Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: Pittsburgh

Draft Roundup – Sundqvist Dealt to St. Louis

The 2017 NHL Draft has come and gone and the immediate impact felt by the Penguins was a trade on Day 1 on Friday that saw Oskar Sundqvist get dealt to the St. Louis Blues for Ryan Reaves.

Set aside whether or not you think Reaves is a serviceable NHL player. I think, as was pointed out by many last night in the wake of this news, that the Penguins organization are sending a strong message to both the NHL and the rest of the league that they need to protect their stars. Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin take massive abuse shift after shift. You don’t need me to rehash for you the games missed by both superstars. Reaves was brought in as a protector and an enforcer, and with the emergence of Carter Rowney at center, made a player like Sundqvist expendable.

I did see some rejoicing from other teams in the AHL Atlantic Division, but as pointed out by Jason Chaimovitch, the Blues don’t have a full time AHL affiliate with Vegas coming into the NHL and scooping up the Chicago Wolves as their primary, so Sundqvist could, hypothetically, land on any AHL team if that is indeed the direction that the Blues take.

That was the big, immediate, news. There were players drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday…

Lauzon played for Rouyn-Noranda last season and was named QMJHL’s best defensive defenseman. The same accolade that Kris Letang won while playing for the QMJHL during his time there.

Phillips is an offensive defenseman who can skate and will head to the University of Minnesota this fall.

Pittsburgh went bang bang at 152 and 155 and selected Jan Drozg and Linus Ölund respectively. Of the two, Ölund is closer to NHL work at age 20. He played in the Swedish leage last year and had a decent season offensively.

And finally, with the last overall pick, Pittsburgh went with….

Another defender who put up 15 points in 35 games during his freshman season at RPI. Reilly was the OJHL’s top prospect in 2015 with the Nanaimo Clippers.

I preferred the recap / live blog that Penguins color man Nick Hart put together during the two day draft which you can check out here.

I will be back this week with the AHL Big Board.

Don’t Get Your Britches in a Tiffel…

Coupla things to share on this Thursday….

Pittsburgh signed forward Freddie Tiffels to an entry level contract Thursday and last week signed goaltender Filip Gustavsson. Tiffels should be in the organization next year and Gustavsson will stay and play in Sweden again next season.

Press releases on Gustavsson here and Tiffels here.

Tiffels is a good skater with speed that finished his junior season at Western Michigan. He tied a career high 21 points. I’d project him starting on a third or fourth line in WIlkes-Barre and maybe even see some Wheeling time next season to start.

Pittsburgh also re-signed Chad Ruhwedel to a two year contract Thursday as well. Ruhwedel helped Wilkes-Barre get out ahead of the Atlantic Division and then earned the trust of Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh enough for a permanent NHL spot as a seventh defenseman. I really don’t see an option where Ruhwedel makes it back to Wilkes-Barre again next season.

The Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft Wednesday. Fleury was a cornerstone piece in Pittsburgh’s turnaround as an organization and you can make an argument that the Penguins don’t win three Stanley Cups in the past decade if it weren’t for Fleury. But it’s a business, and with the stellar play of Matt Murray, Fleury became expendable.

NHL Draft this weekend and the fine folks at 40 Coal Street have a great primer of what to expect this weekend here.

I need two more teams, the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks, before all the free agent names I am going to be working on next week for the AHL Big Board are ready for their capsules. The plan is to put out a Top 30 of each teams best free agent then work on capsules on each player and a Top 100 ranking before the best of the rest. Once word gets out of which restricted free agent was tendered a qualifying offer thereby cutting down the list, will I then be able to push towards completion of the Big Board.

If you want to volunteer a team or two, please let me know. The sooner this comes together the sooner it gets out there for all to see.

I’ll probably have a draft recap this weekend then the Big Board next weekend.

Stay cool and remember to hydrate.

New GM; Same Griffin in the Crown, Other Stuff

First off, congratulations to the Grand Rapids Griffins for winning the Calder Cup for the second time in five years against the Syracuse Crunch who, for the second time in five years, have been runner up to Griffins. Both teams, when you think about it, have flown under the radar for the past five seasons and really can be considered powerhouse AHL franchises.

Speaking of a powerhouse franchise, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second time in as many seasons, first team to go back to back since most of you were in diapers or had more hair. A large group of names who were molded on Coal Street helped Pittsburgh to its second Stanley Cup and fifth as a franchise. It’s easy to get caught up at the fact Wilkes-Barre doesn’t have a Calder Cup yet but the main purpose of an AHL franchise is to develop for the next level. Pittsburgh is good at it. Wilkes-Barre benefits from it in most ways and its day will come.

Maybe that day will come in the Bill Guerin Era. Guerin was announced as the new General Manager of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and will be joined by Jason Karmanos as Assistant GM. Mark Recchi will serve as the Player Development director. So all names that are already familiar with the way things are run on Coal Street.

Tom had some quotes from the new AHL Penguins GM today…

Marc-Andre Fleury waived his no-trade clause and is penciled in as the new Las Vegas Golden Knights starting goaltender. That obviously will have a trickle down effect to Wilkes-Barre. Here’s what I think, Matt Murray is the #1 goaltender for Pittsburgh, who signs a veteran backup while Tristan Jarry gets the lion share of starts on Coal Street with a veteran AHL goaltender backing him up. Sean Maguire gets another year in the ECHL getting all the starts down there with a capable ECHL backup there. That’s the perfect scenario, in my opinion. Does it happen? Anyone’s guess. If not, there is a backup plan in place….

If you would like more information on how Vegas affects all of this, Derrick Graffius put this well thought out piece together which you should read.

I am going to start cobbling together the AHL Free Agent Big Board likely this weekend. I am crowdsourcing it again and have contributions from Hershey and San Antonio done already. If you would like a team, just let me know via some form of social media and we will work out the logistics. That is probably going to the be the next blog piece to come, provided there isn’t some form of big news worthy of a blog post. Look for it the last week of June.

Stay cool.

Second One Re-Signed — McGrath is Back

I really haven’t had much of anything to blog about since the last time I blogged in mid-May. To catch you up, here are eight things that have happened and below my takes on each….

1) Syracuse beat Providence in five games to advance to the Calder Cup Finals to face Grand Rapids, who did the same to San Jose in five games.

2) Grand Rapids leads Syracuse 2-0 in their best of seven as the series shifts to Syracuse for Game 3 Wednesday night.

3) You can stream the Calder Cup Finals for free on AHL Live by selecting the finals package and using the promo code “FINALS17”

4) Pittsburgh is tied 2-2 with Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals with the series shifting back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday.

5) Doug Davidson and Kyle Moore are headed to Las Vegas. Moore served as a trainer and Davidson as strength and conditioning coach here in Wilkes-Barre.

6) Jason Botterhill is the new General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres. He had previously worked for Pittsburgh as an assistant general manager and had a hand in building the roster here in Wilkes-Barre.

7) Seth Lakso is returning to New England to continue his education. Tyler Picotti is the new Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins beat writer for the The Citizens’ Voice.

8) Finally, Patrick McGrath is back, having re-signed with the Penguins in June 7.

Analysis

1) Providence went through the meat grinder known as the Atlantic Division to get to the conference finals and didn’t have an answer to what Syracuse, who was tops in their division all season, brought to the table. The result was not surprising in hindsight. Makes me wonder if Wilkes-Barre, Hershey or Leigh Valley would have suffered the same fate.

2) Grand Rapids has been elite all season and has only lost twice in the postseason. It isn’t surprising to see them leading the Crunch like this. I picked them in six over Syracuse, but it could easily end in a sweep, or five games. Crunch desperately need a win Wednesday night.

3) Second highest hockey league in the world and they are relegated to giving away their games on the internet instead of being able to line up a broadcast partner. With that said, I fully realize that putting games on TV is easier said than done. However, everyone in Springfield and around the league gets upset when their league is passed over by a national audience, but it’s kind of hard to be taken seriously as a league when viewing said league is next to impossible for the casual fan.

4) The home team has won every game so far, with Pittsburgh and Nashville defending home ice. It isn’t a series until the home team loses.

5) The AHL develops much more than just players and coaches.

6) If you are thinking that losing Botterhill is going to be a big problem, don’t. I am not insinuating guys like him are a dime a dozen, but whoever Pittsburgh names as a replacement will be highly qualified to carry on the mission Botterhill created. Also, expect the list of candidates to be long as Wilkes-Barre is seen as a premier destination in the hockey world.

7) Seth admirably filled Jonathan Bombulie’s shoes and from what I have seen so far from Tyler, I am confident he will do the same.

8) No brainer for both involved. McGrath wasn’t going to sign any place else and get buried and forgotten about and Wilkes-Barre gets to boast home grown talent for another season.

I am going to wait until the end of the Stanley Cup Finals to put out the Offseason Moves Chart. I am also going to get an early jump on the Offseason AHL Big Board. If you want to volunteer to help, please contact me.

Now, back to summer.

Thursday Notes 3/30

Figured I would drop a quick blog post here in light of what’s gone on this week around Coal Street and the rest of the Atlantic Division. Here goes…

Last night the Bridgeport Sound Tigers defeated the Springfield Thunderbirds 3-2. So that means that Wilkes-Barre cannot clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs Friday. The magic number remains at five. Pens get this Springfield team Friday in Springfield while Bridgeport visits Allentown. As with last Sunday when these two teams met, provided the Penguins win against the Thunderbirds Friday, you just want whichever team to win in regulation.

Word out of Coal Street Wednesday afternoon was that Stuart Percy is done for the year after having surgery on his upper body injury and that Garrett Wilson is expected back this weekend. Both Seth and Tom reported it, here’s Tom’s tweet capsulizing both. Percy’s biggest MO from the start was that he could never stay healthy. Wilson getting back will be a huge help.

Troy Josephs missed practice Wednesday as he went back to school to finish up a few classes. My guess is that with Wilson back in the picture, Josephs projects as that 13th forward who could be scratched.

Daniel Sprong’s Charlottetown Islanders swept Drakkar Wednesday. They are onto the second round. First ever sweep for Charlottetown.

Pittsburgh signed D Jeff Taylor for next year. In the interim, he has signed his ATO and has already joined Wilkes-Barre for practice. He’s one of the top offensive defensemen in college hockey and put up 33 points in 38 games played this season. I also think he kind of looks like Major League Baseball player Ryan Braun too.

You are all caught up, I think. Gameday setup for Friday’s game at Springfield hist the blog Friday afternoon at 3.

Zach Aston-Reese Signs: Reactions

During all the snow Tuesday (I am still snowed in Wednesday as the office at my big boy job is closed) the Pittsburgh Penguins went out and signed Zach Aston-Reese to a two-year deal which kicks in next year. For the time being, he will report to Wilkes-Barre on an amateur tryout contract.

As of five minutes ago, you may not have known who Zach Aston-Reese was. I know that five minutes before I read about the news, I didn’t know who he was either.

But that’s what the power of the internet is for. Here are some reactions…

It’s a big deal when Jonathan calls the guy the top undrafted college free agent on the market…

Derrick Graffius pays a lot more attention to the college kids than I do…

I don’t suppose that you can use the kids name without also using, “big signing”

Reaction around the division?

Ok, ok, but what about a scouting report?

Words from Seth, a Q&A with Jonathan and a nice article on the Penguins site.

My reaction?

The signing certainly helps. Don’t look for him to jump right in and start playing all of a sudden. He will probably use this week to acclimate himself to Wilkes-Barre, have a couple of video sessions, practice this week and take in the two games this weekend with Lehigh Valley. Hobey Baker finalist and leader in whichever category you prefer, I don’t think they are going to trot the kid out there Saturday in Allentown, in the thick of a playoff race. If he gets in a game at all, it will most likely be next Tuesday at home against Hartford.

The one game to watch Wednesday night is Lehigh Valley hosting the North Division leader Syracuse Crunch. This is the game in hand that the Phantoms are burning against the Penguins and a Lehigh Valley win would put them two points behind Wilkes-Barre for tops in the Atlantic with a home and home series between the two sides starting Friday in Allentown. I’ll have a blurb on Twitter later Wednesday mentioning the final score.

Next blog recap should be the Gameday setup against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Friday at 3.

A Deeper Shade of Blue — NHL Trade Deadline Recap

The NHL trade deadline came and went at 3 p.m. Eastern today and here is what shook out for the Pittsburgh Penguins and here is how it affects the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins…

button_16pit200   Pittsburgh / Wilkes-Barre   WBS

Jim Rutherford flipped Steve Oleksy and Eric Fehr for Frank Corrado from Toronto and acquired Mark Streit from Tampa Bay for a draft pick. Streit was briefly with Tampa Bay, having been acquired there from Philadelphia hours before.

In related moves, Pittsburgh recalled, reassigned then recalled Derrick Pouliot and assigned Corrado and Cameron Gaunce to Wilkes-Barre. They also papered Carter Rowney and Jake Guentzel making them eligible for the rest of the AHL season and playoffs, if applicable.

Wilkes-Barre defense is as follows…Cameron Gaunce, David Warsofsky, Frank Corrado, Brett Stern, Stuart Percy, Ethan Prow, Stuart Percy and Barry Goers. It was announced today after practice that Ethan Prow should be good to go this weekend from his injury and that Lukas Bengtsson is done for the year after still dealing with the symptoms of Lyme Disease.

Pittsburgh has a wealth of defensemen now. Ian Cole, Trevor Daley (hurt) Brian Dumoulin, Ron Hainsey, Kris Letang (hurt) Olli Maatta (hurt) Derrick Pouliot, Chad Ruhwedel (not waived yesterday, will not return to Wilkes-Barre) Justin Schultz and Mark Streit. You figure that as soon as Letang, who is the closest to returning as his status is simply day to day, gets healthy that Pouliot will be back in Wilkes-Barre lickety split.

This season, Wilkes-Barre’s strength has been through its blue line.

On Corrado, he’s been buried on the depth chart in Toronto. He is 1-11-12 with the Marlies. He’s recently started playing again with the Marlies and they are 13-1-1-0 since January 22. He’s played on the top pairing there and its no surprise that the Marlies are on the precipice of overtaking the Syracuse Crunch for tops in the North Division. Here’s more long form on Corrado if you’d like to read up on the Penguins latest asset and a Q&A.

In my opinion it’s a step up for the Pens. They lost Steve Oleksy who was a glue guy and a good quote to the papers and was 1-4-5 for Wilkes-Barre vs. a diamond in the rough player in Corrado.

Moving Eric Fehr means that we will have to wait a bit longer for Carter Rowney in Wilkes-Barre. Conor Sheary is days away, so you are looking at getting Bryan Rust back first before seeing Rowney back here.

Here’s what else happened in the AHL’s Atlantic Division…

button_16fla200   Florida / Springfield   button_16spr200

Dylan McIlrath to the Detroit Red Wings for Thomas Vanek.

Mike McKenna to Syracuse for Adam Wilcox.

Shane Harper to Albany for Reece Scarlett.

Here’s what I think: Springfield gets pillaged. They get nothing in return for the McIlrath trade since Vanek is an NHLer, lose a future Hall of Famer in Mike McKenna for Wilcox, whose numbers aren’t anything to write home about. (19-9-2, 2.87, .895 SV%) and get a slight upgrade in Scarlett over Harper. The Thunderbirds aren’t making playoffs and are just playing for pride at this point.

button_nyr200   NY Rangers / Hartford Wolf Pack   button_hfd200

Justin Fontaine for Taylor Beck. Beck was the Bakersfield Condors leading scorer with 50 points. It’s a bandaid on a bullet wound for a Hartford side who will probably finish last in the Atlantic Division.

button_wsh200   Washington / Hershey   HER

Washington sent Joe Cannata packing to the San Antonio Rampage in exchange for Cody Corbett. Cannata was the odd man out for the Bears crease after the reacquisition of Phoenix Copley on Monday night. Corbett is a depth defenseman.

As for the rest of the division, Lehigh Valley and Providence didn’t make any moves. Neither did Bridgeport, who still have G Jaroslav Halak. If you want a dark horse to make it out of the Atlantic, it’s Bridgeport. Personally, I’m not buying it. Wilkes-Barre is the best team in the division, Lehigh Valley, Providence and Bridgeport are on the same tier, Hershey is a step below then you have Springfield and Hartford. A lot can happen in this final quarter of the AHL season.

Pens are off Friday, so but for anything breaking between now and Saturday, look for the next blog update to come Saturday afternoon for the Gameday setup at Hershey.