Minor Distractions - January Week 1

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

The Pittsburgh Penguins have now come back from most of their major injury woes and we are finally starting to see some stability in the lineup down in the minor leagues.

The Pittsburgh Penguins still have quite a few players out with injury and still lead the league in number of man games lost at 261. However, they have gotten back a number of key players in recent weeks and there are a handful that are getting closer to their return. Likewise, the organization has started to get relatively healthy at the AHL and ECHL levels as well, and the trickle down as players start to return from the higher levels means they have finally returned to some semblance of roster stability.

AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

One of the biggest recent announcements was that Brian Gibbons was selected as one of 20 2014 AHL All-Stars that will be playing against the Swedish Hockey League's Färjestad BK on February 11th and 12th. Of course Gibbons is currently in the NHL playing on the 1st line alongside Kunitz and Crosby, so his ability to play in the All-Star game is contingent on the team getting healthy enough that they can return him to the AHL by the start of the Olympic roster freeze on February 8th.

Other recent news involves the roster becoming healthy enough to allow 3 players to be sent down to the ECHL Wheeling Nailers, Forward Cody Sylvester and D Nick D`Agostino and Peter Merth. They also released C.J Severyn from his Professional Tryout contract. That leaves the Baby Pens with 13 healthy forwards and 7 healthy defensemen.

The WBS Baby Pens are 20-11-1-3 so far this season and have now fallen to #2 in the East Division, partly due to the Binghamton Senators going on a hot streak and passing them by. Despite falling down the standing in their own Division they are still #4 in the Eastern Conference and #7 in the entire AHL, which is extremely impressive considering how many players they lost throughout the season due to injury and call-ups. They are 26/184 for a 14.1% on the PP, which unfortunately is just #26 in the AHL, and they have killed 135/161for a 83.9% on the PK, which dropped them to #11 in the AHL. So their special teams performance has suffered from the roster turnovers.

Forwards

Captain Tom Kostopoulos leads the active team with 12 Goals and 21 Points in 32 games played. He has been skating on the top line, the "Tom, Nick, and Harry Line," with the next two highest scoring forwards, both of which are actually ahead of him in Points per Game. Harry Zolnierczyk has 11 Goals and 19 Points in 26 games played while Nick Drazenovic has 7 Goals and 18 Points in 24 games played.

The Middle 6 forwards have been a bit interchangeable as of late, so which counts as the 2nd line and which counts as the 3rd line can vary from night to night. Of course this has a lot to do with the fact that the team leading scorer Gibbons is still playing in the NHL while the 5th through 7th highest scoring forwards Andrew Ebbett, Chris Conner, and Jayson Megna all got called up to the NHL and are currently out with injuries. So when the NHL lineup returns to full health and allows some or all of them to return to the AHL they will once again take their place back in the Top 6.

The current Middle 6 then is led by Dominik Uher with 3 Goals and 10 Points in 28 games played. Then we have top scoring rookie Tom Kuhnhackl with 7 Goals and 9 Points in 33 games played. And Mike Carman is next with 3 Goals and 8 Points in 27 games played. Paul Thompson, still struggling this season but having improved considerably in the wake of all the injuries, has 3 Goals and 5 Points in 28 games played. Then we have rookie Anton Zlobin with 2 Goals and 5 Points in 15 games played. And lastly the Wheeling Nailers leading scorer playing on a PTO rookie Zack Torquato who has 2 Goals and 4 Points in 8 games played.

That leaves us with a 4th line of Bobby Farnham, who has 2 Goals and 5 Points in 25 games played, rookie Denver Manderson, who has 3 Assists in 18 games played, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who has 1 Goals and 2 Points in 29 games played. The current 13th F is rookie Carter Rowney who has no Points in 4 games played. Out long term with an injury is Adam Payerl, who otherwise would fall in as the 11th highest scoring forward behind Carman. And still up playing in Pittsburgh is the regular 4th line Center Zach Sill who falls in behind Thompson as the 13th highest scoring forward. Sylvester, recently returned to the Wheeling Nailers, was the 18th highest scoring forward.

Defensemen

The top scoring D remains Alternate Captain Brendan Mikkelson who has 3 Goals and 20 Points in 34 games played, and he usually plays on the 2nd D pair alongside rookie and 2nd highest scoring D Scott Harrington who has 2 Goals and 11 Points in 35 games played. The top D pair is the shutdown D pair of Alternate Captain  Philip Samuelsson with 2 Goals and 10 Points in 33 games played and Brian Dumoulin with 1 Goal and 6 Points in 27 games played.

The 3rd D pair is made up of some combination of Wheeling Nailers D Barry Goers who has 1 Goal and 5 Points in 7 games played, rookie Harrison Ruopp who has no Points in 9 games played, and Reid McNeill who has no Points in 16 games played. Simon Despres, who is currently still playing in Pittsburgh, falls in as the 2nd highest scoring D behind Mikkelson while D`Agostino, recently returned to the Wheeling Nailers, is the 5th highest scoring D behind Samuelsson. The last two that are also currently assigned to the Wheeling Nailers, Merth and Dustin Stevenson, fall in at the bottom with the other D who went scoreless in their time in WBS.

Goaltenders

The goaltenders are ostensibly co-starters now, although the veteran Jeff Deslauriers still has the slight edge when it comes to getting more starts. Deslauriers currently has a 14-9-2 record with a 2.30 GAA, a .904 Sv%, and 1 shutout. Rookie Eric Hartzell now has a 5-2-1 record with a 1.95 GAA, .921 Sv%, and 2 shutouts. Deslauriers had an impressive performance in December that carried over to a hot performance in the 1st game of the new year, but has since struggled in recent games. Hartzell is still incredibly inconsistent, but has been really hot so far this month and may in fact take the reins as starter now that he is hot at the same time that Deslauriers is in a slump.

ECHL Wheeling Nailers

The Wheeling Nailers are currently 15-12-1-5, still falling in at #1 in the Atlantic Division, although they are just #7 in the Eastern Conference and #12 in the entire ECHL. They have gone 14/113 for 12.4% on the PP, which is #18 in the ECHL, and have killed 121/142 for 85.2% on the PK, which is good for #11 in the ECHL.

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