The Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins will begin their 12th season in the AHL tomorrow at home against the Hershey Bears. The team has announced their roster for the season opener and it includes 27 players: 16 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goalies.
The rules regarding roster size are much different than the NHL, as AHL teams are allowed to carry as many players on their opening roster as they'd like. Since their ECHL affiliate Wheeling doesn't begin their season until Wednesday, the Baby Pens aren't in a hurry to send more players packing just yet.
A look at the roster and my look at the team this season after the jump.
The Pens have 14 returning players from last season on a squad that finished 41-34-2-3 and earned the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference's East Division. They had a disappointing showing in the playoffs, being swept in the first round by the Albany River Rats. But this season the team looks deep in every position with both John Curry and Brad Thiessen returning in goal, a host of veterans on defense and Dustin Jeffrey, Brett Sterling and Nick Johnson appearing to be their top forward line. A look at the team's roster...
Forwards (16) : Zach Sill, Brett Sterling, Chris Collins, Geoff Walker, Jesse Boulerice, Bryan Lerg, Dustin Jeffrey, Ryan Craig, Chris Conner, Tim Wallace, Joe Vitale, Nick Johnson, Ryan Schnell, Nick Petersen, Joey Haddad and Keven Veilleux
I really like the depth at the forward position. There has been a lot of competition for spots in the lineup throughout camp, which is always a good thing. The coaching staff, led by John Hynes and assistant coach Alain Nasreddine (might ring a bell), will have many tough decisions coming up regarding who will be in the lineup. Although the lines aren't set yet for opening night, if I had to guess what they will look like it would goes as follows:
Sterling - Jeffery - Johnson
Veilleux - Craig - Conner
Wallace - Vitale - Walker
Schnell - Sill - Boulerice
Scratches: Collins, Lerg, Petersen and Haddad
The defense is also much improved from last season. They have added Potter and Hutchinson to the lineup, two guys with some NHL experience along with good AHL experience. The Pens also have a couple young guys who I think will develop nicely this season and have a shot at making the NHL next season. From what I heard, Bortuzzo and Strait had good camps and will be much improved this season. My projected defensive pairings for opening night:
Wagner - Hutchinson
Bortuzzo - Strait
Potter - Sneep
Goalies (3) : Mattias Modig, John Curry and Brad Thiessen
Curry and Thiessen both played in a decent amount of games last season, Curry (46 and 3 in postseason) and Thiessen (30 and 1 in postseason). Curry started off the season as the starter last season before Theissen,a rookie last year, started to get more starts towards the end of the season. I think that Curry will be the starter again at the beginning this season but Thiessen will also get playing time and the Pens will probably ride the hot goaltender. With that being said, I believe that Modig will be sent to Wheeling sometime soon. He just wasn't as good as the previous two guys and will be better off in the ECHL with recently famous Patrick Killeen.
It is even harder to predict a season for an AHL team because of the simple fact that not only are there injuries throughout the season but you also have to take into account that some of these guys could get called up to the NHL, due to injury, trade or just for Pittsburgh to get a good look at someone playing well.
With that said I think this could be a great year for the Baby Pens. They have two decent goaltenders, one of which has taken the Penguins to the AHL finals before. They have added more veteran defensemen and now have Potter, Hutchinson and Wagner. And their younger defenseman, especially Strait and Bortuzzo, will be much improved now that they have gone through a season of professional hockey. The forward lines look deep and the Pens should be confident in rolling their top 3 lines, with the 4th line getting some time too.
Record: The Penguins and Bears will be fighting for the division lead this season and I think with the recent departure of Alexandre Giroux, the Bears will fall just short of the Pens for the division. Come playoff time who knows what will happen or what the rosters will look like. I predict the Pens going 49-25-2-4 for 104 points. We will have to see how close (hopefully not far) I was at the end of the season.
What to look for:
The Penguins have some skilled forwards who have put up big AHL numbers in the past. The whole top 6 forwards are capable of putting the puck in the net. One guy I think everyone should pay close attention to is Keven Veilleux. A highy touted prospect who missed almost the entire season last year as a rookie, Veilleux is a big kid at 6-5, 219 and I think he will have a big year, maybe around 25 goals 30 assists. I really liked what I saw from him in the preseason and hopefully he will continue that during the regular season.