Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: Pittsburgh

Last Saturday in July

Couple things to clean out of the notebook here as August in nearly upon us.

— The Penguins signed Riley Bourbonnais to an AHL contract the other day. If he doesn’t stick with Wilkes-Barre then Wheeling has a good guy back in the fold for 2017-18.

— Pittsburgh rounded out its development cache by naming Scott Young director of player development, Jarrod Skalde player development coach, and Brendan Sullivan goaltending development coach. More from the official team press release here.

— Ex-Penguins assistant coach Jay Leach is going to be the top guy in Providence in the Fall.

— A nice feature piece on new car owner Casey DeSmith. DeSmith is an easy guy to pull for.

— Two new logos this week, one by the Belleville Senators and the other by the Binghamton Devils. Take a look:

I’d have something to add, but none of it is positive. Just remember that someone was paid money to come up with these logos.

Anyway, enjoy the nice weather.

I’d Like to Buy a Vowel: Pens Sign Kevin Czuczman

I saw the transaction as I was just finishing up listening to the New York Mets get smoked by the Washington Nationals on a lazy July 4 early afternoon.

Being it was a lazy National Holiday, there wasn’t an immediate press release from Pittsburgh or Wilkes-Barre until now, some week later.

Czuczman, a defender, was fifth overall on a bad Manitoba Moose team and led the blue liners in points with 32, a breakout season for the product of Lake Superior State University. I had him ranked #67 on my AHL Big Board.

Hit play on this next tweet for some highlights the Moose put together on him in May.

You may remember him playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers two seasons ago.

Oh, and you pronounce it “Churchman.” How do I know this? A deep rooted Twitter search back to February 2015….

His twitter feed made me chuckle too: @GoToCzucz

So now you know.

Schedule Tuesday; Two Signings

At 3 pm Monday, my Twitter feed filled up with AHL teams announcing their home opener date and opponent. In that announcement was mention that the full AHL schedule will be made available sometime Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Oh, October 7 the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will open their 2017-18 campaign against the Charlotte Checkers. I’ve not seen where the Penguins are the visitors for any opponents home openers, for what it’s worth.

Two other noteworthy things happened since we last blogged.

Pittsburgh signed an undrafted kid by the name of Adam Johnson to a contract last week. Johnson attended the Penguins development camp and Mark Recchi called him one of the most impressive prospects at camp. He’s a University of Minnesota-Deluth product that was second on the team with 18 goals and tied for second with 37 points. IN 14-15 he was second in USHL scoring for Sioux City with 71 points.

The second signing occurred Monday morning. Remember Reid Gardiner? He is back, after starting the season last year with the Penguins, Gardiner went back to juniors and dominated again, putting up an average of 1.32 points per game. I said last year that he was a diamond in the rough type signing then, and by all accounts he can be the same again. He’s a natural born point producer.

Back Tuesday to breakdown the 2017-18 AHL schedule.

2017 NHL Free Agency: Day 1

It was a pretty quiet first day of NHL Free Agency for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Before the market opened at noon, the Penguins announced that they re-signed Garrett Wilson to a two year deal.

Then fans on Coal Street waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Then around 6 p.m., the floodgates opened.

All four guys I did not have ranked in my Top 100 on my AHL Big Board.

Chris Summers: Played on a bad Hartford team last year. Slowly rounding into form as a pro. I always liked what I saw from his play.

Jarred Tinordi: 102 PIMs with Tucson last year, second on the team.

Zach Trotman: Veteran of 67 NHL games, only played 9 games with AHL Ontario last season. You may remember him playing with the Providence Bruins.

Greg McKegg: 46 NHL games split between the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Had some success with the Portland Pirates and scored 22 goals with the Toronto Marlies in 2014-15. I always liked his play too.

In all, a nice crop of players picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins, setting up the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins for success come the Fall.

But they weren’t done.

Biggest name in the group will end up being the steal of the day, Casey DeSmith. I had him number 10 on my board, knew he was going to play his way into an NHL contract, did not think for a second that the team to sign him would be the Penguins.

So now the Penguins have Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith ready to tend the nets on Coal Street again for another run, with a reloaded defensive corps dynamic forwards in Zach Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong most likely starting in Wilkes-Barre with veterans like Tom Kostopoulos and Garrett Wilson. The signings today weren’t as explosive like in Buffalo for Rochester and Minnesota for Iowa, but they didn’t need to be because the Amerks and Wild were literal AHL doormats. The Penguins have been a good team for years and it helps that your parent team just won back to back Stanley Cups.

On DeSmith…

There are always moves made on Day 2. I don’t know for certain if there will be any more made from Pittsburgh for Wilkes-Barre, but if there is, I’ll have a blog about it here.

My AHL Big Board has now been pinned to the top of the site and will update for as long as it needs to be. Link here.

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.