With the dust of the free agent frenzy settling, I think it's time to look at how the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have made out. Technically they could still add someone but the losses are most likely staying where they're at, barring a re-signing of Tim Wallace. (UPDATE: Wallace just signed a one-year deal with the Islanders) The organization is also pushing close to the maximum number of NHL contracts, so if the Pens were to add at this point is would have to be an AHL deal like the one handed out to Denver Manderson yesterday.
This summer has seen the AHL Penguins lose their backup goalie and fan favorite John Curry, as well as three key veteran defensemen Steve Wagner (DEL), Andrew Hutchinson (KHL) and Corey Potter (Edmonton Oilers).
After the jump, a look at who the Penguins went out and got to replace those they lost. But did they really improve the minor league club or remain relatively the same?
Nothing is set in stone, but let's compare the AHL Penguins 2010-11 playoff roster with the roster they look to start with in 2011-12.
The Penguins lost a great backup in John Curry, but recently signed Scott Munroe. Munroe didn't have the greatest season overseas last season, but he is a former 30 game winner with the AHL's then Philadelphia Phantoms (now Adirondack) back in 2008-09.
I still think Brad Thiessen is going to carry the load in goal, but Curry for Munroe isn't too big of a downgrade to cause concern.
The Penguins lost their veteran presence in Hutchinson, Wagner and Potter. They replaced them with Boris Valabik, Simon Despres, and possibly Alexandre Picard if he doesn't make the NHL club. It's obvious that the WBS Penguins are downgraded a little bit, but if they want to develop prospects like Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, Carl Sneep and Despres they'll have to give them solid top four minutes in 2011-12.
Not sure if the Penguins will have a true power play quarterback that they miss from losing Hutchison. Is Carl Sneep ready to fill the void in just his 2nd AHL season? I like Sneep and think he really got better towards the end of the season, but I'm not sure if he's ready for top four minutes just yet.
While they lost Brett Sterling and Tim Wallace (unless he re-signs), they also have the luxury of getting back two guys who were ineligible for the AHL playoffs because of injuries they suffered at the NHL level. That being Eric Tangradi and Nick Johnson. With 13 NHL forwards ahead of them in my opinion (Dustin Jeffrey included), Johnson and Tangradi could very well be in the AHL to at least start the season.
The Penguins also went out and got the AHL's leading goal scorer from last season in Colin McDonald. The kid had a breakout year paired with some AHL studs in Alexandre Giroux and Brad Moran in Oklahoma City, where he netted 42 goals. His three previous seasons, he was primarily a grinder who couldn't reach 25 points or more than 12 goals. It will be interesting to see McDonald in action this season. Do the Penguins get the 40 goal sniper or the 12 goal grinder? I think it will be somewhere in the middle, but certainly hoping for the best.
I think the Penguins did a good job of retaining their core of AHL players for 2011-12, guys like Ryan Craig, Zach Sill, Nick Johnson, Bryan Lerg, and Geoff Walker. The team won 58 games in the regular season and had a great season. The big question mark still remains, however. The reason that this team saw an early exit from the playoffs was a lack of scoring. Do the Penguins have enough goal scorers in the minors in 2011-12?
I think something that also has to be taken into account is that anyone on the roster can have a breakout year. Guys like Ben Street, Nick Petersen and Keven Veilleux had a great 2nd half of the season in the AHL.
So while the Penguins didn't necessarily go after too many big name AHL studs, they could promote a scorer from within and be alright. I guess time will tell. One thing is certain. And that is the Penguins have the returning goaltender of the year in Brad Thiessen between the pipes and a pretty solid defense.
A Look at a Possible Roster to Start the 2011-12 Season
Goalies: Brad Thiessen and Scott Munroe
Defensemen: Alexandre Picard*, Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Strait, Carl Sneep, Boris Valabik, Joey Mormina, Alex Grant and Philip Samuelsson
Forwards: Dustin Jeffrey*, Eric Tangradi, Nick Johnson, Ryan Craig, Colin McDonald, Keven Veilleux, Joe Vitale, Ben Street, Nick Petersen, Bryan Lerg, Geoff Walker, Zach Sill, Paul Thompson and Brian Gibbons
*Picard and Jeffrey could make the NHL team.