Pittsburgh Penguins well represented at all levels of post-season play

By Ian Altenbaugh

Scott Harrington - Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo: Selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 NHL Draft, defenseman Scott Harrington has quickly developed into one of the Penguins most promising defensive prospects. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL)

If the old adage that says success breeds more success is correct, then the future for the Pittsburgh Penguins appears quite bright. The organization has many players who went the distance in their respective post-seasons, including three who competed for a Memorial Cup, two who played in the NCAA Frozen Four, and roughly a dozen more currently competing in the NHL and AHL playoffs.

NHL

Though the Penguins loaded up with veteran talent for their 2013 playoff run, rookies Simon Despres and Beau Bennett both suited up for three of the Penguins six post-season games against the New York Islanders. While neither saw extensive ice time, both made palpable contributions. Bennett also played in one second-round game against the Ottawa Senators, and has a goal, six shots, and a plus-three rating through four playoff games. He was especially impressive in game one of the Penguins first-round match against the Islanders, where he scored the game-winning goal.

AHL

The book is still being written on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but so far their post-season has been filled with plenty of drama, including a come-from-behind series victory against the Providence Bruins.

Currently competing against the Syracuse Crunch in the Calder Cup Semi-finals, The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have been the beneficiaries of stellar goaltending so far, with goaltender Brad Thiessen managing a meager 1.27 goals against average through nine games.

The team has also received timely offense throughout the lineup, with Bobby Farnham and Reid McNeill the only skaters to not contribute at least one point on the scoresheet. Leading the post-season charge for the Penguins AHL affiliate is their veteran top line of Trevor Smith, Chad Kolarik, and Riley Holzapfel, who so far have combined for 14 goals in 12 games.

Outside of the top scoring line, the Penguins received regular offensive support from prospects Brian Dumoulin, Brian Gibbons, and Paul Thompson. Dumoulin in particular appears to have raised his game to another level for the post-season, managing two goals (both off the powerplay) and six assists through 12 games while playing some of the better defensive hockey of his brief professional career. He was especially effective for the Penguins in their second round series against the Providence Bruins.

Others, such as Adam Payerl, Jayson Megna, and Alex Grant produced timely offense and were instrumental in helping the Penguins to the third round of the AHL playoffs. Similar could be said for defensemen McNeill and Philip Samuelsson, who, so far, have provided a steady stay-at-home presence along the blue line.

OHL

The Penguins were very well represented in the OHL playoffs, as defenseman Scott Harrington and Olli Maatta, teammates for the London Knights, helped their team earn their second straight J. Ross Robertson Cup and a seed in the 2013 Memorial Cup. Maatta was particularly impressive, and while he didn't surpass his amazing point-per-game production in 2012, he still finished third in the league, with 14 points through 21 playoff games. Harrington did not quite fair as well in the playoffs. Having been sidelined with an upper-body injury since late February, Harrington did not appear until the second round of the playoffs, and when he did, he looked rusty.

Despite a dominant performance from London throughout the OHL playoffs, the Knights were lackluster in the Memorial Cup tournament, winning only their two of their five games, both of which were against the overmatched Saskatoon Blades. Neither Maatta nor Harrington were particularly effective, though there was plenty of blame on the team to go around.

Goaltending prospect Matt Murray had a six-game playoff run with Sault Ste. Marie that was a microcosm of his regular season. In six games versus the Owen Sound Attack, Murray posted a 2-3-1 record, 2.67 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and a shutout, but his game ranged from really hot to really cold, similar to how it did during the regular season. He managed a 36-save, overtime shutout, but followed that up with two losses where he allowed a total of nine goals on 66 shots. He joined the Penguins on an amateur try-out contract, but did not see any ice time.

Forward Matia Marcantuoni played a depth role for the Kitchener Rangers in their two rounds of the OHL playoffs. Marcantuoni actually played against fellow Penguins prospects Maatta and Harrington, as the Knights defeated the Rangers 4-1 in the second round. Marcantuoni was held off the scoresheet except for one game against London, where he scored the game-winning goal, and added an assist. Similar to Murray, Marcantuoni signed an amateur try-out contract, but did not skate in any AHL games.

QMJHL

Anton Zlobin, the only Penguins prospect to play in the QMJHL, had another solid post-season, scoring two goals and eight assists through 10 games with the Val d'Or Foreurs. He was unable to replicate his 2012 post-season success with the Shawinigan Cararactes, where he scored the game-winning goal at the Memorial Cup, but was nonetheless rewarded with an entry-level deal, and has since been a member of the Penguins AHL taxi squad.

WHL

Led by defenseman Derrick Pouliot, the Portland Winterhawks marched through the playoffs in a dominant fashion, losing a total of only five games through four best-of-seven matchups and winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Pouliot was notably effective in the Winterhawks first-round match against the Everett Silvertips, where he posted three goals and six assists through six games. In total, Pouliot managed 20 points in 21 WHL playoff games.

The Winterhawks also earned a seed in the 2013 Memorial Cup, where they beat the London Knights in the tournament semi-finals before eventually falling to the Halifax Mooseheads in the cup game. Pouliot finished with two goals and five assists through five games to lead the tournament in points from a defenseman. He was an integral part of Portland's success, playing huge minutes on the blue line while providing a consistent offensive presence from the back-end.

Harrison Ruopp and the Prince Albert Raiders also made an appearance in the 2013 post-season. Facing off against Red Deer in the first round of the playoffs, Prince Albert had difficulty producing offense from the start, and managed a total of only five goals before falling to Rebels in four games. Ruopp failed to appear on the scoresheet, though in fairness, his game was never predicated around generating offense.

Europe

Forward Oskar Sundqvist, the only prospect the Penguins have playing overseas, saw some post-season action with Skelleftea's J20 team. Sundqvist managed three goals and two assists through the first two rounds of the SuperElit Playoffs before Skelleftea eventually lost to Frolunda in the playoff quarter finals.

NCAA

The Penguins were well represented at the NCAA tournament, with Scott Wilson leading the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks to their first ever appearance in the Frozen Four. Wilson managed a goal and three assists through three tournament games, including an assist in the semi-final match against Yale.

Shortly after Yale beat Quinnipiac for the Frozen Four championship, the Penguins signed Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell to an entry-level contract. Hartzell was spectacular all season for the Bobcats, posting a 1.57 goals against average through 42 starts, the most in the nation. He allowed only five goals in three games en route to Quinnipiac's first ever appearance in the Frozen Four, though he did give up three to Yale in the championship match.

The Penguins had several other prospects who, while did not make appearances in the Frozen Four, competed in the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame forward Bryan Rust managed an assist against St. Cloud in the first round of the tournament. Meanwhile, freshman forward Teddy Blueger was held of the scoresheet as Minnesota State was defeated by Miami in the first round.

Notes and Signings

In addition to signing Hartzell as a free agent, the Penguins signed prospects Nick D'Agostino, Zlobin, and Ruopp to entry-level contracts.

Hartzell, who has been practicing as a member of the Penguins playoff taxi squad, is on a one-year deal that counts for the 2012-13 season, meaning he will be a restricted free agent on July 1st. The deal was made with the idea that Hartzell can be re-signed to contract in the off-season that is not subject to entry-level restrictions.

D'Agostino was inked to a two-year entry-level deal, while Ruopp and Zlobin both signed standard three-year deals. All are expected to join one of the Penguins minor league affiliates for the 2013-14 season.

Defenseman Clark Seymour signed an amateur try-out contract with the Penguins AHL affiliate in late March, though did not skate in any games.

Follow Ian Altenbaugh on Twitter: @IanAltenbaugh

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