Chirps from Center Ice

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

Player Grades, Kinda…

So they are packing up to go home and go their separate ways here either today or sometime early this week. With the compressed schedule of getting the Calder Cup Playoffs going as early as this Tuesday, this piece is up now for your perusal.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins had 43 players put a jersey on for them in the 2022-23 season, and here’s blurbs on every single one of them.

I’ve decided to group the players instead of going through each one. I find this to be easier to group them all vs. grading, because what difference does a B+ make from a B?

The Best of What We Got Division

Valtterri Puustinen, Drake Caggiula, Alex Nylander

All scored 50 or more points with Puustinen’s 59 leading the team. He was the only one in this group to not earn an NHL game with Pittsburgh and the only player to play in every single game for the Penguins this season. Caggiula is 28, so hardly a prospect by any stretch and the argument could be made that he was the most consistent everyday player. Nylander got called up late in the season, but well after it was a foregone conclusion that the Penguins were playoff pretenders instead of contenders.

The OK to be Average Division

Filip Hållander, Tyler Sikura, Jonathan Gruden, Mitch Reinke

Hållander missed time due to a scary injury which saw him stretchered off against Charlotte in January, was recalled and saw some NHL games. Sikura was a training camp AHL contracted savior who scored big goals in high contest situations. Jonathan Gruden took a good step and may have a future as an NHLer at some point, Mitch Reinke was mercurial and sometimes a sore spot on defense but was good on the Pens power play. 

They all get grouped here because the team, as a whole, was extremely average throughout the season and just got passed. You run the speed limit on the interstate, get to your destination on time, but the guy that left half an hour after you did speeds past you and gets there before you and eats all the fruit cup. 

I’d be OK with bringing Sikura back. 

(if you are wondering, I’ll have a contract status thing here for the blog at some point)

The I’d Like to See More Division

This is a big group.

Ty Smith, Sam Houde, Corey Andonovski, Lukas Svejkovsky, Ty Glover, Colin Swoyer

Houde, Andonovski, Svejkovsky, Glover and Swoyer are rookies. They get passes, somewhat, but if they, say, increased their overall point production by a quarter or so more, the Pens are a playoff team and likely in the running for a first round bye. 

Ty Smith was here because P.O. Joseph needed waivers to get sent to the AHL and Pittsburgh didn’t want to risk losing him to waivers so they buried Smith in the AHL. He started strong, stalled, got hurt, then played like crap on a team full of it.

The They Are What They Are Division

Jon Lizotte, Jack St. Ivany, Raivis Ansons, Kyle Olson, Josh Maniscalco

St. Ivany and Ansons are rookies here so they get a curve. 

Lizotte isn’t someone who is asked to put up goals or sauce out assists. He blocks shots on the penalty kill and gets his nose dirty. Maniscalco is an ECHL all star defenseman who is average on a team full of just average. Kyle Olson is a dime a dozen body you find on any team. Pens didn’t make playoffs this season. These guys aren’t the reason why.

The I’m Extremely Disappointed In You Division

Taylor Fedun, Jamie Devane, Nathan Légaré

I actually moved Légaré down here from “I’d Like to See More”

Nathan Légaré is a lesson to anyone who thinks kids coming out of juniors with gaudy numbers will just rip through the AHL. It’s men you are playing with now who are better than you in all facets. Légaré didn’t even get to 20 points (he had 19) and frankly that’s a disappointment. Nathan Légaré is no closer to full time NHL work than you or I.

Two of the worst players on the team pegged as leaders were Taylor Fedun and Jamie Devane. Fedun wore the C and we get him again next season. Devane is a black hole and plays a one trick pony enforcer role in an era where they are trying to do away with fighting. Fedun’s work on the defensive side was exposed as the season wore on. 

The I Wish You Were Here Division

Drew O’Connor, Sam Poulin, Xavier Ouellet

O’Connor earned himself a full time NHL role. His AHL days in Wilkes-Barre are over. Poulin left the team for personal reasons, returned, worked his way back but had little impact on a team which was already eliminated. Ouellet was injured and ruled done for the season after ankle surgery right around the All Star break. Are things different if all three played a full 72 games? Yeah, probably, but that isn’t how this developmental thing works. Good thing is Ouellet will be back next season as will Sam Poulin.

The Who Are You Again? Division

Chris Ortiz, Max Newton, Brooklyn Kalmikov, Jagger Joshua, Andrew Nielsen, Adam Smith, Justin Lee, Jordan Frasca, Sean Josling

Off the top of my head…Ortiz was an ECHL D man pressed to fill in when the injuries / call ups hit…Newton played one game as a filler…Kalmikov was a hyped up player who was buried in the ECHL all season and couldn’t carve out more work for himself at the AHL level…Joshua just signed so we will see more of him next year maybe…Nielsen was brought in from ECHL Utah, did OK for himself, was released and then Cleveland signed him…Adam Smith and Justin Lee played five and eight games respectively and scored no points…Frasca was another ECHL burial and Sean Josling managed 12 games and no points.

The I Took It Apart, But Don’t Remember Where These Parts Go!? Division

Mark Friedman, Justin Addamo, Peter DiLiberatore

Maybe I am not being fair here because Addamo played well enough to earn himself an AHL contract for next year. DiLiberatore actually did quite well for himself with the Penguins after the Teddy Blueger trade to Vegas. Friedman was a defender who played in 20+ games but bounced between being injured and the NHL. Ty Smith couldn’t get the call instead? He’s not a better option?

The This is Your Future Division

Jami Krannila, Owen Pickering

Have heard a lot of good things about Krannila who could look like an impact player for the Pens in 23-24. Pickering is either NHL or back to juniors next year because of his age. How he develops over the next two years is vital. Does he develop like a Drew O’Connor developed or does he develop like a Nathan Légaré and find that playing with men is tougher than playing with teenagers who aren’t as good as you? Time will tell.

The Protect the Net Division

Dustin Tokarski, Filip Lindberg, Taylor Gauthier, Tommy Nappier, Joel Blomqvist

The goaltenders. I would have thought that Nappier would have seen more than one game since he was the goaltender the Pens used in playoffs last season. Lindberg has an injury problem he’ll carry with him as the guy can’t stay healthy. He ran into this same problem last season. That leaves Taylor Gauthier and Dustin Tokarski, the latter in Tokarski who saw the lion share of starts in net for the Pens. Tokarski is sadly past his prime and only a small reason why the Pens didn’t make playoffs and finished last in the division. I think the jury is still deliberating as to whether or not Taylor Gauthier is a capable enough horse you can ride to a playoff spot in 2023-24. I think that Joel Blomqvist just opts to return back overseas next year instead of involve himself in this smoldering dumpster fire heading into 2023-24.

The Hey Coach Division

Head Coach J.D. Forrest, Assistant Coaches Sheldon Brookbank and Kevin Porter

I think they are back next year. It wasn’t all a coaching problem as much as it was a player problem. Call it 70/30 player / coaching. Some of Forrest’s decisions were mind numbing (giving Fedun as much ice, same for Devane, no changes to the blowing of leads in the later stages of the season, lack fo holding guys accountable) but again, the best coach in the AHL wasn’t getting this team any higher than a 6 seed I don’t think, and where would that get them against the likes of Charlotte, Hershey or Springfield? Probably not far. So that’s a  case for keeping Forrest on. But in the end, you don’t fire players, you fire coaches.

So that’s it. I think that’s everyone who played. If it isn’t drop me a comment. If you disagree with where I put a guy let me know. 

One response to “Player Grades, Kinda…

  1. jack omara April 17, 2023 at 7:39 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about Taylor Fedun. No value added how does he get to wear the C? Maybe because he is smart (went to Princeton) and is very helpful to the players. Good coaching material but not good playing material. On the other hand, I strongly disagree with your Ty Smith assessment! He really knows what he is doing. He has agreat presence on the ice, excellent at passing the pick and a great shooter always on net unlike Drake who more than half the time hits the post!

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