Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins Preview

by Maureen L.
TSCSF Contributing Writer
(covering Penguins affiliates - AHL, minor league, juniors, and everything in between!)

The WBS Pens came up a little short in the post season this past spring. Getting swept by the Albany River Rats wasn’t the way they wanted their season to end, but that loss is behind them now. Looking ahead, the Baby Pens have a new season ahead of them and some changes to work with. Here’s a look at a few of the changes the WBS Pens are facing this season.

The NHL Pull: With some injury problems plaguing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early part of the season, they are leaning on their AHL club for support. This support has been coming in the form of players like Eric Tangradi, Mark Letestu, and Deryk Engelland. All 3 were solid producers for Wilkes Barre last year and have gotten off to a good start this year in Pittsburgh.

Engelland has logged almost 26 minutes of ice time in 2 games and already has 2 penalty minutes to his name. Looking at Tangradi’s stat sheet, you can surmise that Dan Bylsma’s confidence in the “Big Dog” is growing. He’s gotten more shifts and ice time in each game, notched an assist in the Penguins victory over New Jersey yesterday and had a faceoff percentage of 50%. The biggest surprise out of Wilkes Barre has come in the form of Center, Mark Letestu. The 25 year old center has scored 2 goals in the first 3 games of the season, has gotten significant ice time in all 3 games and has really emerged as a player to watch. WBS fans are probably not surprised at this fact seeing as Letestu ended the regular season last year with 55 points in 63 games and added another 3 points in the 4 playoff games.


Putting it in Ink: On October 6, the Baby Pens inked a contract with forward Ryan Schnell who spent the 2009-2010 season with the ECHL Wheeling Nailers. While his point totals (2G, 4A, 60GP) didn’t light up the boards, his penalty minutes certainly earned him a second look. He’s definitely got the potential to be that “niche” guy, the enforcer with the moves and hands to control the puck and contribute offensively. Standing 6’3”, 225 lbs, he can move around or through opponents with the puck. Schnell knows that nothing is for sure and although he’s earned his spot, he needs to work through the year to keep it. He made the most of his tryout contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins during training camp. He’s committed to working on his own game as well as learning from his AHL teammates including veteran enforcer Jesse Boulerice.
“It’s going to be really big just to watch him and learn what he does and what makes him successful.”
The Baby Pens are looking for a young guy to start to step up and fill Boulerice’s shoes and Schnell is going to do everything he can to make sure that when the time comes, he’s the guy. In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to be dropping the gloves against the Baby Pens.

A Sterling Addition: The offseason addition of Brett Sterling (Chicago Wolves) was slightly controversial as Sterling has a lot of positive qualities but limited NHL experience. He had a sparkling debut in the Pittsburgh Penguins first pre-season game against the Detroit Red Wings and continued to play well through the preseason but was sent down the WBS on September 29th. Look for him to have a positive impact on the Baby Penguins this year. He has great positioning, doesn’t allow his size to deter him and he finds good scoring chances.

Last Minute Return: When the German hockey team, the Kassel Huskies, went bankrupt on Aug. 27, Joey Mormina was without a job. The big, tough defenseman was a major contributor to the Baby Pens in the 2008-2009 season, finishing with a +37. Only his linemate Ben Lovejoy was ahead of him league wide. He’s a big guy but very athletic for his size. He is smart about his positioning and can effectively shut down opposing teams top lines. While he is on a tryout contract, ice time may be tough to come by. The WBS roster is pretty solid and Joey knows he’s at a disadvantage. He’s not discouraged though.
"I have to earn my spot. They have guys who have been here all training camp and have already played in games and played well. I have to bide my time, work hard, practice hard, be a good team guy, all the things I've done in the past, and hope I can stick around for a little bit. If I do get into a game, I have to play my game and prove myself all over again."
So with a win in the season opener, the Baby Pens should be feeling pretty good about their off season moves and what lies ahead of them. This year should be a good one to watch. And as far as the Hershey Bears go, I think they’ll be good, but maybe a step off from the level they played at in the past few years. At least on paper, it looks like it could be a good season for the Baby Pens. Now, let’s go watch some hockey!

Times Leader
Citizens Voice

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