2015-16 AHL Preview: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton enters season with strong Atlantic Division squad

By Tony Androckitis

Matt Murray - Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins

Photo: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltender and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Matt Murray turned in a strong 2014-15 AHL season that led to his being named that league’s Goaltender of the Year (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

Portland Pirates

The Pirates swapped affiliations from Arizona to the Florida Panthers for this season. The Pirates (as a Coyotes affiliate last year) squeaked into the AHL playoffs and were eliminated in the first round. With a new affiliation this season, Pirates fans are hoping for another trip to the postseason.

The Panthers will have some talented, young hockey players playing in the AHL this season. Defenseman Mike Matheson will forego his final season of NCAA eligibility and turn pro, after appearing in five AHL contests last spring. The former Boston College captain looks to transition his solid two-way game and smooth skating to the pro level with Portland this season.

Forward Kyle Rau is another player turning pro from the college ranks for Portland this season. While undersized at 5’8”, Rau tallied four straight 40-point seasons with at the University of Minnesota. He and the Panthers are hoping his size won’t prevent him from continuing his success in the AHL this fall

Some second-year players to keep an eye on include defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and forward Rocco Grimaldi. Weegar split last season between the AHL and ECHL, but is looking for a larger role in the AHL this season. Grimaldi is an exciting player to watch with his blazing speed and ability to be an annoying player to play against. Grimaldi is on the cusp of being NHL-ready and likely would have made the team out of camp if not for an impressive start from Connor Brickley in training camp and the preseason.

In net, the Pirates will have AHL veteran Mike McKenna in net but have two prospects – Sam Brittain and Colin Stevens – looking to get some AHL minutes between the pipes, as well. Brittain is entering his second year of pro, having spent a majority of last season in the ECHL. Brittain’s numbers in the AHL suggest he’s ready for more this fall. Stevens is turning pro after a four-year collegiate career at Union College. He was unable to follow up his 28-4-2 record as a junior, but the roster turnover at the collegiate level after Union’s NCAA championship in 2014 likely played a part in Stevens’ pedestrian numbers last season.

Some free agent additions up front will also help the Pirates’ scoring this season. Most notably, Shane Harper is coming off a 32-goal season with the Chicago Wolves last season, while Chase Balisy enters his second pro season after an impressive 44-point (21 goals, 23 assists) rookie year on an AHL deal with St. John’s last season.

Providence Bruins

While the parent Boston Bruins appear to be rebuilding and are stocking up prospects, a lot of last year’s top AHL performers have graduated to the NHL this fall.

The strength of the Bruins is in net, evidenced by the Bruins loaning Jeremy Smith to the Iowa Wild to make room for both Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre in the AHL. Subban will look to play more meaningful minutes with Providence this season after appearing in 35 games last season splitting time with Smith. McIntyre turns pro after a stellar collegiate career at the University of North Dakota.

With Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow, as well as the acquisition of Colin Miller, all in the NHL, the AHL Bruins’ defense doesn’t have many flashy prospects at the AHL level. Linus Arnesson appeared in 11 AHL games last season and will continue to transition to North American pro hockey with his first full season in the AHL starting this fall.

Gone to the NHL are David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, but the 1-2 punch down the middle of Alexander Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith is as talented as any in the Eastern Conference. Both prospects saw some NHL action last season, but the depth at the position in the organization is more of an issue than their ability to play at that level.

The Bruins will need players like Anthony Camara and Brian Ferlin to fill larger roles left by those who have moved on or moved up to the NHL. Undrafted forward Justin Hickman might be able to carve out a role with the AHL club, as well.

Springfield Falcons

The Falcons also have a new affiliation this season, switching from Columbus to the Arizona Coyotes this season. Fans in Springfield will get to see several high-profile prospects this fall as the Coyotes continue to stockpile prospects.

The Falcons will have a pair of talented incoming rookies to keep an eye on in Laurent Dauphin and Michael Bunting. Dauphin played in some AHL games last spring and knows what to expect entering his first full year of pro hockey following a productive career in the QMJHL. Bunting was a part of the dominant Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds team from last season, tallying 74 points (37 goals, 37 assists) in just 54 OHL games.

Returning prospects Brendan Shinnimin and Henrik Samuelsson look to continue to dominate at the AHL level in hopes of making an impression to earn an NHL call-up when injuries arise.

Henrik’s brother Philip Samuelsson is a part of a veteran defense core in Springfield alongside Alex Grant, Corey Potter and Derek Smith. Undrafted rookie Dakota Mermis looks to crack the AHL lineup after back-to-back strong seasons in the OHL.

Louis Domingue looks to establish himself as a more than formidable AHL goaltender this fall after his first taste of the NHL last season. A full year in the AHL could do wonders for his development after spending some time in the ECHL each of the past three seasons.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is looking once again to be a contender in the Eastern Conference. They return much of the young talent that they had last season, and hope the new crop of veterans the organization brought in for depth purposes this year pays off with a deep run into the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Last season’s AHL Goaltender of the Year, Matt Murray, returns to the AHL Penguins’ net this season along with incoming rookie Tristan Jarry – another talented goaltending prospect with a promising future – to create a solid tandem to anchor the defense.

The defense received a shot in the arm with the return of highly-touted defenseman Derrick Pouliot from Pittsburgh after a disappointing preseason. While in the AHL last season, Pouliot was dynamic on the power play and his offensive talents are NHL-level. He will look to work on things away from the puck while in the minors this fall as he was one of the NHL’s worst defensemen in the preseason in terms of plus/minus.

The Penguins added several veteran defenders to stabilize the back-end this offseason, adding David Warsofsky and Will O’Neill at the AHL level, while Adam Clendening and Tim Erixon stuck with the big club after training camp.

The Penguins biggest strength lies with the depth of their forward core. Dominik Simon and Oskar Sundqvist are two incoming rookies who look to transition from pro hockey overseas to the smaller ice surface in North America. Simon is a smaller, speedy forward with good skating and puck-handling ability while Sundqvist is a much bigger body who excels on the penalty kill and, despite his bigger frame, skates well and has a good, hard shot.

There is also a plethora of second-year forwards – Josh Archibald, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Matia Marcantuoni, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson. The common trait among these forwards is speed and above average skating ability. Dea appears to have the highest pure goal-scoring ability, while Sheary’s breakout rookie season earned him an NHL contract over the summer. Wilson’s game best translates to the NHL level currently, but Rust’s offensive instincts and two-way game also puts him near NHL-ready at the start of the season. Archibald was an energy guy last season while Marcantuoni was a penalty killing defensive forward with blazing speed.

The Penguins have all the bases covered with their forward prospects and some solid veterans to round out the forward core in Kael Mouillerat, Kevin Porter, Dominik Uher and Tom Kostopoulos.

Atlantic | North | Central | Pacific

Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @H_P_Hockey

 

Pages: 1 2