The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins announced today the signing of 4 players to AHL contracts. 3 of the names are familiar fan favorites: Defenseman Peter Merth and Forwards Christiaan Minella and Denver Manderson. The 4th player is Defenseman Dustin Stevenson. Sadly there is still no Warren Peters, who would make an excellent team Captain this year.
The newest addition to the team is hulking 23 year old 6'5" 220lbs Defenseman Dustin Stevenson. He played 4 years in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (a Junior A league, a step below the Canadian Major Juniors in the OHL/QMJHL/WHL). He was actually quite a force in his final two seasons, scoring 26 Goals and 86 Points while racking up 258 Penalty Minutes in 109 games, as well as 10 Goals and 21 Points with 22 Penalty Minutes in the 2010 playoffs, winning the EJHL Championship and bringing home Player of the Year Honors.
However, Junior A players, at least those that don't have plans to continue playing at the NCAA level, are not very big draft targets, so despite his impressive Junior career he went undrafted. He signed a 3-year Entry Level Contract as a free agent with the Washington Capitals and spent 3 years playing for their ECHL affiliates (2010-12 South Carolina Stingrays and 2012-13 Reading Royals). He was not tendered a qualifying offer and became a free agent again this summer, which is where we found him.
The numbers in his ECHL career were not impressive, but I think it was because in facing a tougher level of competition he had to shift from being the offensive powerhouse he was in the EJHL to a more conservative physical shutdown defenseman role. His first season he may have still been trying to power through the ranks, as that was his highest season in Goals (3) and Points (12) while also being his lowest in Penalty Minutes (44) and Plus/Minus (-16). However, his last 2 seasons he blossomed into his role, and had 17 Assists, 216 Penalty Minutes, and a +18 Rating in 137 regular season games. And his success carried over into the playoffs as well, with 2 Goals, 12 Points, 20 Penalty Minutes, and a +19 Rating in 31 playoff games, bringing home the Kelly Cup last season.
Beyond the stat sheet, here are what some people had to say about him:
"Stevenson is a big defenseman with a mean streak. He likes to play a physical, stay-at-home game. Has a great reach." - EliteProspects
"Stevenson reminds me of Engelland....obviously years younger, but yeah." Twitter via Chirps from Center Ice
"Stevenson is a physically imposing defender who uses his size and strength to intimidate opposing forwards. He also has some offensive ability and can move the puck as well as shoot from the point. He has generally been bigger and stronger than the opposition he has faced thus far. He has played at a lower level of competition in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League but should develop his all-around game playing at the professional level.
Stevenson projects as a stay-at-home, defensive defenseman but has displayed some offensive skills to go with his toughness. Any player making the jump to pro hockey without playing either major junior or college hockey faces long odds but Stevenson's toughness and size, coupled with a decent skill set are pluses in his favor." - Hockey's Future
"The Merth Effect," he was a fan favorite from the Wheeling Nailers that played a couple of stints in WBS over the past 2 seasons. The 6'3" 225lb 26 year old Defenseman is more of an all-around 2-way player than Stevenson, but with good size and physicality he excels in his own end of the ice.
His Junior career was less impressive, although he left at 18 while Stevenson (in his two final breakout years) continued to play until he aged out at 20. But Merth also played in a Junior A league, the British Columbia Hockey League, playing for the Coquitlam/Burnaby Express for 3 seasons from 2003-06. During that time he improved in every season (which is what you want to see), with a solid 5 Goals, 22 Points, and 102 Penalty Minutes in 60 regular season games his final season. What's more, his team (moved to Burnaby that year) won it all that year, the BCHL Championship, the All BC regional championship, the BC/Alberta championship, and the all Junior-A Championship Royal Bank Cup.
He then moved on to the NCAA with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers of the ECAC (with the Ivy League schools). During his 4 years there he scored 5 Goals and 41 Points with a +2 Rating in 151 regular season games, serving as an Alternate Captain in both his Junior and Senior seasons, but the school failed to qualify for the playoffs during that time. He then went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Wheeling Nailers in 2010.
During his time in the ECHL he continued to play solid defensive hockey with a slight scoring edge, netting 5 Goals, 41 Points, and a +24 Rating in 167 games, serving as an Alternate Captain in 2011-12 and as Captain in 2012-13. As mentioned, he also had a couple of brief stints with the WBS Pens, playing 11 regular season games in 2011-12 and 8 playoff games in 2013, for a total of 4 Assists and a +6 Rating in 19 games. He brings along a solid 2-way defensive game as well as leadership experience, and being older and having more pro experience than most of the D (Mikkelson is older, by 3 days, and has more years and more overall games plus even some NHL experience; Stevenson played the same number of pro seasons, but has slightly more games played). Last year in WBS he was usually paired with Mormina in a shutdown role.
Minella was another fan favorite from Wheeling that played in WBS last season, playing a few games in the regular season as well as in the playoffs. He is a 28 year old 6'2" 205lbs Forward (who is right handed and was used on the RW in WBS last year). He was primarily used as a 4th liner physical energy type guy, although his past experience does tell us that he has the ability to contribute offensively to a certain extent.
He came up through the USHL system playing for the Siouc City Musketeers for 3 seasons from 2003-2006. His first two seasons he played a fairly simple style, with 14 Goals, 40 Points, and an even 0 Rating in 111 games. They also took a deep playoff run in 2005, winning their Division championships and coming in as the runner up for the USHL Championship. But his final season he ramped it up offensively, unfortunately at the expense of his defensive game, but finishing with 24 Goals, 38 Points, and a -8 Rating in 60 games.
He then went on the the NCAA playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish of the CCHA from 2006-10, where he went back to playing a simple conservative game. He had 12 Goals, 33 Points, and a +7 Rating in 113 games. During his time there they won the CCHA Championship in both 2006-07 and 2008-09, and while not winning the CCHA they made it all the way to the Frozen Four in 2007-08, losing to Boston College in the Final.
After going undrafted and graduating college, he signed an ECHL deal with the Cincinnati Cyclones, eventually getting sent to the Wheeling Nailers late in the season. He then resigned and spent the next two seasons, 2011-13, playing for the Nailers. During his time in Wheeling he scored 17 Goals and 38 Points (but a surprisingly low -26 Rating) in 107 games. And then last year in WBS he saw mainly sheltered 4th line minutes, playing on the diseased pork line (Farnham-Sill-Minella sounds like Farm Ham Salmonella). He didn't score any points and had a -1 Rating in his 8 regular season games, but did score a Goal (and another -1 Rating) in his 6 playoff appearances.
"Was up on brief recall from Wheeling, could turn out to be an everyday player for Wilkes-Barre in the future because he played hard while he was here. That’s all you can ask.
Will probably walk the ECHL – AHL tightrope again next season." - Chirps from Center Ice
Manderson has quite the roller coaster ride of a career. He is a 24 year old 5'10" 174lbs Forward (right handed, but variously listed as LW or C, so presumably can play any position).
He started his Junior career with the OHL Guelph Storm (having also played for their midget club), but quickly found himself demoted to the Junior B Guelph Dominators of the Mid-Western Junior Hockey League (which has since been consolidated into the larger Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League). The following season he started once again with the OHL Guelph Storm, but then got traded to the OHL Kitchener Rangers and sent down to the Junior A Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Provincial Hockey League (now consolidated into the single Ontario Junior Hockey League). The following season saw him on the move again, this time to the Junior A Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League, although still affiliated with the OHL Kitchener Rangers. He finished out his final 3 seasons in the BCHL, going undrafted and aging out at 20.
He was quite a force in his youth and playing in lesser leagues. Playing Midget hockey with the Guelph Jr. Storm he had 34 Goals and 84 Points in 50 games. Then playing Junior B with the Guelph Dominators he had 25 Goals and 50 Points in 38 games. His Junior A career, once he moved to the Penticton Vees, was stellar, scoring 69 Goals and 221 Points in 105 games, and winning the BCHL Championship in 2008. Most of those points came from his final season in 2009-10, when he was partnered with Pittsburgh's Bennett, scoring 40 Goals and 113 Points in the regular season (finishing #2 behind Bennett), and adding an additional 10 Goals and 25 Points in 16 playoff games, and earning BCHL MVP honors.
But he aged out of juniors after going undrafted, and his roller coaster ride continued. His first stop was EC Red Bull Salzburg of Austria, where he competed for the European Trophy in 2010 (they were the host team and lost in the quarterfinals). He then got a tryout with the KHL's Medvescak Zagreb, but was released before the season began. He finally wound up playing for Heinolan Kiekko in Finland's lower league Mestis. He led the team in scoring for the 2010-11 season, with 17 Goals and 33 Points in 46 games (although his -7 Rating was one of the lowest on the team).
Next we came back to North America and signed and ECHL contract with the Wheeling Nailers for the 2011-12 season. He scored 18 Goals, 40 Points, and had a +11 Rating in his 52 games with Wheeling that season. That was good enough to impress the Baby Pens, and he earned himself an AHL contract for the 2012-13 season. But he got injured during the pre-season, and then when he was healthy enough to be re-activated we had a logjam of locked out players, so we was sent back down to Wheeling, where he played just 1 game before getting injured again and missing the remainder of the season. However, he did well enough in pre-season before getting injured (as well as his previous season stats) that they felt it warranted bringing him back to WBS for another year.
"Had two shoulder surgeries. When healthy, Manderson is an all-situations player." - Shawn Rine of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register