Chirps from Center Ice

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

First Quarter Grades

Quarterly Grades are back for another year. Didn’t plan on bringing these back this year, but it was a matter of me not having nothing to really write about this week. Yay fodder!

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins sit third in the East Division, fifth in the Conference after 18 games. Their record is 11-7, good for 22 points. This is after starting the season 0-4, so take away the first four games and the Pens are 11-3 in their last 14 games. Impressive.

Okay, so the Penguins have only played 18 games. 19 games is technically “one quarter” – close enough.

Below is my humble take on the players that have skated for the team so far:

Forwards

Beau Bennett – (4-9-13, -2, 18 GP) – Looked at a score sheet the other day and saw that the first year rookie was leading the team in points. He’s exceeded expectations at this point. That’s all you really can ask for. Grade: A+

Philippe Dupuis – (2-5-7, +1, 18 GP) – Came over from Toronto in free agency. Solid player who centers between a second and third line. I’m projecting a big second quarter for him. Grade: A

Bobby Farnham – (0-2-2, +1, 9 GP) – When Zach Sill went down with injury, Farnham was recalled from Wheeling and signed to a PTO. Constantly plays like his hair is on fire. Is prone to a stupid penalty from time to time. Look up “rat” in the hockey dictionary and Farnham’s name is there. Grade: B

Benn Ferriero – (1-12-13, -1, 18 GP) – Another big free agent get, has surpassed last years assist total with Worcester. (11 in only 20 games) – Ferriero is another player I am projecting a big second quarter from. Grade: A

Brian Gibbons – ( 3-5-8, +2, 13 GP) – Was scratched last 5 games before finally getting in the lineup Sunday vs. Albany. Turned in a three point night, (1-2-3) and played like he never wants to be scratched again. Coaching staff looking for this from him on a nightly basis. If he can sustain that, this team will go far. Grade: B

Riley Holzapfel – (5-5-10, -1, 18 GP) – Prototypical third or fourth line center who plays a balanced game. Holzapfel is currently in a three way tie for second in points on the team. Sometimes sees second line duty, depending on production and situation. Has met expectations so far. Grade: A

Tom Kuhnhackl – (2-2-4, +3, 9 GP) – Before Sunday’s 2-1-3 performance vs. Albany had only one point. I don’t want to say that he’s getting lost in the shuffle with the talent that is currently here on the team because of the lockout, but if he doesn’t shine like he did Sunday, he will get lost in the shuffle with the talent that his here on the team because of the lockout. Grade: C

Steve MacIntyre – (0-0-0, even, 10 GP) – Is a deterrent for other teams goons and rats. Gives the rookies and point producers more room. You aren’t looking for him to produce more than you are to protect. He’s done that so far. Grade: B+

Warren Peters – (2-1-3, +1, 18 GP) – Faceoff stats aren’t registered as a statistic by the AHL, but if they were, Peters would be at the top of the list. Why is this important? When you need to win a big faceoff late in the game, Peters in your guy. He’ll probably be named captain soon. Grade: A-

Trevor Smith – (5-5-10, -1 ,18 GP) – Biggest free agent that the Penguins have landed in recent times. Moonlights between top line and second line. Always a threat to score. Can easily lead the team in goals scored by the end of the year. Grade: A

Eric Tangradi – (9-1-10, -5, 18 GP) – Depending on the camp that you are in, Tangradi either belongs in Pittsburgh or belongs on another team. Needs to put up video game numbers at the AHL level and has so far. If he continues this pace, with the improved projection of Dupuis and Ferriero in the second quarter, the Penguins will be at the top of the division at the halfway point. Grade: A+

Paul Thompson – (6-3-9, -2, 18 GP) – No sophomore slump here. Natural hat trick at Bridgeport upgrades him slightly in the grade department. Yet another I am projecting a big second quarter from. Grade: B+

Dominik Uher – (0-2-2, +1, 12 GP) – This rookie has been in and out of the lineup. Draws penalties like a veteran. Plays with a rat side to him. Will continue to improve. Grade: B

Defensemen

Robert Bortuzzo — (0-1-1, +4, 11 GP) – One of the steadiest defensemen Wilkes-Barre has ever seen. Another stat not kept by the league is blocked shots. Bortuzzo has a ton, and the best part about it is he’s fearless when the other teams sniper is loading up to shoot. Grade: A

Simon Despres – (2-3-5, even, 18 GP) – Despres is streaky. One night he is the best player on the ice, the next he looks lost. I think a lot of it has to do with who he’s paired with defensively. He’s a pedigree that is just biding his time in the AHL while the NHL labor strife gets worked out. Grade: B

Brian Dumoulin — (0-5-5, -2, 16 GP) – It’s okay, I’ll say it for you. I’m not impressed at all with Dumoulin. Granted, this is his first year of professional hockey, but he seems lost out there defensively. Coaching staff wants him to get AHL minutes, so that is why you see more of him than say, Alex Grant or Joey Mormina. Grade: D

Alex Grant — (0-1-1, -2, 6 GP) – Is a scratch more often than not. Guys like Brian Dumoulin and Joe Morrow are getting extended looks over him. I don’t know how, with the cannonade that Grant has in his stick, you justify scratching Grant. But, such is life in the locked out NHL version of the AHL. Grade: C

Joey Mormina – (0-1-1, -2, 7 GP) – Same as Alex Grant. A scratch more often because the younger guys are getting looks. Victim, really, of the NHL lockout because Mormina is too valuable an asset to sit while other guys constantly turn the puck over at the blue line. Grade: C

Joe Morrow – (1-2-3, -5, 14 GP) – You only get better by playing. You learn from your mistakes with experience. Morrow is certainly getting this. A trip to Wheeling would be a waste of his talent. By no means is he NHL ready, though. Grade: B

Dylan Reese – (2-6-8, +3, 15 GP) – Next to Bortuzzo and Brain Strait, one of the more steadier defensemen. May be emerging as a power play quarterback, as four of his points (2-2-4) have come on the man advantage. Grade: A

Philip Samuelsson – (0-1-1, +4, 10 GP) – Samuelsson is improving and not regressing, which is something that young defensemen in their second year are prone to. The lockout isn’t helping him, because he belongs in the lineup on a consistent basis. Grade: B-

Brian Strait – (0-0-0, even, 14 GP) – At his best when paired with Reese or Bortuzzo on defense. Has been a scratch recently. Don’t know what that is all about. Grade: B+

Goaltenders

Brad Thiessen – (3-2, 3.25 GAA, 0.884 SV%, 5 GP) – Has been relegated to backup. Will need to be stellar in order to re-gain number one status again. With the way Jeff Zatkoff is playing, may never happen. Has only been average and the grade that follows is reflective of that. Grade: C

Jeff Zatkoff – (8-5, 1.62 GAA, 0.938 SV%, 3 shutouts, 13 GP) – Said in the newspaper that he wanted to win thirty games this season. If the team in front of him keeps playing the way they are, and he continues to play the way he’s been playing when offense is scarce, will eclipse that easily. Is the teams MVP right now. Grade: A+

I’m sorry, who are you again?

Players with five or less games played fall into this category. No grades given out, just blurbs.

Jayson Megna – (0-2-2, +1, 4 GP) – Is coming off an ankle injury. Impressed enough in training camp to earn a contract to stay. But those games didn’t count, so we are left with an unsigned tryout with a bad ankle. Will need to have a huge second quarter, obviously.

Adam Payerl – (1-0-1, even, 5 GP) – Instead of letting him sit and not play, the Penguins sent him to Wheeling to get minutes. He got hurt, and currently is not playing for the Nailers, who are struggling.

Carl Sneep (0-0-0, even, 1 GP) – played one game then was shipped to Wheeling. If the lockout goes all year, may be there all season.

Zach Sill – (0-0-0, +1, 2 GP) – Injured in the second game. Will slot back into the rotation again when healthy (probably within days) but may have to have a bare knuckles fight with Bobby Farnham to get back in. Imagine that.

Keven Veilleux (0-0-0, -1, 4 GP) – To be fair, Veilleux is coming off of a massive knee injury he suffered in preseason last season and just recently was medically cleared to play. The coaching staff wants to be careful with him, because if he damages it again, it may end his career as a Penguin.

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments. In fact, I want you to. If I don’t get any comments, it tells me that the reader (you) agree with the grades. That’s not what I am looking for. Let’s embrace debate!

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