WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON, Penn – As they open their 20th season in the American Hockey League, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will look to make it out of the first round of the playoffs for just the second time under Head Coach Clark Donatelli. With a few fresh new faces in the lineup, as well as a strong returning cast, perhaps this is the year they get over the hump.
Nuts and Bolts:
Record: 45-22-6-3, 99 points
Division/Conference Finish: 2nd in the Atlantic/4th in the East
Playoff Finish (if applicable): Eliminated in three games by the Charlotte Checkers
Record vs. Division: 29-16-3-2
Record vs. Conference: 41-21-6-2
Goals For Per Game: 3.32, 5th in the AHL
Goals Against Per Game: 2.46, 3rd overall
Power Play: 13.8%, 41 goals on 296 chances, 29th in the AHL
Penalty Kill: 82.0%, allowing 64 goals on 355 attempts, 21st in the AHL
Who replaces Sprong?
With leading scorer Daniel Sprong no longer waiver-exempt, which player will step up and replace his 30+ goals in the lineup?
Back up Battle: Who will back up Tristan Jarry?
John Muse and Anthony Peters are battling it out for the back up spot in WBS. Both split time in the blue paint as the Penguins went 3-2 in preseason, and Clark Donatelli is comfortable with either in net. There’s a chance, If Peters doesn’t win the backup gig, that he could go to Wheeling rather than Cincinnati. That seems less dependent on anything involving Pittsburgh and more with people in Wheeling, however.
Who wears the ‘C’? Longtime leader Tom Kostopoulos has retired at age 38. Who will replace him as the locker room leader?
With the loss of Kostopoulos, Donatelli and the Penguins need to fill a role the winger has held for the last five seasons. Not only was Kostopoulos instrumental in this team’s identity on the ice, but he’s been the face of WBS Penguins hockey off the ice, too. That’s a large role to ask just one player to fill, so look for a cast of characters to step up this season as this team works to find its new leader.
Donatelli, on a perceived lack of scoring headed into this season,
“You’ve got (Teddy) Blueger, Tom Di Pauli. (Adam) Johnson‘s back. It’s not gonna be that one guy. We’re not gonna bring someone in who is gonna get 35 goals or whatever to replace Sprong. I think it’s gonna have to be distributed throughout our lineup… there’s gonna be a lot of balance and we’re looking forward to it.”
Anthony Angello: This big-bodied rookie from Cornell impressed on Amateur Tryout at end of last season, and he looks to continue to make his mark on the WBS Penguins depth chart.
Ryan Haggerty: After earning an NHL contract with an impressive camp in Pittsburgh, will he top last season’s 16 goals and 37 points? If so, Haggerty is someone who could definitely do a lot towards filling the hole left by the promotion of Sprong.
Ethan Prow: The defenseman looks to build on last season’s breakout 17 point campaign, and continued improvement by him would go a long ways towards helping out the Penguins’ scoring on the back end, where only one player finished in the top 10 on the team’s scoring.
Gone but Not Forgotten
Andrey Pedan: This steady defenseman now with Ak-Bars Kazan of the KHL. Pedan had the second-most points by a WBS defenseman with 9 goals and 17 assists, and finished with an impressive plus-19 in the regular season.
Tom Sestito: Wilkes-Barre lost another big player to retirement over the summer, with the talented enforcer who accumulated 15 points last season retiring from hockey. While the enforcer role seems to be getting phased out of hockey, without Sestito, the Penguins find themselves potentially without a tough guy to protect its young guns.
Jean-Sebastien Dea: A 50-point center was claimed off waivers by New Jersey just days ago, the loss of Dea further adds to the amount of scoring Dontelli and his cast will need to not just replace, but improve upon, in order to make another playoff run.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
Injuries. I know it’s cliche, but injuries always seem to affect Pittsburgh Wilkes-Barre/Scranton more than most. If injuries and call ups don’t ravage the roster, there’s a great chance the Penguins can extend their AHL active record playoff appearance streak. However, they could get off to a slow start after losing their top-two scorers and leader from this past season, and they cannot afford to lose more bodies to injury.
What do you think? Let us know how you think the WBS Penguins will do.