The Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton finished 2007-08 fifth overall in points (101), wins (47), and losses (26), almost identical numbers to the parent club in Pittsburgh. And like Pittsburgh, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins made it to the finals only to lose in six games.
Also like the parent club, WBS has undergone a great deal of roster turnover during the off-season, shedding players like Ryan Lannon, Nathan Smith, Kurtis McLean, and Tim Brent. The organization supplemented their roster with new faces like Joey Haddad, Danny Richmond, and T.J. Kemp.
While they are returning many familiar faces, the Penguins added a lot of forward depth last spring when they brought Nick Johnson, Luca Caputi, and Dustin Jeffrey into the fold. Over the summer, they added former seventh -round pick pick Jordan Morrison who is now converted to center. Bryan Ewing, Adam Henrich, and Tommy Goebel were also signed over the summer to add depth at forward and Haddad was brought in on a tryout contract. Chris Minard, Connor James, Jon Filewich, Tim Wallace, Aaron Boogaard, Mark Letestu, David Gove, and Jean-Michel Daoust will all be returning for another season.
Haddad, a former 31-goal scorer in the QMJHL, has impressed Penguins brass with his skill and tenacious play. The 6’2, 190 lbs forward was passed over in his draft year and toiled at the bottom of the depth chart for most of his junior career. It was not until a trade last summer, from Prince Edward Island to Cape Breton, where Haddad broke out, almost triple his previous career highs in goals and points. Haddad was seen skating with the main squad lately and has practically cemented his place in the Penguins organization has an intriguing prospect with a diverse skill package.
Johnson, Jeffrey, and Caputi were brought in last spring to add depth for the Penguins playoff run and all had solid if not unspectacular professional debuts, used mostly as energy-line forwards. The three forwards figure to play a more prominent role as they become more comfortable with the more rigorous and professional schedule. The burden to produce at a high level however, will not be placed on them immediately.
Ryan Stone, someone who has been vocal about his discontent for being cut in training camp and has requested he be traded. It remains to be seen at this point whether he will get dealt or be reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Regardless, with his situation in limbo and his absence in training camp, it is evident he may not be on the active roster at the beginning of the AHL season.
One of the most underrated aspects of the Penguins organization is the depth and strength along the blueline. Ben Lovejoy, Jon D’Aversa, and Deryk Engelland will be returning to the AHL to man the league’s fifth-best defense while Alex Goligoski will start the season in Sweden on the Penguins NHL roster. The Penguins also signed Joey Mormina, Elgin Reid, Brock Sheahan, Reid Cashman, T.J. Kemp, and Danny Richmond to round out their AHL roster.
Atop the Penguins AHL depth chart is Lovejoy. After a strong training camp and a good outing in one preseason game, Lovejoy was sent down to Wilkes-Barre in the second wave of training camp cuts. The former Dartmouth standout and second-year veteran expects to make the most of his opportunities and hopes to get a cup of coffee at some point during the season.
D’Aversa is another undrafted prospect that figures to fill a more prominent role for the 2008-09 season. Like Lovejoy, D’Aversa is a right-handed, two-way defenseman with untapped offensive potential.
A new face to the organization and another skilled two-way defensive prospect is Elgin Reid. The Milton, Ontario native comes to the Penguins after finishing up his last season in the OHL and played five regular season games in the ECHL and made four appearances in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, all for the Elmira Jackals. The Wheeling Nailers acquired his rights from Elmira in August. The left-handed defenseman is going to split time between the AHL and ECHL this upcoming season. The 21-year-old posted intriguing numbers as an overager for the Windsor Spitfires, putting up 42 points and 92 penalty minutes games in 54 games.
While John Curry has solidified his role as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins No. 1 goalie, a battle for his backup continues. David Brown, a former Notre Dame standout enters his second professional season and hopes to have solidified the backup position. The athletic goaltender split last season in the AHL and ECHL and to assure plenty of playing time, may do the same this season.
Pushing Brown is Adam Berkhoel, a 27-year-old journeyman who most recently played for the Grand Rapids Griffins where he backed up Detroit prospect Jim Howard. Berkhoel posted a 2.93 GAA, an .888 save percentage, and a 10-14-4 record in 31 games.