The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins open their 2016-2017 American Hockey League Campaign this evening. They are playing host to the Hartford Wolf Pack, who also reside in the Atlantic Division. With another exciting season on the horizon, and PensInitiative ready to bring you full coverage, let's take a look at what this year in Wilkes-Barre may bring. I will be making my picks for the team awards, and at the end of the season we can all look back and compare.
Carter Rowney - There is no doubt that Jake Guentzel is the hot pick right now, but I am going to go with the reigning MVP having a repeat performance. Rowney continues to develop at a frenetic pace and has improved on the stat sheet every single season while passing the eye test with flying colors. He was clearly the best player on the ice night in and night out last season, and after being one of the final cuts in Pittsburgh camp, his confidence is going to to be sky high. Playing on the top line with TK and Guentzel, he played the best hockey of his career. Head Coach Clark Donatelli is keeping that unit together to begin the season.
Rookie of the Year
Jake Guentzel - The speedy, young forward arrived from the University of Nebraska-Omaha after the NCAA season ended, and he made an immediate impact. Donatelli praised the youngster's hockey sense and instincts after his first practice, and it wasn't long before Guentzel made his mark in big games. He led the Calder Cup Playoffs in scoring through two rounds with five goals and 14 points in 10 games. He also scored a huge series-ending goal in a 2OT that finished off a first round sweep of the Providence Bruins. Playing alongside the captain and the team MVP, Guentzel never looked out of place. He nearly made the NHL club out of camp and has WBS fans buzzing with anticipation waiting to see how he will fare in his first full professional season.
D-Man of the Year
Tim Erixon - A 25-year-old with boatloads of potential, Erixon struggled at times getting acclimated to a new system in WBS. Before last season, his most recent time in the AHL was with Springfield in 2013-14 where he registered an outstanding 38 points in 40 games. Due to his previous success he came to WBS with monstrous expectations, and despite playing well (especially in the playoffs), he wasn't able to find his scoring touch. He finished up the season with 20 points in 65 games. Considering the momentum he is carrying from the playoffs, and a strong pre-season, Erixon is poised to post big-time numbers this time around. Being part of a loaded d-corps won't hurt, and it will allow the offensive defenseman to use his instincts to join the rush knowing help will never be far away.
Atlantic Division Champion
Lehigh Valley Phantoms - As usual, Hershey and WBS will be in the hunt for a division title. Only this time around their fellow PA rival in Allentown figures to have a leg up on the competition in terms of talent. Should the Phantoms come together as a team, they have the firepower to capture their first division crown since moving to the Lehigh Valley. It will be a fierce battle for Atlantic Division supremacy, especially among the three PA rivals considering they will play each other 12 times yet again due to AHL scheduling. I like the Phantoms to win the division, but would not be shocked in the slightest should either Hershey or WBS come out on top.
Thanks again to everyone for reading! I always greatly appreciate the support! Make sure to follow me on twitter @WBSJeff_PI for full WBS coverage.