Minor Distractions - AHL/ECHL 3rd Quarter

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

With all the excitement over the Olympics and the Trade Deadline I nearly forgot all about the conclusion of the 3rd Quarter down in the minors.

I had been so engrossed lately with the 2014 Winter Olympics and trying to figure out what the Pittsburgh Penguins would do at the Trade Deadline that I lost track of how far along our minor league affiliates have gotten.

The AHL uses a shorter 76 game schedule, so each quarter can be broken up into an even 19 game block, which conveniently for us the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finished up their 57th game this past Saturday, officially putting them into the final home stretch of the season.

The ECHL is even shorter still, with just 72 games in their regular season, so with each uarter being split into 18 game blocks we should have looked at their numbers after their 54th game a week and a half ago, as they are now already 3 games into the final quarter.

Recently Chuck Kobasew cleared waivers and was assigned to WBS, he was still in transit today but is likely to join the club for their games this weekend. However, Kobasew joining the Baby Pens now puts them over the veteran limit. AHL teams are only allowed to dress 5 veteran players plus 1 "tweener" player on any given night. PL3 is the only tweener in the lineup, while Kobasew, Kostopoulos, Ebbett, Drazenovic, Machacek, and Mikkelson must now split the final 5 veteran spots. So one of those player will be scratched every game.

AHL WBS Baby Pens

This was a really rough patch for the team, the injuries they suffered throughout the season decimating the lineup finally caught up to them, something we also saw up in Pittsburgh. Through 19 games, the Baby Pens went 8-8-2-1. This stretch of recent struggles has also taken a toll on the standings, so a team that was once on firm ground now find themselves fighting just to remain in playoff contention. They are now 30-20-3-4 and are precariously placed at #8 in the Eastern Conference with just 2 points separating them from their arch-rival Hershey Bears who are on the outside looking in.

Goaltenders

Eric Hartzell had established himself as the team's starting goaltender by the time this quarter kicked off, starting in 12 games and coming in as relief midway through another. He had an extraordinarily productive January, being awarded the AHL Goaltender of the Month honors. However, he hit a brick wall in February, getting pulled from the net in 4 of his past 6 starts before getting demoted to the ECHL to try to turn things around. He finished the quarter with a 5-5-0 record with 1 shutout, stopping 245 of 272 for a .901 Sv% and a 2.54 GAA.

Jeff Deslauriers came into the quarter having fallen to the backup role, starting 6 games this quarter and coming in as relief in 4 others. However, he was pulled twice himself as well, the first and last games he played this quarter. He finished the quarter with a 2-5-1 record, stopping 144 of 168 for a .857 Sv% and a 3.50 GAA.

Peter Mannino was stuck down in the ECHL until Hartzell fell apart, getting called up to replace him when he got sent down. He has no been up for long but is already starting to impress. He started just 1 games and came in as relief midway through another. He has a 1-0-0 record, stopping 37 of 39 for a .949 Sv% and a 1.27 GAA.

Defensemen

Reid McNeill played in all 19 games this quarter, establishing himself as a roster staple and even climbing up to the top shutdown pair in the wake of recent injuries and call ups. He had 1 Goal, 4 Points, and a +5.

Brendan Mikkelson also played in all 19 games this quarter, remaining in his usual role anchoring the 2nd line and as a PP quarterback. He had 3 Goals, 8 Points, and a -6.

Philip Samuelsson was also present for all 19 games this quarter, the lead shutdown D on the top pairing as well as primary PKer. He had 1 Goal, 9 Points, and a +10.

Scott Harrington has not missed a single game all season, most often joining Mikkelson on the 2nd D pair as well as getting work on both the PP and PK. He had 1 Goal, 3 Points, and a -2.

Brian Dumoulin got hurt back at the end of January, playing in just 7 games this quarter, and has just recently returned to practice. Not surprisingly, his injury coincides with the team's recent struggles, so getting him back will be huge. He had 2 Assists and a -1.

Nick D`Agostino has bounced in and out of the lineup, playing on the 3rd pair one night and watching from the press box the next, he even saw a little bit of time down in Wheeling. As such he has played just 8 games this quarter, during which he had 1 Assist and a -4.

Harrison Ruopp has had an even more difficult time cracking the lineup, being scratched more often than not and having a short stay in the ECHL. He played just 5 games this quarter with no Points and a -2.

Barry Goers bounced between the ECHL and AHL, and in his most recent stay wound up being unavailable for personal reasons. He has only played 2 games this quarter with no Points and a -2.

Simon Despres was being used on the top shutdown pair and heavy PK minutes, and even started to get more work on the PP, before getting recalled to the NHL. He was paper transferred down on Trade Deadline Day though, so he is eligible to return to WBS this season if the Pens feel they no longer need him. He played in 17 games before getting recalled netting 3 Goals, 11 Points, and a +4.

Forwards

Harry Zolnierczyk returned from a stay in Pittsburgh and was expected to light up the world playing an offensive role, being most often penciled in as a Top 6 scoring winger with some time on the PP. He hasn't been bad, but he just hasn't quite done as much as we would like to see, with the team struggling to keep their playoff hopes alive they needed somebody to step up, but he wasn't quite up to the task. He played in 17 games during which he scored 4 Goals, 8 Points, and a +1.

Brian Gibbons was up in Pittsburgh, came down to the AHL for the All-Star Game and to keep in shape during the Olympic break, returning to the NHL after a short 5 game stay. However, he was paper transferred back down at the Trade Deadline, thus making him eligible to return to the AHL this season, so depending on how new acquistions and injured players turn out he could find himself back in WBS before the season is over. He had 2 Goals, 3 Points, and an even 0.

Nick Drazenovic has been a staple as a Top 6 center playing all 19 games this quarter, although his wingers have changed from time to time. For the most part has been one of the most important offensive weapons on the team, helping kick start the PP after their long scoreless streak, although he did have a lengthy 6 game scoring drought. He had 4 Goals, 13 Points, and a -4.

Zach Sill got injured not long after returning from a two-month stay in the NHL, getting cut by an opponent's skate and suffering a deep laceration that required surgery. As such he played just 2 games this quarter, although during that time he did have 1Goal and a +1.

Tom Kuhnhackl is starting to look like a bust. He had shown some sparks last year before getting injured, and after returning to the lineup this season seemed poised to take a role in the Top 6. However, his production dried up and most recently has found himself being bounced in and out of the lineup, even having a short stay down in Wheeling. As such he has only played 12 games, during which he had no Points and a -3.

Zach Torquato came up from Wheeling to fill in as a 2nd line scoring Center while they were dealing with injuries, and I think he may have even had a short stint with the 3rd line after they started to return to relative health. He played in just 8 games during which he had 2 Assists and a -1.

Mike Carman has been a fairly steady fill-in throughout the injury riddled season, spending time centering the middle two lines, but most recently finding a place anchoring the 4th line. He played 18 games this quarter, during which he had 3 Goals, 5 Points, and a +2.

Spencer Machacek was acquired in a change of scenery trade for Paul Thompson, who had quite the unremarkable season after solid performances his first two years in WBS. Machacek has only been with the team for 9 games, but he has established himself as a Top 6 winger with 6 Goals, 8 Points, and a +2.

Anton Zlobin has hit a bit of a slump midway through his rookie season, getting limited looks on the Bottom 6, bouncing in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch, and even having a short stay down in the ECHL. He played in 12 games this quarter during which he had 1 Goal, 3 Points, and a +3.

Jayson Megna returned after a stay in the NHL and found himself bumped down to the 3rd line playing a defensive Checking role after his old Top 6 scoring role had been taken over by others. However, it is possible that was Pittsburgh's intention, as they could be grooming him for his presumed future role as a shutdown forward in the NHL. He played just 8 games during which he scored 2 Goals, 3 Points, and a +1.

Carter Rowney was a call-up from Wheeling and has since been returned to the Nailers. He shuffled around the lineup on a number of different lines, but seemed to be used as a Bottom 6 forward more often than not. He played 10 games this quarter with 1 Goal, 3 Points, and an even 0.

Bobby Farnham has quietly become an important part of the lineup as a 4th line agitator, and in recent games has found a bit of a scoring touch. He played in 18 games with 3 Goals, 5 Points, and a -2.

Andrew Ebbett has been quite an important part of the team's renewed surge since his return from Pittsburgh, helping find a spark of life on their dismal Power Play. He played just 11 games with 3 Goals, 8 Points, and a +1.

Dominik Uher has had an interesting development thus far, being assumed to be a Bottom 6 defensive forward but slower carving out a niche as a power forward on the Top 6 scoring lines and a net front presence on the PP. He carved out a permanent place for himself while others have struggled to stay in the lineup, playing in all 19 games this quarter with 1 Goal, 7 Points, and a +2.

Adam Payerl got injured earlier this season and missed a large chunk of the year, and seemingly has not quite gotten back into the swing of things after such a long layoff. He has mostly been used in a Bottom 6 defensive role, playing in 8 games with no Points and a -3.

Tom Kostopoulos was with the team during their inaugural season in 1999, but just because the Captain is one of the oldest players in the league doesn't mean he can't keep up with the kids. He has been a Top 6 winger and PP sniper for most of the season, and this quarter played all 19 games with 6 Goals, 14 Points, and a -4.

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond is what he is, an enforcer with limited offensive ability. He is a step above the old schoolers like Big Mac when it comes to skating ability and offensive output, but he remains a limited TOI 4th line wing. He played in 17 games this quarter, missing a couple after getting banged up on a big hit, and managed a reasonable 3 Assists and even 0.

Denver Manderson has moved up and down between WBS and Wheeling for most of the season, getting called up to fill in for injured players, most recently centering the 3rd line in a defensive Checking role. He has played 10 games this quarter, during which he scored 1 Goal, 4 Points, and a -1.

ECHL Wheeling Nailers

The Nailers had a pretty solid quarter, going 11-7-0. However, they are still on the outside looking in as they are 28-23-1-5 so far this season which puts them at #10 in the Eastern Conference. They are just 1 point out of 7th place, although they have 2 games in hand on the three teams that stand in their way. With just 15 games remaining they have their work cut out for them trying to fight their way into the playoffs.

Goaltenders

Peter Mannino had been playing as a backup in Wheeling before getting called up to WBS. He started just 6 games, but during that time had a 3-3-0 record stopping 119 of 130 for a .915 Sv% and a 2.72 GAA.

Eric Hartzell got sent down after struggling in the AHL in February, so he has started just 2 games so far, posting a 1-1-0 record while stopping 51 of 61 for a .836 Sv% and a 5.03 GAA. Coach Donatelli has said he will keep Hartzell in no matter how many goals he gives up because developmentally he needs to work through his troubles.

Defensemen

Peter Merth returned from injury during late February and has played just 3 games this quarter during which he had no Points and a +1.

Barry Goers bounced up to WBS from time to time, which is where he is currently. He played 14 games this quarter netting 2 Goals, 6 Points, and a +4.

Dustin Stevenson played 17 games this quarter with 5 Assists and a +1.

Nick D`Agostino had a short stay down in the Wheel but has since been returned to WBS. He played just 3 games this quarter during which he has 2 Assists and a -2.

Harrison Ruopp also spent a short time with the Nailers but is now back with the Baby Pens. He played in 3 games this quarter with no Points and a -1.

Forwards

Zach Torquato was on fire after returning from WBS, playing in 7 games this quarter during which he scored 3 Goals, 9 Points, and an even 0.

Cody Sylvester returned to Wheeling some time ago, so he played in all 18 games this quarter. He was quite impressive, specially in recent weeks as the rest of the call-ups returned, racking up 9 Goals, 18 Points, and a +9.

Carter Rowney was another of the big names to return from WBS, playing 7 games this quarter and scoring 3 Goals, 7 Points, and a +3.

Anton Zlobin was sent down after struggling to find a regular place in the WBS lineup but stayed for just 1 game. But it was quite an impressive night, 1 Goal, 2 Points, and an even 0.

Tom Kuhnhackl also had a short stay of just 1 game after struggling to crack the WBS lineup, but he posted goose eggs across the board.

Denver Manderson went down after the Pittsburgh players got called down for the Olympic break and has since been returned to WBS. However, in 9 games this quarter he had 7 Goals, 14 Points, and a +7.

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