Penguins AHL prospects update

By Adrian Barclay





Shane Endicott is having a breakout season

Shane Endicott is having a
breakout season. The fourth-year center
is leading the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League in
goals and points, and is poised to set career best marks in all the major
offensive categories. His hot form has helped the Penguins recover from a slow
start which saw them win only one of their first seven games, to now leading
the East Division after their fifth straight win, including back-to-back wins
against Norfolk on the weekend.

 

Endicott,
at 6’3 and 214 pounds, and drafted 52nd overall by the Penguins in 2000, has
oddly scored 39 points in all three previous seasons as a pro. He is currently
in the milestone fourth season, where many prospects realize their potential.
Already this season he has eight goals and 13 points, making him seventh
overall in league scoring.

 

The
23-year-old has found his way onto the scoresheet most nights for the Penguins,
and is regularly among the best players on the ice – win or lose. Endicott’s scoring tear began on opening
night, as Endicott lit the lamp in a 6-3 loss to the Manitoba Moose. He then
went on to score in each of the next three games. Endicott continued during the
five-game winning streak, culminating in the game-winning goal on Sunday night
against Norfolk at Wachovia Arena.

 

Along
with Endicott, many other quality prospects are performing strongly in
Wilkes-Barre. Goalie tandem Marc Andre
Fleury
and Andy Chiodo have
returned to form in a big way, combining to allow only one goal in the first
three games of the streak, including a shutout each. Selected in the 2003
draft, first and 199th overall respectively, the two project to be a
strong tandem for many years to come. Fleury started the streak by stopping 36
of 37 shots in a 4-1 victory against Albany.
Chiodo followed that performance the next night, shutting out Bridgeport
with 26 saves, allowing a tight 1-0 victory on the back of a goal from Michel Ouellet. Fleury, not to be
outdone, posted the Penguins’ third win in as many nights by blanking the
Senators 2-0, making another 28 saves.

 

Young
sniper Michel Ouellet has continued his goal-scoring form from his rookie
season in 2003-04, which saw him named in the all AHL Rookie Team after scoring
30 goals and 49 points. Ouellet scored
twice against Norfolk on Sunday, taking his tally to seven from 12 games this
season. His supreme one-on-one skills have been on display in the two Penguins
games that have gone to a shootout, tallying three times from four
attempts. Ouellet came up huge against
the Admirals on the 6th of November, potting a nailbiting do-or-die
goal on the Penguins’ sixth shot of the winner takes all tiebreaker. Kris Beech
would seal the win with his second score of the shootout in the eighth round.

 

One
of the better players for the Penguins so far this season has been 2001 first
round draftee Colby Armstrong. His
determination and strong defensive play has meant his efforts have gone largely
unrewarded on the scoresheet. Armstrong made up for much of that on Sunday
night. The right winger exploded for two goals and two assists against Norfolk
in a strong 6-2 victory, easily making him the game’s first star. The
21-year-old native of Saskatoon now has eight points, following totals of 27
and 18 in his last two seasons with Wilkes-Barre, after a successful junior
career with Red Deer of the WHL.

 

Fans
in Wilkes-Barre are also blessed by several impressive rookies taking the ice
at Wachovia Arena. At 6’4 and 205 lbs., perhaps the most impressive of those is
young defenseman Ryan Whitney. The
21-year-old was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2002 draft, and
originally came to the Penguins during the Calder Cup playoffs last season,
showing skills beyond his years in posting a goal and nine assists in 20
playoff games. This meant that expectations for Whitney heightened, and coach
Therrien responded by using him during important moments on the power play and
penalty kill. Whitney got off to a slow start, posting a regrettable -8 in the
first few games. He has shown since then that he can handle the extra
responsibilities, scoring four assists, and improving his plus/minus to -5.

 

Another
first year pro for the Penguins is former WHL star Erik Christensen. While
playing for Kamloops in the 2002-03 season, he showed the Penguins that they
had made a good choice by taking him in the third round, 69th
overall in 2002, by posting 54 goals and 54 assists to take the WHL scoring
title. His numbers dropped the following season, but he did enough to earn
himself a contract and a roster spot in Wilkes-Barre. His form has been
consistent and solid, getting his first career goal on October 22. Christensen
is showing he is capable on both sides of the puck, ranking eighth on the
Penguins with an even plus/minus rating.

 

After
ranking third in scoring in the QMJHL with 98 points (25 goals, 73 assists) in
only 51 games for Gatineau in 2003-04, Maxine
Talbot
is looking to continue that success to a Penguins jersey this
season. The talented playmaker scored over 200 points in his last two seasons
of junior, as well as leading his Gatineau team to the QMJHL championship in
consecutive seasons, winning the playoff MVP both times on the way. Talbot was
the first player to lead playoff scoring twice in a row since the great Guy
Lafleur. Talbot also represented Canada at the 2004 World Junior Championships,
recording three assists on the way to a silver medal. So far this season, the 5’11, 176-pounder has been impressive in
all facets of the game. His three
assists place him 11th in team scoring, but his impressive +3 rating
is a team high.

 

Entering
his third year in Penguins colors, Matt
Murley
has taken the responsibility of being an alternate captain for
Wilkes-Barre in 2004-05. Murley impressed in his first two seasons, earning two
call-ups to Pittsburgh in 2003-04, as well as being selected for the AHL
All-Star game. His trips to the senior
side were not too successful however, scoring only a goal and an assist in 18
games. Murley, now 24, has started quietly so far this season, scoring a single
goal and adding three assists. Murley remains on the right side of the balance
sheet in plus/minus, his +1 good enough for sixth on the team.

 

Other
prospects currently in Wilkes-Barre include forwards Cam Paddock, Ben Eaves
and defensemen Drew Fata and Ross Lupaschuk. Paddock, a center out of Vancouver, is
playing in his first professional season after winning a Memorial Cup last
season for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Paddock led his team with four
points from four matches to take the prestigious championship. Paddock has started in eight matches this
season, most often on the fourth line, for no points and four penalty minutes.

 

Drew
Fata
,
brother of Pittsburgh Penguins Rico, has started in just nine games this
season, after splitting last year between Wilkes-Barre and the ECHL affiliate,
the Wheeling Nailers. Fata is scoreless with 25 penalty minutes, but has shown
signs that more time will produce better results for him.

 

Boston
College graduate Ben Eaves and fourth-year defenseman Ross Lupaschuk
have yet to dress due to injury.

 

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2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate
without permission of the editorial staff.