coming in. We talked briefly before about Jake Guentzel and Teddy Blueger, but we’re also very excited about the development of J-S Dea, Josh Archibald, Dominik Simon, who was in the National Hockey League last year, and then signing a guy like Carter Rowney, who has come through our system. So we feel we have the forwards, but we wanted to improve our defense.”

They improved the defense first by bringing back David Warsofsky and Steve Oleksy.

If you ask me, that sounds like the perfect fourth defense pair for an NHL team. Warsofsky is a left-handed puck mover who can play on the power play in a pinch. Oleksy is a right-handed banger who can kill penalties. Pick which one you need based on who is hurt. And neither is in his early 20s, so if you need to keep him in the press box for a couple weeks as a healthy scratch, it’s not going to stunt his development.

They also brought in three other depth defensemen from outside the organization.

STUART PERCY: A first-round pick for Toronto in 2010, he had some injuries during a fairly unremarkable tenure with the Leafs organization. But he makes a good first pass and he put up good numbers with the Marlies. He’s a candidate for the old change-of-scenery-doing-him-some-good deal.

Jim Rutherford says: “That’s a good example of a guy that gets a second chance in a new place that maybe really gets it going. I think what happened in Toronto was they just had so many draft picks and so many young players, you only get 50 contracts. So you’ve got to keep an eye on some of these guys. He may very well come here and get it going.”

Botterill says: “Percy is a former first-round pick. Our amateur reports were very high on him in that regard. Biggest thing we like about him is his transition game, his first pass. At 23, we feel there’s still room for him to develop. We look at players such as Brian Dumoulin, spending three years in the minors and then finally moving up. It takes some of these defensemen a little bit more time to develop. Hopefully we can continue to work with him.”

CAMERON GAUNCE: When the AHL announced Derrick Pouliot wouldn’t be playing in its all-star game last season because he was in the NHL, Gaunce was named as his replacement. He had a breakout 37-point season for Portland. He’s got good offensive numbers, but he also has 27 AHL fights to his credit.

Botterill says: “Gaunce is a player who took a real step forward this season. A little thicker, a little stronger, a little heavier down low, but also a player that can move the puck fairly well and create that transition game that we’re looking for.”

CHAD RUHWEDEL: He was one of those hot college free agents when he signed with Buffalo out of UMass-Lowell in 2013. He’s put up double digit goals in consecutive AHL seasons with Rochester, so there’s definitely some offensive talent here.

Botterill says: “Ruhwedel is a guy who came in right away to Buffalo after being a sought-after college free agent and played games right away. He’s a guy that skates extremely well, has a very good shot from the point on the power play. Undersized a bit, but we like his compete down low in that area. But the biggest attribute, I think, for him is his speed, his skating ability.”

One other note on the defensive depth chart before I go. An interesting tidbit from Rutherford on the recently re-signed Tim Erixon: “I give him a lot of credit. He had a chance to go to Russia and make a lot more money. He’d really like to get back to the NHL. He’s got some work to do. He’s got to build up his lower body, get a half a step, but he’s a smart player. If he has a good summer, he could find a spot on our team.”

Bye for now,

jb

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June 30, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Right-hand turn

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My dad, who is left-handed, always joked that he screwed up by not forcing me or my two younger brothers to be left-handed as well. That way, if one of us had become a major league relief pitcher, his retirement would have been paid for.

A similar lesson seems to be on tap for hockey parents these days. If you have a young son, force a right-handed stick into his hands.

I bring this up because of the trade that sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson yesterday. Hall is a stud winger, one of the best in the league. Larsson has the potential to be a difference-making defenseman, but he isn’t yet.

The only way I can make sense of this trade in my head is to assume that the Oilers were so consumed with the idea that they MUST have a top-four right-handed defenseman – a somewhat rare commodity in the NHL – that they were willing to dramatically overpay to get one.

I expect the trend to continue when the free agent signing period opens tomorrow as well.

I think there’s a good chance Ben Lovejoy and Justin Schultz, who are defensemen with positive attributes but aren’t big stars by any means, are going to get eight-figure deals in large part because they’re right-handed and can, to one degree or another, move the puck.

I’ve read some speculation that Jason Demers could get upwards of $5 million a season on the open market. I’ll bet guys like Tom Gilbert, Roman Polak and Yannick Weber will end up breaking the bank too.

The NHL is a copycat league, they say, and I think the one lesson other GMs might take away from the Penguins’ recently completed run to the Stanley Cup is the importance of having at least three right-handed defensemen who can handle the puck.

I think the rush to acquire righties is probably overblown. There are plenty of left-handed defensemen who are perfectly comfortable playing the right side, but because righties are rare, they’ll command big bucks.

It’s almost as if scarcity is the No. 1 factor for determining how much players get paid. Using that philosophy, Josh Miller should have made a mint while he played for the Steelers. How many left-footed punters are out there? Benny Distefano should have printed money when he played for the Pirates. He was a left-handed catcher.

Anyway, amidst all this right-handed defenseman mania, I talked to Penguins prospect Ethan Prow at development camp today. He’s a right-handed D who can move the puck. An undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State, he’s about to play his first pro season in the fall.

He’s an excellent stick-handler with an outstanding shot and he skates very well. He has some rough edges to shore up in the defensive zone, like most rookie defensemen.

If he improves in certain areas, he could see some fill-in duty on the Penguins blue line as soon as this season.

Or, worst-case scenario, he could be dealt to Peter Chiarelli for Connor McDavid or something.

Anyway, here’s a little Q and A I did with Prow at development camp today. I felt a little like that reporter who allegedly asked Doug Williams if he’d always been a black quarterback at Super Bowl media day that one time. So, Ethan, have you always been a right-handed defenseman?

Q: When did you first realize being a right-handed defenseman might be good for your career?

A: I didn’t really notice when I was younger. I thought, you know, ‘Righty. Whatever.’ But I think when I was going into college, somebody pointed it out to me, that it’s kind of a dying breed, right-handed defensemen. From that aspect, knowing that you were, honing your skills and looking for those opportunities you can exploit is key.

Q: How do you feel when you see a move like Larsson for Hall yesterday? Does it make you feel like you have a special job skill that could be lucrative some day?

A: I didn’t choose it, but I’ll take it. It’s big. With there being a need for right-handed defenseman, and it’s kind of all around the league, it’s kind of weird. It’s a good problem to have if you’re a righty.

Q: How often have you played on your off side? Enough to realize how much of an advantage it is to be a righty playing the right side?

A: I played a couple times. It is a big difference, just being able to see the ice and still being on your strong hand does help, whether that’s going D to D in the neutral zone or on the offensive blue line, getting ready to rip it over a little faster. It does help being the same shot. It is nice and I like playing with a left-handed defenseman as a partner.

Q: How does it feel to have one of the premier right-handed defensemen in the world, Kris Letang, as a role model?

A: He’s a real special player. Just being able to watch him and see some of the plays he makes, he makes a normal play, but he has the special capability to make that special play as well. That’s key and it helped him all season long. He’s one of their staples. If you can watch him and take away little bits and pieces of his game and kind of funnel it into your own game, it can only benefit you.

In closing, think about Letang for a second. He’s making $7.25 million for the next six seasons, which is starting to look like the steal of the century. If he were a free agent today, in the middle of this right-handed defenseman frenzy, the contract some GM would give him would make Shea Weber’s deal look like an AHL-ECHL two-way.

Bye for now,

jb

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June 29, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Development camp roster

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Nine of the 37 players who were on the Penguins’ development camp roster last year ended up playing at least one regular-season game for a team that won a Stanley Cup.

It’s hard to imagine that same percentage holding up again this year, but as always, there are some intriguing names on the list. Take a look. (Here’s a link to the roster on the team web site with heights and weights and stats and all that stuff.)

Lukas Bengtsson (Getty)

Lukas Bengtsson (Getty)

DEFENSEMEN

Niclas Almari: Fifth-round pick in last week’s draft. Puck mover. Director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton compared his body type to Oskar Sundqvist. European scout Patrik Allvin said he’s a long-term project.

Lukas Bengtsson: Offensive defenseman coming off a breakout year in the Swedish league at age 22. Nothing stopping him from cracking the NHL roster. Sundqvist played with him at World Juniors. “He’s a skilled defenseman with a really good first pass,” Sundqvist said. “He has a great shot. For being that small, he has a really, really good shot.”

Dane Birks: Stay-at-home D. Tall and right-handed. Sixth-round pick in 2013 draft. Just finished freshman year at Michigan Tech.

Neal Goff: Big (6-5, 220) stay-at-home D. Just finished sophomore year at Western Michigan. Captain of his USHL team before going to school. Tryout.

Connor Hall: Third-rounder taken last week with the pick acquired in the Beau Bennett trade. Might be the most scrutinized player at this camp, since he’s a physical guy and the trend in the NHL in general and with the Penguins specifically is to value mobility over physicality.

Joe Masonius: Sixth-rounder last week. Played on some loaded USNTDP teams as a 17 and 18-year-old. For example, was a teammate of Auston Matthews two years ago. Started to flex his offensive muscles as a freshman at UConn last season. He was on the development camp roster as a tryout last season, incidentally.

Robert Michel: Right-handed tryout defenseman from the Syracuse area. Put up big offensive numbers in juniors, more modest stats as a freshman at Maine last season.

Matt Petgrave: An interesting one. An accomplished defenseman in the OHL from 09-13. A finalist for OHL defenseman of the year in 12-13. Then he went to Canadian university for three years, so he’s a 24-year-old tryout now. He’s got some good offensive numbers and check out this hip check.

Ethan Prow: A right-handed puck mover from St. Cloud State signed as an undrafted free agent in the spring. He didn’t play much after joining WBS at the end of his college season, which leads me to believe he’s got some rough edges to smooth out.

Ryan Segalla: Stay-at-home D. Fourth-round pick in 2013. Completed his junior year at UConn.

Jeff Taylor: At this time last year, there was buzz around Taylor, who just finished a 31-point sophomore year at Union. Not as much buzz now after a 12-point junior year.

Michael Webster: Two-way defender signed to an AHL deal with WBS the other day. A regular in Barrie’s lineup for the last four seasons. Captain. Not wearing No. 52.

Dylan Zink: A small offensive defenseman coming off two double-digit goal seasons at UMass-Lowell, where he was a teammate of Scott Wilson. Tryout.

Jake Guentzel (The Citizens' Voice)

Jake Guentzel (The Citizens’ Voice)

FORWARDS

Anthony Angello: A lot of buzz around this 6-4 centerman after a really good freshman year at Cornell. A fifth rounder in the 2014 draft.

Teddy Blueger: Came in at the end of his senior year at Minnesota-Mankato and became a regular for WBS as a fourth-line center and penalty killer. Not an exciting prospect necessarily, but he’s more polished than most on this list.

Blaine Byron: A sixth-round pick in 2013. His numbers the last three seasons at Maine are just OK, but every time I see him, he looks like an explosive player with some offensive potential. A sleeper prospect.

Reid Gardiner: I can’t figure out why this kid wasn’t drafted in 2014 when he was ranked 40th among North American skaters by Central Scouting. He’s got 77 goals in 138 games over the past two seasons for Prince Albert in the WHL. Played with Leon Draisaitl for a while. He’s 20 now with four junior seasons under his belt. I think it’s safe to say he’s auditioning for an NHL deal at this point.

Jake Guentzel: He already had prospect buzz after averaging 40 points a season in three years at Nebraska-Omaha. Then he joined WBS late in the season, hopped onto the left wing of a line with Carter Rowney and Tom Kostopoulos and was among AHL playoff scoring leaders. A lot of buzz now. Who’s the best forward prospect in the organization? Most people would say Daniel Sprong. I’m not sure it’s not Guentzel.

Cameron Hebig: Tryout who had a nice 19-year-old year for Saskatoon of the WHL.

Christian Hilbrich: The Penguins don’t have a lot of size in the prospect pool. Hilbrich is a 6-foot-7 winger who signed an AHL deal with WBS. A steady performer for Cornell for the past four seasons.

Troy Josephs: Seventh-round pick from 2013 hasn’t put up big numbers in three seasons at Clarkson.

Tyler Kelleher: Tryout headed back to UNH for his senior year in the fall. Listed at 5-6. Some impressive scoring credentials with the USNTDP and in college.

Sam Lafferty: Hollidaysburg native picked in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Hasn’t put up numbers in two years at Brown.

Conor Lemirande: A big 6-6, 236-pound forward who played a year for the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL before playing the last two seasons at Miami (Ohio). Had seven goals and seven fights in 58 games for the Phantoms in 13-14.

Austin Lemieux: Took a step up in competition last season, joining Omaha of the USHL, and became a regular in the lineup. I believe his plan is to play one more year of junior hockey, then head to college.

James McEwan: Tryout had a breakout 25-goal season as a 19-year-old with Guelph last season.

Austin Ortega: An interesting name on this list because he has proven chemistry with Guentzel. They’ve been linemates at Nebraska-Omaha, where Ortega has been a 20-goal scorer the last two seasons. Here’s an unbelievable stat: Ortega has 19 game-winning goals in 76 games over the past two seasons. That’s nuts. He’s small (5-9), which is probably why he’s in camp as an undrafted tryout.

Nikita Pavlychev: Seventh-round pick from 2015 had a decent year with Des Moines of the USHL – 9 goals, 22 points and 161 PIMs. Headed to Penn State in the fall. He’s a 6-7 center.

Gage Quinney: Undrafted tryout had a breakout 29-goal season as a 20-year-old in the WHL last year.

Freddie Tiffels: Sixth-round pick in 2015. Numbers weren’t as impressive as a sophomore at Western Michigan as they were as a freshman. A good skater. Used to be Fredrik. Now he’s Freddie.

CJ Yakimowicz: A Wilkes-Barre area native picked in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by the Blues but not signed. He was bottom-six muscle for the powerful London Knights the last two seasons. 19 goals and 212 PIMs in 115 games over the last two seasons. Given where he’s from, an AHL deal would make a lot of sense.

Cam Johnson (Getty)

Cam Johnson (Getty)

GOALIES

Filip Gustavsson: At the draft, this second-round pick said he’d been to North America three times. He visited Sarnia, Ontario; Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Buffalo. Cranberry’s going to look like the French Riviera to this kid.

Tristan Jarry: Matt Murray’s quick rise to the NHL has maybe obscured the regular development curve for goalies a little bit. Jarry had a nice rookie season for WBS, but he’s likely years away from being NHL ready. That’s usually how it goes.

Cam Johnson: A massive year for North Dakota en route to a national title. Johnson went 24-4-2 with a 1.66 GAA and .935 save percentage. He’s headed back to UND for his junior year in the fall. He’ll probably be a hot college free agent in the spring.

Sean Maguire: 2012 fourth-round pick had a nice senior year at BU after sitting out the previous season with post-concussion issues. I’d guess he’ll start his pro career getting ample playing time for the Wheeling Nailers in the fall.

 

SCHEDULE
At UPMC Lemieux Complex in Cranberry. Open to the public.

Wednesday, June 29
2:15-3:00 p.m. – Team A Practice
3:15-4:00 p.m. – Team B Practice

Thursday, June 30
9:45 a.m. – Team A Skills Practice
10:45 a.m. – Team B Skills Practice
10:45 a.m. – Goalies Practice (Rink 2)
2:30 p.m. – Youth Dek Hockey Clinic (Riverside Park in Oakmont, Pa.)

Friday, July 1
9:45 a.m. – Team B Practice
10:45 a.m. – Team A Practice

Saturday, July 2
3-5 p.m. – 3-on-3 Competition

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June 24, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


6 comments so far - add yours!

Draft blog

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I’ll be updating this blog post periodically with observations from the draft floor:

— After Calgary acquired Brian Elliott from St. Louis for a second and conditional third, I’m seriously having a hard time thinking of a team where Marc-Andre Fleury would be a good fit.

Dallas: Fleury would be an upgrade on Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, but the money makes it complicated. Lehtonen makes $5.9M and Niemi $4.5M.

Ottawa: Craig Anderson makes $4.2M. So the Sens would either have to have $10M wrapped up in goalies or the Penguins would have to take back Anderson, who makes only a little less than Fleury.

Buffalo: I like Robin Lehner. I assume the Sabres do too. If they don’t, then sure, maybe a fit here.

Winnipeg: The Jets have a stud coming in Connor Hellebuyck. Ondrej Pavelec will keep his seat warm in the interim. No real need for Fleury in Winnipeg.

Edmonton: I like Cam Talbot and the Oilers just gave him a bunch of money.

Islanders: I’m not wowed by Jaroslav Halak either, but the Islanders finished ninth the league in save percentage last season. It’s not like they were leaky.

In summary, I think Dallas is actually the best fit – a team that could be a championship contender with a Fleury-sized upgrade in net – but Jim Nill would have to pull off some kind of magic trick to make the money work.

— A year ago at this time, the Penguins’ draft table was a tense place, what with the Phil Kessel trade on the horizon and all. So far this evening, team executives have been chatting amiably and accepting congratulations and whatnot. This might be one for the Captain Obvious files, but a championship sure can change the mood around a team.

— A note in Elliotte Friedman’s  column today got me thinking about something. What’s the difference between Nick Bonino today and Brandon Sutter 12 months ago?

A third-line center with some offensive pop entering the final year of his contract due a pretty sizeable raise once it expires.

Twelve months ago, Jim Rutherford decided to move Sutter while his value was still relatively high. I guess the formation of the HBK line and the winning of a championship makes Bonino’s situation different, but not that different.

— The thing I like most about draft weekend is the draft. I know that sounds weird, but I think I’m in the distinct minority here on the press riser. I’m just a prospect guy at heart.

Anyway, I picked out a couple of prospects that I consider good fits for what the Penguins have been doing lately.

Chad Krys, D, USNTDP: A smooth-skating 5-11 offensive defenseman from Connecticut. Was a borderline first-rounder before have a subpar 17-year-old season.

Yegor Korshkov, RW, Yaroslavl (KHL): Lanky overage winger who could play in an NHL top six pretty quickly.

— There are some other prospects I’m interested in just because they’re quirky in one way or another.

Garrett Pilon, C, Kamloops: A smart two-way forward whose father has a statue outside Consol Energy Center.

Sean Day, D, Mississauga (OHL): He’s 6-2, 244 and can skate but he has all sorts of questions about his decision making and drive. One of those ultimate boom-or-bust kind of picks that are fun to follow.

Matt Murray, G, Spruce Grove (AJHL): He went 23-4 this season and was named Canadian Junior Hockey League goalie of the year. And his name is Matt Murray. And he’s a goalie.

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