Chirps from Center Ice

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

2018 Draft Recap, The Old College Try

As with years prior, I use this piece as a recap of the recap of the NHL Draft and the haul that the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted. Here goes.

After no action at all in the first round Friday, all of the picks were made on Saturday. They were…

Pittsburgh then traded up to draft…

Then they waited to 129 and took…

And then in the sixth round…

They traded away their final pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for theirs in 2019.

Coal Street with a recap here of the picks and scouting reports on all. Also, if you have a subscription to The Athletic, you can find a recap and grade of Pittsburgh’s draft class here as well.

AHL Big Board will be out this week on the blog. I am aiming for a midweek debut because all I need are blurbs on any restricted free agents not qualified by Monday. Everything else is done but for ranking, but that is seamless because I have a top 30 and really just need 60 more which shouldn’t be that hard. I learned how to have a spreadsheet alphabetize for me two years ago so that’s a breeze.

The plan is to drop a blog post in here advising when the Big Board will be out to give ample time and build up the anticipation.

TK’s Back! (Sort Of)

When Tom Kostopoulos retired at the conclusion of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins season at the hands of the Charlotte Checkers in a three game sweep in the Atlantic Division Semifinals, the question became, “what’s next?” regarding the Penguins captain and Wilkes-Barre legend.

The answer was discovered today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced Wednesday afternoon that Kostopoulous as well as Andy Chiodo have been hired in player development roles. Chiodo will serve as development coach for goaltenders.

Positive move for Coal Street. You keep a popular guy like Kostopoulos around and a likable fellow like Chiodo mentoring the next generation of goaltenders. Players genuinely wanted to win a Calder Cup for Kostopoulos in his final season.

Here is Tom on Tom with more…

NHL Draft is this weekend. I will probably run a recap of the Penguins draft picks if I get time Sunday.

AHL Big Board is coming along and will be out sometime next week. I will probably run a quick blog post advising of the time the big project drops to give people advance warning. So, stay tuned.

Penguins Find New Voice

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will have a new, yet familiar voice handling play by play duties in their 20th season in October 2018.

Coal Street announced Monday morning the logical and best man for the job, installing Nick Hart as the new play-by-play broadcaster/media relations director for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins.

In addition, Jason Spess was named manager of team services. Spess served as assistant general manager of the Toyota SportsPlex for the past two years and was an assistant coach with the Wheeling Nailers last season.

From the release…

“Mike did a tremendous job during his seven year tenure in Wilkes-Barre, not only behind the microphone, but behind the scenes handling the team services functions for the club,” said CEO Jeff Barrett.  “We are also happy to hand these new duties to Nick and Jason, who have worked tirelessly for the team over the past several years.”

O’Brien is leaving to pursue other opportunities in Boston, Massachusetts.

In other news…

Gage Quinney signed an NHL deal with his hometown Vegas Golden Knights. If he doesn’t stick in the NHL, he’ll skate in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves next season.

— Tom Sestito is moving on.

I do not necessarily think that Sestito is done playing hockey. We will have to wait and see where Tom ends up.

Finally, the 2018 AHL Free Agent Big Board is being constructed and again this year I am going to crowd source this. If you are interested in contributing, please contact me either on the blog or through Twitter, @nafsnep – many hands will do for clean and light work.

That’s all for now.

Updates 5/31

Getting closer to the start of summer, there have been a few things rolling around that don’t get a whole blog post dedicated to it, but have built up enough to warrant one now. In sum,

— Pittsburgh signed Juuso Riikola to an entry level contract. He’s a Finnish defenseman. Undrafted, steady handed puck mover was second on his Liiga team in points last year.

— The guys from the Pittsburgh faction of The Athletic had a feature piece on him that you can, as long as you are a subscriber, can check out here.

— Lukas Bengtsson made it official and signed in the SHL for next season. It’s a three year contract. Don’t be surprised if the Penguins simply protect his North American rights going forward, but his days are done on Coal Street.

— There is a new ECHL team in St. Johns, Newfoundland and they have a kick ass logo. They will be a Toronto affiliate.

— Etienne Marcoux, who was one of 167 goaltenders the Penguins used at the position last season, earned himself an AHL deal with the Laval Rocket.

— Wheeling has a new head coach. His name is Mark Dennehy. He has ties with Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan. A great hire.

— The AHL extended Dave Andrews through 2020.

— Ex-Penguin Bobby Farnham re-signed with the Springfield Thunderbirds.

— Mama, it’s those men again. Another Athletic piece on Jordy Bellerive, who is a man against boys with Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League. He may make NHL team out fo camp in the fall, but if he doesn’t, he will need to go back to the Hurricanes because he’s too young to play in the AHL.

Hitting on the news, I don’t see Riikola coming over here to play 50+ games in the AHL personally, but if he wants to learn the North American game he may have to….Dennehy is a good hire because he did more with less at tiny Merrimack College which was a small fish in the big pond known as college hockey in the Northeast….There are a lot of things I don’t like about the AHL (teams playing 68 games, linesmen who are in over their heads on a nightly basis, a training ground for referees who are cast in a bigger spotlight who are sometimes in the same boat, the high price of AHL Live, etc.) but the one constant is Andrews and his vision has catapulted the AHL into the second best brand of hockey in North America and some would say the world. The League will be at 31 teams in 2018-19 with the inclusion of the Colorado Eagles and may get to 32 if NHL Seattle is granted a franchise, so what better man to keep running the ship than Andrews. It was said that he was close to retiring, but he was talked into staying around for a little while longer. The League will be better for it.

Toronto swept Lehigh Valley in four games and Texas dispatched pesky Rockford in six. These two will play for the Calder Cup starting Saturday in Toronto.

That’s pretty much it. When news builds up on me I’ll drop another post in, but for now enjoy the warm weather.

Conference Finals Previews

Four teams remain in contention for the Calder Cup. They are the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Toronto Marlies, Rockford IceHogs and Texas Stars.

Interesting series developments here. In the East, it’s a battle of the top two teams in the Marlies and Phantoms. In the West, it’s the veteran Texas Stars vs. the undefeated in postseason Rockford IceHogs.

Let’s take a crack at predicting each series, starting in the West.

     Rockford IceHogs vs. Texas Stars     

How the IceHogs got here: They haven’t lost a game yet, sweeping the Manitoba Moose in four games. The Moose led the Central Division for large chunks of the season while the IceHogs toiled at the cut line for most of the season. But as Rockford proved, it’s a new season now.

How the Stars got here: Beat Pacific Division Champion Roadrunners in five games. They got opportune scoring from their forwards and excellent goaltending from Mike McKenna and used experience to dismiss youth in a quick series that lasted just five games.

How they matchup: 1-2-0-1 if you are a Stars fan, 3-1 if you are a Rockford supporter.

How Rockford wins: IceHogs were unfazed by the Central Division Champion Chicago Wolves in Round One and smoked the division champs in a three game sweep. They stared down a Manitoba side that is going to be good next year and swept them. In order to do that to Texas, they will need to get to McKenna early and often, bottle up the Stars offense and make this series look as easy as the two prior. Easier said than done.

How Texas wins: It’s the experience that got the Stars here, and the experience that gets them past a pesky Rockford side that is that, “hot team at the right time” club that you sometimes see in these postseason tournaments in the AHL.

Prediction: It doesn’t end in a sweep, nor does it with Rockford advancing. Texas in six.

     Lehigh Valley Phantoms vs. Toronto Marlies     

How the Phantoms got here: Beat Providence easily in four games, and Charlotte the same way including the longest game in AHL history. Phantoms are playing tough teams and beating them easily.

How Toronto got here: Survived a scare in five games with Utica, then swept away a Syracuse team that looked at times to push the Marlies for the North Division lead in the regular season.

How they matchup: 0-1-0-1 if you are a Phantoms fan and 2-0 if you are a Marlies fan.

How Lehigh Valley wins: Alex Lyon stole the series for the Phantoms making 94 (yes, ninety-four) saves in Game 4’s five overtime thriller. The Phantoms will be heavily relying on their net minder to get them past the Toronto Marlies.

How Toronto wins: They made it look easy against a team they are familiar with in Syracuse, and will need to overcome their closest challenger in Lehigh Valley who finished runner up in the Conference. These teams played just two games against each other in what can only be described as a small, maybe insignificant, sample size.

Prediction: It’s the unstoppable Lehigh Valley Phantoms who are blitzkrieging opponents vs. the immovable object in the best all around team in Toronto. I haven’t picked the Phantoms to win a playoff series yet in this series I have been doing for the blog because I thought that the teams that they were facing in Providence and Charlotte were better than them. I know that Toronto is the better team here. Marlies have been good all season and know that they are a series away from playing for the ultimate goal. Toronto in five.

That’s how I see it shaking out. If you still have a team in it, enjoy the ride.

2018-19 Schedule Matrix Announced

I think Hershey was the first team to announce a schedule matrix of opponents for 2018-19 on Thursday. Other teams followed suit slowly. Well, Friday it was the Penguins turn.

No real changes from last year but for the addition of the Cleveland Monsters to the schedule docket. Wilkes-Barre will play every Eastern Conference team at least once and also go back to Grand Rapids, Rockford and Milwaukee.

Breakdown goes as follows….

Opponent Home Road   Opponent Home Road
Binghamton 2 2 Milwaukee 1 1
Bridgeport 4 4 Providence 3 3
Charlotte 2 2 Rochester 1 1
Cleveland 2 2 Rockford 1 1
Grand Rapids 1 1 Springfield 3 3
Hartford 3 3 Syracuse 1 1
Hershey 6 6 Toronto 1 1
Lehigh Valley 6 6 Utica 1 1

Thoughts:

  • I am not a fan of playing Charlotte, a divisional foe, just four times. Those games matter.
  • Further, I’m not a fan of playing Syracuse just twice. Those games turn into premier games in that it’s the only time all season that you will see the club. I don’t associate that at all with the Crunch.
  • Easy fix is to simply take two games off of the Hershey and Lehigh Valley series, only play the Phantoms and Bears 10 games, and add a game to the Charlotte series and one more to Syracuse.
    • That would likely mean that the Penguins would have to play three straight in Charlotte. I don’t know that they would want to do that because of distance.
  • The Cleveland series will likely be a back to back Friday-Saturday series in Cleveland.
  • I’m not complaining, but I would have liked to have seen Iowa and Chicago on the matrix instead of the same combination of Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Rockford. But hey, they are Western Conference teams.

Overall, pretty business as usual. Schedule should be out pretty soon, once the Calder Cup Finals wrap up in about a month.

The Offseason Moves List has its own dedicated page now, which you can access here or just use the tab at the top of the blog.

Next blog update will be the Conference Finals Preview. Toronto is in, awaiting the winner of Lehigh Valley and Charlotte. Texas is a game away from advancing past Tucson and Rockford has Manitoba in a 3-0 hole. Look for that very soon.

Penguin Contract Statuses

I figured I would bring this back from the dead after not doing it last season. It’s the contract board for the offseason for the Penguins.

I discuss only players that played in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre. In my next blog post, whenever that is, I will pin this to the top of the blog and add it to a page and edit it as the summer goes on.

Here we go, in no particular order.

Player Position Status Description
Dominik Simon C RFA Serviceable enough that the Penguins may qualify him. If not, he’s definitely a upper echelon tweener type player.
Josh Jooris C UFA Didn’t really have much of an impact after coming over in the Greg McKegg trade. Was a full time NHLer when the trade happened with Carolina. Could fit in nice somewhere else.
Andrey Pedan D RFA Rumor is he is KHL bound. PIT may qualify his North American rights.
Thomas DiPauli LW RFA Should get qualified. Injury cut short the remainder of his season.
Ethan Prow D RFA Should be a lock to be qualified and will be playing meaningful AHL minutes in 18-19.
Teddy Blueger LW RFA Had an NHL cup of coffee but never dressed in a brief call-up. Expect him to be qualified.
Lukas Bengtsson D RFA May have a European deal lined up. Has health issues which has kept him from playing a full season.
Tobias Lindberg LW RFA Was one of the minor keys in the move that brought Derek Brassard to Pittsburgh. Never played a game with WBS.
Daniel Sprong RW RFA GM Rutherford indicated on breakup day that he expects Sprong to be with Pittsburgh in the Fall. In order for that to occur he must be qualified.
Kevin Czuczman D UFA He’s the type of player you want to see come back next season. I think he moves on though.
Frank Corrado D RFA He’ll be 26 next year and has played in just 7 games for PIT. I let him walk. We’ll see what happens.
J-S Dea C RFA Didn’t really do much to establish himself this season in the AHL. He’s an interesting case.
Tom Sestito LW UFA Have a sense that if he decides to re-sign, he does so here in WBS as I get the sense that he has enjoyed his time here. Otherwise, I think he retires.
Jarred Tinordi D UFA He may be looking for NHL work elsewhere, but that ship may have sailed.
Zach Trotman D UFA Same as Tinordi above, Trotman is a year older, too.
Michael Leighton G UFA At age 36, that’s a lot of tread on the tires. He’d fit in perfect next year with Anthony Peters as his mentor as PIT doesn’t have any other goalies under contract eligible to play in the AHL next year.
Vincent Dunn C RFA Was one of the minor pieces in the Derek Brassard mega deal and never played in WBS.
Tristan Jarry G RFA Question becomes did Jarry establish himself enough to be Matt Murray’s backup for next year. Casey DeSmith is already under contract so Jarry is already behind the proverbial 8-ball. Plus, Jarry would need waivers.

Below are the players on AHL contracts only.

Ryan Haggerty RW UFA Wilkes-Barre re-signed him last summer. I’m sure they would like to to the same, but will he return for a third year?
Christian Thomas RW UFA While auditioning for international work, still managed a good year in the AHL. He’s high on my list to get back here in 18-19.
Jarrett Burton C UFA He’s a love him or hate him type player. The coaching staff seemed to love him as Burton was a staple in the lineup night in and night out.
Joseph Cramarossa C UFA Hard nosed, lunch pail type player. More success with WBS then with Stockton, where he came over from in a trade for Colin Smith
Cody Wydo LW UFA ECHL depth player. I don’t see a fit here with the crop of draft picks at forward coming down the pipeline.
Reid Gardiner RW UFA Sort of got lost in the shuffle after getting re-signed by WBS out of juniors. Can he carve an AHL niche? Sure. Will it be with the Penguins? Remains to be seen.
Patrick McGrath RW UFA Local product limited to 19 games because of one dimension.
Kevin Spinozzi D UFA Made team out of training camp and was used as ECHL depth.
Kevin Schulze D UFA Dime a dozen defender.
Cam Brown C UFA Decent year in the ECHL with the Nailers. Was contracted out to two AHL teams, the Penguins had his services for one game.
Gage Quinney F UFA AHL depth. Plays a role, but so do a lot of other guys in a similar boat.
Troy Josephs C UFA? I can’t find anything on his status as far as U/RFA. I think it’s fair to say he was lost in the shuffle this season.