April 27th, 1999
The playoffs are starting to wind down for most of the Penguins prospects, and most are done for the season. The NCAA tournaments are complete and the Syracuse Crunch finished with one of the worst records ever in AHL history. Canadian Major Junior hockey is in the finals of each league’s playoffs and only one Pittsburgh draftee has survived to that point, Joel Scherban of the London Knights. In the IHL, the Conference Semi-Finals are about to begin and only Robert Dome of the Houston Aeros is still playing.
In the OHL, the London Knights have surprised everyone by knocking off top-ranked Plymouth in the second round, then pulling off another upset of Owen Sound in the Conference Finals. Joel Scherban, a seventh round pick of the Penguins, is finishing off his second OHL season strong. After being injured for all but a handful of games in his draft year, he ended this season with 54 points in 68 games and is continuing to do well in the playoffs. He scored two goals in the last game of the Owen Sound series and has five goals and ten assists total.
The Penguins are tied 2-2 in their first round series against New Jersey and many of the players whose postseasons ended early in the minors are practicing with the team. Brian Bonin, who had played in five Penguins games this year, was called up after Adirondack was eliminated by the Rochester Americans. His season started off slow in the IHL, but when he was moved to the AHL, he responded with a solid season. He scored 35 points in 54 games for a team that finished with 35 less goals than any other team in the league. Also getting the call from the AHL were Syracuse forwards Boris Protsenko(RW) and Ryan Savoia(C), defensemen Pavel Skrbek and Chris Kelleher, and goaltender Craig Hillier. From the IHL, the Penguins brought up late-season acquisition Brent Peterson(LW) and Todd Hlushko(C) from Grand Rapids. They could also bring up defenseman Andrew Ference who just finished his season with Kansas City.
With most of the Major Junior season over, the Penguins have a few decisions to make. Any draftees from 1997 playing in the CHL need to be signed by June 1st(the date may be a little different) or they are eligible to re-enter the draft. Since Andrew Ference and Josef Melichar have already been signed by the Penguins, there are only two others remaining, Alexandre Mathieu and Harlan Pratt, although Pratt’s status is uncertain. Pratt started the season in Regina and was traded to Portland where he was released not too much later. He then went on to play for Toledo of the ECHL for the remainder of the season, so it is uncertain whether or not he falls under this rule. Beyond those in the CHL, there are players coming out of college who will be up for their first pro contracts. This year, only Greg Crozier will be graduating and it will probably not be decided until training camp whether or not he will get a contract. Mathieu is worth signing to a contract, he has a great slapshot and could develop into a good role-player for the Penguins.
So, now onto my personal awards for Penguins prospects:
These are based on their performance this season, and do not necessicarily reflect their overall potential.
Penguins Minor Leaguer of the Year: Boris Protsenko
Penguins Junior Player of the Year: Milan Kraft
Penguins College Player of the Year: Toby Petersen
Top D-man: Andrew Ference
Top Forward: Milan Kraft
Top Goaltender: Jean-Sebastin Aubin