WBS: Blue Line Has Potential To Be Elite - Part One by @jfoo1654 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

WBS: Blue Line Has Potential To Be Elite - Part One by @jfoo1654

When the NHL's Free Agency period opened on July 1st, it didn't take long for Jim Rutherford and Jason Botterill to address the needs of their top minor league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. By the time late afternoon rolled around, the WBS blue line was not only rounded out with talent, it was absolutely loaded with top-end AHL players on the verge of breaking into the NHL. As a matter of fact, each of the defensemen signed has had at least some NHL experience already. Depth on the back end will clearly not be an issue for the NHL club this season, and what should be an intense competition to earn the final spot on the NHL roster will only bring out the best in each man. This kind of in-house competition is exactly the type of strategy that can be used to strengthen not only an NHL team, but it's AHL roster as well. It is obvious that Clark Donatelli and company have decided that they will use this talented defense corps to protect what will surely be a young goaltending duo of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Let's take a look at what the back end may look like when Opening Night rolls around one month from now.

Chad Ruhwedel has 33 NHL GMS in his career
Chad Ruhwedel

Ruhwedel joins the Penguins organization coming off of his most productive season as a pro. He isn't overly big for a defenseman, but he is not afraid to muck it up and get his nose dirty below the goal line. He is an above-average skater and can retrieve and move pucks very effectively, which makes him valuable as the transition game has become such an important aspect of the sport. He has 33 games of NHL experience already.  He also had 10 goals and 26 assists in just 56 games with Rochester last season. He is known as a two-way defender who has the ability to contribute on the power play with his heavy right-handed shot from the point. I would expect Ruhwedel to stick in Pittsburgh until late in camp, and it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he is in the running to make the NHL roster. Though that will be easier said than done with the plethora of talented guys challenging for just a few spots. If he does make his way to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, you can expect him to play big-time minutes in all situations.

Gaunce is coming off of his best pro season with 35 assists
Cameron Gaunce

Gaunce enters his seventh full season of pro hockey, and much like Ruhwedel, he's coming off of his best season yet. He is known as a sound defender who plays a physical, grinding style of game. During this past campaign he displayed his ability to move the puck and be a playmaker from the back end. He finished the regular season with a career-high 35 assists and added 2 goals, while being named to the Atlantic Division All-Star team for the first time in his career. Gaunce has only been a minus player one time during his professional career, which speaks to his stingy nature in his own zone. The minor league veteran also has championship experience, winning the Calder Cup with the Texas Stars during the 2013-2014 season. Without a doubt Gaunce will be a player to watch during training camp in Pittsburgh, and is in the bevy of d-men vying for the last roster spot. His role in WBS will be a vital one - he may wear an "A" as he did last season in Portland - and he will surely be counted on to kill penalties and play top-pairing minutes.

Percy was a top prospect in Toronto, he is hoping a change of scenery is just what he needs.
Stuart Percy

A former first-round draft pick (#25 overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Stuart Percy was a very nice signing by the Penguins front office. He most certainly has the ability to blossom into an NHL player if things go right for him. At the very least he can a productive defender for the AHL Pens. He is confident with the puck on his stick and is a fluid skater whose puck-moving ability has been coming along a bit more slowly than he may have planned. The key is that he has developed during his time as a pro and had a very good campaign with the best team in the AHL last season. He tallied 4 goals and chipped in 20 assists in only 58 games, the best point-per-game pace of his career. It would take a really impressive camp for Percy to stick with the big club out of camp, but it's not far fetched that he could be a call-up option during the season if he is on top of his game. He will see plenty of ice time in WBS and will be put in the position that gives him the best opportunity to succeed by Coach Clark Donatelli. It definitely won't hurt his chances that he is another right-handed shot who could see some time on the power play. I am expecting Percy to have a big season for the Penguins.

Thanks for reading Pens Fans, Part two comes out tomorrow at the same time on @Pensinitiative - featuring players such as Ethan Prow, Tim Erixon, and more!

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