After failing to make the Stanley Cup finals for a fifth year in a row, the Pittsburgh Penguins fired longtime general manager Ray Shero. The organization named Shero's former assistant, Jason Botterill, as the interim GM while the organization seeks a permanent replacement. However, it is not all bad news on the playoff front for the Penguins organization. Several prospects, namely Derrick Pouliot and Tristan Jarry, had long and productive postseasons, which should benefit their development down the road.
The Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins fared much better the big club, and are currently competing against the St. John's IceCaps in the Calder Cup Eastern Finals. It is the 12th season in a row the Penguins have made the AHL playoffs and the fourth time in that span they made the AHL Conference Finals.
Forward Anton Zlobin has been particularly noteworthy among the forwards. Long known as a clutch forward, particularly for his game-winning goal in the 2012 Memorial Cup, Zlobin elevated his game in the AHL playoffs, scoring six goals in 14 games, including three game-winners. Zlobin has been productive through the playoffs, but he was particularly hot in the Penguins second round match against the Providence Bruins, where he managed four goals, three assists, and 20 shots in six games. He seems to have found chemistry with playmaker Conor Sheary, who was signed to an AHL deal after graduating from UMass-Amherst.
Another player who has taken his game to another level is defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who was also dominant against Providence in the second round, managing two goals and six assists in six games. Dumoulin has three goals and six assists through 16 AHL playoff games while playing in all situations for the Penguins.
Two forwards who saw a little bit of time in the NHL playoffs were Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons. Aside from one noteworthy game from Gibbons against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game where he would also suffer a concussion, neither were particularly effective. Megna was returned to the AHL in time for to play Providence in the second round, and Gibbons would return a week later.
Though he has managed only one assist this postseason, Scott Harrington has been very steady for the Penguins, playing in his typical shutdown role.
The Penguins ECHL affiliate, the Wheeling Nailers, qualified for the playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons. Wheeling swept through the first round of the ECHL playoffs, beating the South Carolina Stingrays in four games. Their second round opponent, the Greenville Road Warriors, posed a much greater challenge though, and the Nailers lost in six games. Leading Wheeling in playoff goal-scoring was Tom Kühnhackl, who managed six goals and 38 shots in 10 playoff games. Kuhnhackl was sent to Wheeling in late February with the hope he would regain his scoring touch.
Top prospects Tristan Jarry and Derrick Pouliot further distinguished themselves this year with their strong play in the WHL playoffs.
Jarry to not only led the Edmonton Oil Kings through the WHL playoffs, but helped them to their first Memorial Cup championship. Jarry was spectacular through much of the Oil Kings playoff run, posting a 2.19 goals against average, a .925 save percentage, three shutouts, and a 16-4-1 record. Jarry's performance in the Memorial Cup was not quite as spectacular, as he made a few costly mistakes, but he made the necessary saves for his team to win, posting a 2.80 goals against average and .910 save percentage.
Pouliot and the Portland Winterhawks were one win away from making back-to-back Memorial Cup appearances, but lost to Jarry and the Oil Kings in seven games. Pouliot had quite a productive run along the way, managing five goals and 27 assists through 21 games.
One of the top goaltenders during the OHL regular season, Matt Murray was strong for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the first round of the playoffs, helping them beat the Owen Sound Attack in five games. The Greyhounds faced off against the high octane Erie Otters in the second round, and while Murray was strong in net, knocking aside 123 of a 135 shots faced, Soo was still swept in four games. Murray finished with a 4-3-2 record, 2.63 goals against average, and a .915 save percentage.
Jean-Sebastien Dea continued his hot scoring pace from the QMJHL regular season into the playoffs, scoring six goals in nine games for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Dea was particularly effective in the first round match against the Quebec Remparts, where he managed four goals in six games. The 20-year-old sniper continued his productive pace in the second round, managing two goals and an assist in four games versus Baie-Comeau. Dea's offensive contributions were not enough however, as the Huskies were swept in four games.
Representing the Penguins at the 2014 NCAA tournament was Notre Dame forward Bryan Rust and UMass-Lowell forward Scott Wilson.
Rust capped a productive senior year with the Fighting Irish by scoring a goal and an assistant against St. Cloud State in the West Regional semifinals. Notre Dame eventually lost in overtime 4-3, and Rust signed a two-year NHL deal a couple days later.
Wilson meanwhile finished a relatively disappointing junior season with an assist in a 4-3 loss to Boston College in the East Regional finals. Nagged by injuries for much of the 2013-14 season, Wilson managed only 19 points in 31 games after posting back-to-back 38-point seasons in his freshman and sophomore years. Wilson also signed a two-year NHL deal following the end of his NCAA season.
Swedish forward Oskar Sundqvist helped Skelleftea to their second consecutive SHL Championship. As with many young players in the SHL, Sundqvist did not see a lot of ice time during the 2013-14 regular season, playing mostly in a checking line role. His offensive game started to blossom in the postseason, however, and he developed into a productive two-way presence for Skelleftea, managing four goals and two assists in 13 playoff games.
Notes and Signings
In addition to signing Wilson and Rust to NHL contracts, the Penguins also signed Nebraska-Omaha forward Josh Archibald, first to an amateur try-out deal, then to a three-year entry-level contract.
The Penguins also signed Sundqvist to an entry-level deal. A third round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Sundqvist would have been eligible to re-enter the draft if the Penguins failed to sign him by the June 1st, 5pm deadline.
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