Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

AHL Top 100 Free Agents — The Big Board

When Jonathan Bombulie announced earlier this year that he was taking a job in Pittsburgh to cover the beat of the NHL version of the Penguins, one of the things that he left behind was his yearly AHL Free Agent “Big Board” which is a massive list of minor league hockey players ranked, 1-100 and beyond, that debuts right before the start of NHL Free Agency.

Well, thanks in part to the efforts of many, it lives on.

This massive, massive project, doesn’t get completed without the help of a broad spectrum of bloggers and journalists alike, from nearly every corner of the American Hockey League. Jason Iacona connected with several bloggers from throughout the AHL and what you see today is the efforts of those who lended a hand in typing up a capsule on a player from the Eastern Conference that the Western Conference never sees, or vice versa.

Before we get to the list of the Top 100 Unrestricted Free Agents, thank you to the following people…

Stephen Meserve from 100 Degree Hockey in Texas who created the spreadsheet that everyone contributed to as well as his thoughts on the Texas Stars free agents.

Nathan Mallett from Runnin’ With the Herd, laid the groundwork for the Top 100 list and contributed greatly to the capsules of the San Antonio Rampage as well as other teams.

Heath Sorey of Beneath the Scope, who went above and beyond the call and provided capsules for not only the Anaheim prospects of the Norfolk Admirals team he blogs for, but several other AHL teams.

Special thanks to Daniel Lavender from Admirals Roundtable for his contributions on the Milwaukee Admirals, Matt Trust from Chocolate Hockey for Lehigh Valley and Hershey, Tracey Lake from Thoughts Inside the Box for Albany, Eric Rodgers from Tend the Farm for Oklahoma City, Darryl Hunt from 210 Sports for Worcester, Jenni Probst from Chasing Checkers for Charlotte and Chris Roy from the Maine Hockey Journal for Portland.

We all hope that you enjoy the list. After the jump, dive into the Top 100 AHL Free Agents Available, then the “Best of the Rest” list below. Note that any Restricted Free Agent not tendered a qualifying offer will be added in on future edits, most likely starting tonight or by noon tomorrow, when the market goes live.

Dive in…

Read more of this post

NHL Free Agency, Day 3

Quieter day in terms of the past 48 hours or so, but here’s what happened on July 3…

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Re-signed defenseman Reid McNeill. McNeill adds grit to an already loaded Wilkes-Barre defense, should he get pushed down to the AHL level in the Fall. McNeill was a restricted free agent. The Pens qualified Brian Dumoulin, Bobby Farnham and Dominik Uher. I’m guessing that the announcements on their signings will come soon.

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After no signings yesterday, the Rangers announced the signing of Luke Adam. Adam wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer by Columbus, so the Rangers snatched him up. Adam was 16-26-42 split between Rochester and Springfield last year. I would expect those number to go higher for what is shaping up to be a pretty good Hartford team.

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Signed forward Colin McDonald. McDonald was 17 on our big board, and could push for a spot on the Flyers in the Fall but if not, look for him to be relied upon to score a bunch of goals for the Phantoms long with newly signed Chris Conner and Tim Brent, if he doesn’t make it through.

So an already loaded Atlantic Division continues to stock up.

The Big Board and Offseason Moves List have all been updated.

Happy Independence Day, or if you aren’t American, Happy Saturday.

NHL Free Agency, Day 2

It was another active day for teams as Day 2 of the NHL Free Agency period starts seeing more names that are fringe NHLers or depth signings. Today was no different. Let’s take a look.

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Pittsburgh added defenseman Will O’Neill today. O’Neill, late of the St. John’s IceCaps, was the leading scorer for the IceCaps last season and was the fifth highest scoring defenseman in the American Hockey League last season. Another great addition likely ticketed for Coal Street in the Fall. O’Neill with Steve Oleksy, Dave Warsofsky, Reid McNeill and Barry Goers is a hell of a blue line if you ask me.

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The quantity award goes to the New York Islanders / Bridgeport Sound Tigers today. The Islanders added Justin Florek, Ben Holmstrom, Bracken Kearns, Justin Vaive, Joe Whitney and James Wright to NHL deals and the Sound Tigers added Tyler Barnes, Josh Holmstrom, Jesse Root, Andrew Rowe and Sebastien Sylvestre, along with defensemen Bryce Aneloski, Kane Lafranchise and C.J. Ludwig and goaltender Parker Milner to AHL deals.

Of guys ranked, Florek (63 on the big board) Vaive and Ben Holmstrom (not ranked but listed on the board) seem to be ticketed for Bridgeport along with Bracken Kearns and James Wright, which weren’t listed at all. The guys that Bridgeport signed to AHL deals are depth guys who, if they don’t stick with the Sound Tigers, are likely ticketed for the ECHL affiliate in Missouri.

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Hershey lost goaltender Pheonix Copley in the trade for T.J. Oshie to Washington but made up for it immediately by signing Chris Bourque to a two year deal. Hershey was in dire need for a top notch LW after yesterdays departures, so they went out and signed probably the best one out there.

Bears look thin on defense and in goal. Justin Peters will probably start in goal for the Bears next season but who will back up?

The Penguins, Bears and Sound Tigers all had multiple player moves. The other teams in the division except the New York Rangers / Hartford Wolf Pack all had one player signing to note.

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Forward Rob Flick. Comes over from Providence. Scrapper that can score. 19 goals with a good P-Bruins team. With the talent ticketed for Southern Maine next season, that number could increase.

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Re-signed defenseman Chris Breen. Providence hasn’t really added much in these past two days. I’d argue probably the least of all team in the division, so Breen will look to build on his best year as a professional last season with the P-Bruins in likely an increased role.

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Defenseman Alex Grant. Ex-Penguin Alex Grant that is. Comes over from Binghamton. 88 on the big board. Big time shot, power play ace.

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Goaltender Jason LaBarbera. Likely means that Rob Zepp won’t be back and needs a new team. (Hershey?) LaBarbera will probably mentor Anthony Stolarz as the two battle for the crease in Allentown.

My instant takeaway from these past two days is that there will not be a night off for any of the teams in the Atlantic Division. Every team is loading up in some form or fashion and every night is going to be a battle.

Finally, here’s a story out of Pittsburgh on Conor Sheary.

The AHL Free Agent Big Board has been updated with all the latest signings. 49 names on the Top 100 list are left. The Penguins Offseason Moves List has also been updated noting the O’Neill signing. I am going to leave the Big Board above all the recent news on the blog, so if you come here looking for news and see the Big Board front and center, just scroll down to see the latest.

I’m traveling for a weekend getaway tomorrow, so I may not have a Day 3 Recap for the blog. If not and as long as the wire remains active, probably Saturday.

NHL Free Agency, Day 1

Click. Click.

That’s the sound of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins reloading for what is hopefully another successful campaign in the 2015-16 AHL season come this October.

It was a most active day. Several signings made today by parent Pittsburgh which could have a direct result on how the roster shapes up for the farm team. There was another team in the division that was really active on the wires as well, but it isn’t who you think. Let’s get into it.

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Departures included Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Phil Kessel, Tim Erixson and Tyler Biggs. This was the blockbuster trade of the day. Nothing really to get excited about regarding Biggs or Erixson. Biggs had 47 games with the Marlies last year and was 2-3-5. Erixson is a bit more polished, playing 42 games with the Blue Jackets, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs. In return, Toronto gets an NHL ready defenseman in Harrington and an exciting forward prospect in Kapanen.

But that was the only loss that affected Coal Street. What followed came quickly.

Defenseman David Warsofsky, late of the Providence Bruins and a likely replacement for Taylor Chorney, who signed a $700,000 one way deal with the Washington Capitals today. Warsofsky is a 7th or 8th option on defense at the NHL level. If not, look for Warsofsky to get top minutes in Wilkes-Barre. Warsofsky was #95 on the big board.

Center Kael Mouillierat – played last season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Was #15 on the big board. Automatic 20 goal, 20 assist scorer. Saw his first NHL action with the Islanders last season.

Left Winger Sergei Plotnikov – comes over from Russia and is probably ticketed for full time NHL work with Pittsburgh. If not, he’s entry level and could end up on Wilkes-Barre’s radar.

Conor Sheary got his NHL pact with Pittsburgh. #9 on our big board.

Center Kevin Porter – Played every game for Grand Rapids last year. Is good for about 40 points a year. #14 on the big board. Porter is a former Hobey Baker award winner and ex-captain of the Rochester Americans.

Defenseman Steve Oleksy – should need no introduction to anyone that reads the blog on a regular basis. Oleksy has been a mainstay with the Hershey Bears for years and served as their captain. He was #61 on the big board.

What a haul for the Pens. They lose a veteran center in Andrew Ebbett defecting to Europe but make up for it with Kevin Porter. Pens lose one veteran defenseman in Taylor Chorney and reload almost immediately with TWO veteran defensemen in Warsofsky and Oleksy.

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Not to be outdone, the Hershey Bears saw all of the moves made by the Penguins today, dialed up their parents in Washington, and announced the following moves…

Carter Camper, Sean Collins and Aaron Ness and re-signed Mike Moore. Camper was average on a bad Binghamton team last year but does have pedigree and should thrive under Troy Mann. Sean Collins comes over from Springfield and is good for 40 points a year. He’ll probably get that and more playing for Hershey. Aaron Ness is an underrated defenseman and former captain of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Was a point a game guy for the Sound Tigers when they were well out of things at the end of the season. Moore was Hershey’s Man of the year last season.

Camper, Collins, Ness and Moore were 54, 45, 38 and unranked on the big board.

For what it is worth, I do not see Taylor Chorney playing any games for the Bears next year. Not at $700,000 a year.

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It does seem silly that the Portland Pirates are in the same division with the Penguins, but they are and were a very active team in free agency. Here are the moves:

Goalie Mike McKenna. Ageless goaltender that doesn’t really go anywhere town wise as he played with the Pirates last season under the Arizona affiliation. 23 on the board, put up career numbers at age 32.

Forward Shane Harper – 19 on the big board – scored 32 goals with AHL Chicago and led the Wolves in points last season.

Defensemen Sena Acolatse, Brent Regner and Cameron Gaunce. Acolatse played with Worcester for a while. Recently with Adirondack Flames. Regner had 29 points and a +21 with the Wolves last year and Gaunce comes over from the Texas Stars and is a smart veteran defenseman. None of these players were ranked by us on the big board.

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Couple of well known names snagged by the Rangers.

Forward Jayson Megna, fan favorite of this blog, 26 on the board. Megna scored 39 points with the Penguins last year but fell out of favor with the NHL brass as there were more unproven names that were called up ahead of him. It’s a needed change of scenery for Megna.

Brian Gibbons – 91 on the board. Will want to stay healthy. He and Megna would make a dynamic duo on probably one of the quickest lines in the AHL.

Matt Lindblad, Magnus Hellberg and Viktor Stalberg – coming over from the Providence Bruins and Milwaukee Admirals, respectfully, all unranked.

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Depending if they filter into Central Massachusetts, some solid signings for the Falcons in forwards Dustin Jeffrey (#5) and Craig Cunningham (not ranked) as well as defenseman Dylan Reese (#18)

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It almost looked like they weren’t going to do anything today but the Flyers made some big time signings today which could end up in the Lehigh Valley.

Ex-Penguins Chris Conner and Tim Brent. Conner was #8 on the big board. Brent comes back over from Russia, playing in the KHL. They also signed defenseman Davis Drewiske, who had 22 points and a +15 for Hamilton last year. Phantoms are going to need more help than this if they are going to want to stay competitive in Pennsylvania with the Penguins and Bears and afloat, with eight other teams in the new Atlantic Division.

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Re-signed Jeremy Smith. Smith was a free agent. Third on the Boston goalie depth chart, a consistent goaltender that can win 20 games and have a save percentage right around 92%.

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Forward Joe Whitney. 10 on the big board and led the Albany Devils in scoring all four seasons he played in the Capital District. Nothing official reported by the Islanders, but the reports were everywhere from all the reputable guys.

Here’s Coal Street’s recap on the guys added today that could have an impact on the farm this season and make sure that you bookmark their shiny new blog, Skating on the Susquehanna.

Jonathan Bombulie may write for the Pittsburgh Penguins these days, but here are his thoughts on the haul that could be assigned to Wilkes-Barre in the Fall.

The AHL Free Agent Big Board and the Offseason Moves Lists have been updated accordingly.

Depending on how Day 2 shakes out around the division, I’ll drop another blog update Thursday.

Draft Recap 6/27

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t have a selection in the first round of the NHL Draft of Friday, but they had four picks on Day 2. Let’s take a look…

I’m lucky that I am able to keep up with the happenings in Wilkes-Barre and the AHL as a whole. NHL Draft Prospects isn’t my cup of tea, but there is a cadre of folk with knowledge, so here they are…

There is a local connection too.

Here is his draft profile page with a bit more on him from Pittsburgh and some highlights that Coal Street tweeted out:

Coal Street mined a shootout goal of his:

Also, a clarification and an update. First, Bobby Farnham is a restricted free agent. It was discovered by Jonathan Bombulie yesterday that due to his NHL service time, Farnham is actually a restricted free agent, it’s in the link at 5:58. I have updated the Offseason Moves List accordingly.

Finally, if you thought that the AHL Free Agent Big Board was going to go away when Jonathan took off for Pittsburgh, think again. I spearheaded an effort with other AHL bloggers to bring it back. I have been in contact with Mike Cignoli from the Citizens Voice about putting the big board up on the Penguins Insider blog and that is where it will most likely end up. If not, we have a Plan B in place to place the Big Board either here or mirrored on this blog and the other blogs where the contributions were made. Keep an eye out for this coming either late Monday or Tuesday.

Kuhn to be Kind; Kuhnhackl Re-Signs 6/23

Announced Tuesday morning that the Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed Restricted Free Agent Tom Kuhnhackl to a one year deal.

Kuhnhackl took a big step forward for Wilkes-Barre in 2014-15, 30 points in 72 games. He flourished on a line with Carter Rowney and Dominik Uher. Rowney is already signed up for next season and I expect Uher to be qualified and re-signed soon, so the claim that the band is getting back together holds true.

Obie’s thoughts…

I updated the 2015 Offseason Moves List.

Oh, in case you were wondering about the headline, it’s a play on this.

Hey! Sullivan Man!

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced the ninth head coach of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins on Thursday morning.

His name is Mike Sullivan.

Coming on the heels of the news that John Hynes departed for the New Jersey Devils on June 2 and took Alain Nasreddine with him on Wednesday, the search for a new man to lead the prospects on Coal Street was on.

Sullivan comes over from the Chicago Blackhawks organization where he served as a player development coach for the AHL affiliate of the Stanley Cup Champions, the Rockford IceHogs. Prior to that he served as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. He was an NHL head coach once with the Boston Bruins.

He’s got quite a resume coming in as a coach with work in the AHL and NHL. I think he may be the most experienced coach coming into the job in Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins history. Michel Therrien coached the Montreal Canadiens prior to coming into the job in Wilkes-Barre in 2003. The rest didn’t have much if any NHL / AHL coaching experience at all before taking over as head man of the prospects on Coal Street.

So I see it as a great hire.

Nothing announced as far as assistant coaches yet. I anticipate that something will be announced in the coming weeks. Sullivan will most likely be actively involved in the process.

Check back later in case the Penguins put up a podcast with the new coach. If they do I will link it in here.

Let’s Go Pens!

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