5 PreSeason Keys to a Successful Season in WBS by @jfoo1654 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, September 12, 2016

5 PreSeason Keys to a Successful Season in WBS by @jfoo1654

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins enter the 2016-2017 AHL season coming off of yet another lengthy postseason run that ended shy of the ultimate goal. The Penguins have become a yearly fixture in the Calder Cup Playoffs and have made 3 Finals appearances in their brief 17 year history. Year after year the Pittsburgh front office places an emphasis on winning in the AHL, and believes it is the best way to develop prospects. Last season that theory proved to be spot on as WBS sent countless young players to Pittsburgh and watched as they contributed at the NHL level on a consistent basis and helped the franchise capture it's fourth Stanley Cup. With opening night only 5 weeks away let's take a look at 5 keys to success for this coming season if the AHL Pens want to continue to be a factor in the Calder Cup discussion.

1. Young Goaltenders Fulfill Potential

After spending most of the last two seasons dominating in the AHL, Matt Murray made the NHL jump after last season's trade deadline. He is spending this spring with Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey and appears poised to be the #1 goalie on that squad. In WBS the front office has decided it will go with Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Both young but supremely talented net-minders with a vast upside. Jarry spent last season learning the ropes from Murray and excelled in the backup role for most of the year. With a good camp he could very well earn the top job for the Baby Pens. DeSmith on the other hand was once a top prospect who had some off the ice issues derail his potential for a short spell. The Penguins gave him a shot in Wheeling early on last season and he impressed. He would earn a late season call-up to Wilkes-Barre and go on a storybook run that saw him steal the postseason starting job right out from underneath Jarry. Either one of these two could take the job and run with it, but I believe it is much more likely that they will share the workload until later in the season. By February/March I would expect Clark Donatelli to begin prepping one of them for playoff duty. In order for WBS to be successful they will be counting on the young duo to be solid and to take the next step in the development process.

DeSmith robs former Penguin Max Talbot 

2. Secondary Scoring 

The AHL version of the Penguins began last season as an offensive juggernaut. Finding goal scoring up and down the lineup from the likes of Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust, Kevin Porter and even Derrick Pouliot was chipping in from the blue line quite often. That obviously changed when each one of them went to Pittsburgh and left their mark on the NHL. Following the departure of the core group of forwards the Penguins had some trouble getting scoring out of their bottom six. J.S. Dea and Josh Archibald both cooled considerably in the second half and weren't able to generate much at all during the playoffs. The pair of third year forwards will certainly be counted upon to add some scoring depth again this season and help the likes of Simon, Guentzel, TK, and Carter Rowney at the top of the lineup. Jarrett Burton had a huge year in Wheeling and showed a few flashes during his short stint in Wilkes-Barre, and Adam Krause had his moments as well. Oskar Sundqvist is certainly a candidate to up his totals coming into his second season in North America as well. My pick to make the biggest leap this year in terms of depth production is Sahir Gill. The former Boston Terrier was the final cut from the team last season and it didn't take long before he was in the AHL full-time and contributing. Other players to watch: Haggerty; Blueger; Di Pauli.

Sundqvist looks to increase his offensive totals in '16-17
3. Carter in Command

If a General Manager ever wants to sell a prospect on the idea of playing in the ECHL and working his way up through the ranks the old fashioned way, he should look no further than Carter Rowney as the perfect example. Rowney has come a long way since being an undrafted free agent out of North Dakota who found himself in Wheeling, West Virginia to start his pro career. This past season he was signed to his very first NHL contract and for good reason. "Rowns" as he is known here in NEPA has shown improvement almost literally on a shift by shift basis. When he first arrived in WBS in '13-'14 he was a bottom line type of player who excelled in the face-off circle and killing penalties. Last season when the cavalry went west to Pittsburgh, Rowney stepped to the forefront and was an offensive force to go along with being his expected stingy self while on the PK. He scored 24 Goals and added 32 assists while playing alongside team captain Tom Kostopoulous. During the postseason Jake Guentzel joined the two on the top line and they absolutely took the league by storm. By far the most productive line in the Calder Cup Playoffs through the first two rounds before Hershey won Game 7 in OT. If history tells us anything about Carter Rowney, it is that he will only be even better when he takes the ice in October. Should that statement prove true, the sky is the limit for him.

Carter Rowney has taken the long route to becoming an AHL star.

4. Oh Captain, My Captain

When the American Hockey League Season gets underway Penguins Captain Tom Kostopoulos will be entering his 18th campaign as a professional hockey player. "TK" has been the most influential and productive player in WBS' history, without question. He is in his second stint as the captain and has been a part of some of the most successful teams in the franchise's history. The veteran forward has articulated very clearly that he is coming back for a singular reason; one more run at the only thing missing from his brilliant career as a WBS Penguin; The Calder Cup. He is the leader in every career offensive statistic in Wilkes-Barre's record books, and he continues to play at an unbelievably high level, all the while being a mentor to a locker room full of young players looking to develop into NHL players. If the Captain can successfully produce at the rate he has been over the course of the last 3 seasons (47,44,52 PTS) you can bet the team will be in the Atlantic Division Title race and will have a realistic shot at another playoff run and maybe the ultimate goal will finally be reached. The fan base has always embraced "TK" and he has done just the same for the fans and community. The franchise acknowledges yearly just how lucky they are to have a player and man like him around their prospects. He deserves the Cup without question, and soon we find out if there is indeed a storybook ending to "TK's" inspiring hockey journey.

TK leads the boys out
5. D Corps Dominates

On the first day of the NHL Free Agency period the Pittsburgh Penguins front office made quite the statement. Depth on the blue line would never be a concern again as long a Jim Rutherford and Jason Botterill are around. The Penguins scooped up the majority of high-end AHL Defenseman available by signing; Stuart Percy, Cameron Gaunce, Chad Ruhwedel, David Warsofsky (who left the organization in March on waivers), and Steve Oleksy re-signed. They weren't done as they would go on to bring back Barry Goers to fill out the remainder of the Defensive Unit. To explain just how deep this unit could be; Reid McNeill has been a staple in the WBS top six over the last few years, he will likely be the 8th/9th best D-Man on this roster. Lukas Bengtsson signed from Sweden and has high offensive upside from the back end. Ethan Prow looks to build on his brief appearance late last season. Let's not forget Tim Erixon who has been a point-per-game player at times in the AHL and although he struggled most of last season he really had a stellar postseason and appears poised to have a huge 2016-17 campaign. This is without question the best defensive unit the Penguins have ever boasted on paper, and that is saying a lot considering the success this team has had defensively throughout the years. 

Once a highly touted prospect, Percy looks to make an impact in Pittsburgh/WBS this season.

Thanks again for reading everyone, I truly appreciate all of you! Keep checking in on twitter @jfoo1654 and @PensInitiative!

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