Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2007-08 preview

By Jason Seidling

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will be comprised only of prospects from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization in 2007-08 after receiving players from both the Penguins and the Edmonton Oilers in 2006-07. As a result, names that were key to last season’s second-place finish such as Rob Schremp (53 points in 69 games), Kyle Brodziak (56 points in 62 games), and Marc-Antoine Pouliot (31 points in 33 games), will not be on the Baby Pens depth chart this coming season.

Among the key returnees in 2007-08 are winger Jonathan Filewich, who scored a team-high 30 goals while appearing in all 80 contests, second-year Tyler Kennedy, who managed 12 goals and 25 assists despite seeing action in only 40 games due to injury, and winger Ryan Stone, another player who battled injuries a season ago, but managed to contribute 33 points in 41 appearances.

The Baby Penguins finished second to the Hershey Bears in the Eastern Division a year ago despite a season that saw the team win 51 games and record 108 points in the first year of the Todd Richards era. Hershey also posted 51 wins, but dropped more games in overtime and in shootouts, thus giving the Bears 114 points.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey meet on Oct. 3 in the season opener, starting a stretch where the Baby Pens play three of their first four and seven of their first ten contests in the friendly confines of Wachovia Arena. The other two home opponents, Syracuse and Philadelphia, each finished toward the bottom of the overall standings in 2006-07, further enhancing the opportunity for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to come shooting out of the gate.

Goaltenders

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will feature a new No. 1 netminder in 2007-08 as last year’s go-to guy, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, was a member of the Oilers organization. In his place skates veteran Ty Conklin, a former NHLer – coincidently enough – for the Oilers.

Conklin spent 19 games in the AHL a year ago with the Syracuse Crunch, posting a 3-12-3 record, a 3.32 GAA and a .902 save percentage for an average Crunch squad. He also spent time in the NHL with both Columbus and Buffalo, combining for a 3-5-2 record. Conklin should provide the Baby Pens with solid play between the pipes and a veteran presence for the two youngsters fighting to be his backup.

Both John Curry and David Brown were finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Trophy as the top player in the NCAA a year ago. They have been locked in a fierce battle since rookie camp began in Pittsburgh in early September.

Brown led the nation in wins with 30, in GAA at 1.58, and was second in the nation with six shutouts and a .931 save percentage. Not to be outdone, Curry won 17 contests for Boston University, posted a 2.01 GAA and a .928 save percentage, and led the nation with seven shutouts. Both players will likely see time with both the Baby Pens and the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, before taking over in tandem at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2008-09.

Defense

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will be looking to fill the offensive void that will be missing from their backline after the off-season departures of Micki Dupont (51 points in 78 games), Matt Carkner (30 points in 75 games) and Tom Gilbert (30 points in 48 games). Fortunately, there will be plenty of prime choices to step.

Top prospect Kris Letang will begin the season in the AHL after being among the last cuts in Pittsburgh. The extremely gifted skater with a rocket of a shot will serve as the Baby Pens top defenseman, in addition to manning the left point on the top power play unit. His maturation into one of the top defenders in the league will go a long way in helping Wilkes-Barre/Scranton stay near the top of the Eastern Division.

Another top prospect making his AHL debut in 2007-08 is former Minnesota Golden Gopher Alex Goligoski. A strong puck mover and a very smooth skater, Goligoski also brings top offensive skills to the Baby Pens attack after scoring nine goals and 30 assists in 44 games with the Golden Gophers in 2006-07. One area of concern is the off-season shoulder surgery Goligoski underwent, although he appeared to be over the effects during Pittsburgh’s training camp.

Stay-at-home defenseman Ryan Lannon returns for another season. The solid but unspectacular Lannon recorded 19 assists in 68 games last season for the Baby Pens, and is instrumental on the team’s penalty-killing unit. Lannon will need to take his game up another notch in 2007-08 to get consideration for a call-up to Pittsburgh.

Among the veterans added to the roster in 2007-08 are Mark Ardelan, who recorded 38 points in 79 games with Iowa a season ago, former Hershey Bears tough guy Deryk Engelland and big Joe Rullier, a member of the Springfield Falcons a season ago.

Jonathan D’Aversa, a rookie who posted 13 goals and 47 assists in 67 games with Sudbury of the OHL and Ben Lovejoy, a former college star at Dartmouth, are among the other rookies looking to crack the top eight at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2007-08.

Forwards

Although the aforementioned losses of Schremp, Brodziak, and Pouliot (55 goals combined) will hurt the offense, at least initially, the Baby Pens made several off-season moves to address any potential holes that will exist.

The attack will again be led by Filewich, Stone and Kennedy, three players who could play their way up to Pittsburgh at some point during the year, although Filewich and Stone have plenty to prove after lackluster training camps. All three will get work on the wings, and hot starts in the AHL could lead to quick recalls, much like Erik Christensen and Maxime Talbot a season ago.

Four veteran players picked up in the off-season will be asked to supplement the scoring exploits of the "big three." Center Tim Brent was another disappointment during the big camp, but he did score 16 goals and record 14 helpers in 48 games with Portland last season. Another forward who posted big numbers in the AHL in 2006-07 was left winger Chris Minard. Minard lit the lamp 32 times in only 65 games with Lowell. He will fit nicely on the Baby Pens’ second line.

The Baby Pens also brought in a couple of former first-round picks to help bolster the offensive attack. Nathan Smith spent the majority of last season with Vancouver’s top affiliate in Manitoba, where he posted 40 points in 72 games. Big winger Jeff Taffe, a final cut in the big camp, had 20 goals and 20 assists in 59 games for San Antonio a year ago.

Several other forwards who showed flashes of brilliance in 2006-07 will also be counted on to increase their production in 2007-08. Joe Jensen, Kurtis McLean, and Tim Wallace split time between Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but each showed signs of being able to consistently produce at the AHL level, with McLean being the most productive with 16 goals and 16 assists in 55 games. Veteran Connor James, a former Los Angeles King, was more productive as the season went on, and will be looking to improve on the 12 goals and 20 assists he produced in 70 contests.

A couple of wild cards to watch out for are Aaron Boogaard and Mark Letestu. Boogaard is the brother of Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, highly regarded as one of the toughest men in the NHL. Boogaard will team with Dennis Bonvie to keep the Baby Pens’ stars protected, and he could replace Georges Laraque in Pittsburgh in 2008-09. Letestu was signed as a free agent late last year after recorded 24 goals and 22 assists in 37 games with Western Michigan of the NCAA. He has above average offensive skills, and has the benefit of appearing in thee games late last season for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

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