When a guy down on the farm gets the call up to Pittsburgh, he's more or less coming in as a stranger to everyone in the locker room and the stands. In the case of the Penguins as of lately, it's almost more of a homecoming.
Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang, Ty Conklin, Jeff Taffe and Ryan Stone have all received that phone call. And now, with three more guys in the line up, it's almost like Wilkes-Barre has relocated to Pittsburgh.
Injuries are no doubt piling up for the Pens. Even today the team released news that Tyler Kennedy is out indefinitely with mono. We all know Crosby's and Roberts' status, along with Mark Eaton and Marc-Andre Fleury. Adam Hall is still day to day with an injured groin, while Colby Armstrong is questionable for tomorrow's game against Philly, but definitely due back after the All-Star break.
Amidst all of the chaos from shifts across the team and its affiliates, these new 'strangers' (and I use the term loosely) are calling Pittsburgh their home for at least a few games.
Sure, you can google search the names of these guys. But is there a better source to go to than the source itself? With that in mind, I exchanged a few questions with Johnathan Bombulie from Penguins Insider. Johnathan has been covering the team since its inception in 1999, and there's no better source for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton news and input. I hope my questions were enough to be the general 'voice' of Penguins fans in efforts to clear up some concerns about Chris Minard, Johnathan Filewich and Chris Brent.
1. At one point the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team had a nine-game win streak that was pretty congruent with the start of the parent club's streak. How has the farm been doing as of late?
After 25 games, WBS was in the dumper. They were 12-12-0-1 and couldn't score goals to save their lives. Since then, they're 12-3-0-1. The line of Chris Minard, Tim Brent and Kurtis McLean tore it up and rookie goalies John Curry and Dave Brown were top notch. Now, the season is at another crossroads. Why? Read on.
2. With injuries plaguing the Daddy Pens, how is the WBS team cycling through players with all of the recent call-ups?
When Minard, Brent and Jonathan Filewich were called up last Sunday, up went 53 percent of this team's offense. This happens all the time in the AHL, but not usually all at once. Needless to say, it's bare bones on the farm these days. You've got captain Nathan Smith, a fifth-year pro who came up through the Vancouver organization, as No. 1 center. He's basically a grinder. Then there's McLean and Connor James. After that, it's a bunch of guys you've probably never heard of. So it's safe to expect some losses here until Tyler Kennedy, Colby Armstrong and Adam Hall get healthy and Ryan Stone, Minard and Brent come back down.
3. So far this year we've seen a decent amount of call-ups from the WBS squad. As a writer for a minor league affiliate, how difficult is it to keep up with the comings and goings of players around the minors, and even following them up through the NHL?
That's actually one of the most fun parts of the job. You watch a kid for a couple years in the minors, wondering how they'll fare when they hit The Show. Then you get to see it happen. It's entertaining. I try to get to an NHL game or two each year to check up on the graduates. I'm planning to go to Philly on Thursday to do some of that this year.
4. Earlier this week, the Pens called up Chris Minard, Tim Brent and Jonathan Filewich. To some extent fans were able to see these guys in training camp, but you have no doubt had the better position of seeing them in action on a more regular basis. What can you tell us about them?
I think Filewich has the best chance to stick for a while. Michel Therrien trusts him. People have heard that he scored 30 goals last year and won the fastest skater contest at the AHL all-star game. But that's not his game. He's responsible defensively and works for his points. He'll make a good fourth liner for now. Brent is one of those guys who has to play differently in the AHL and NHL. Down here, he's a premier playmaker. Up there, he has to worry about his defensive responsibilities and giving an energy boost as a fourth liner. Minard, meanwhile, is a pure shooter. I don't know how that will translate to fourth-line duty in the NHL, but he has good size and speed, so I guess anything's possible.
5. Ty Conklin has no doubt been a huge success for the Penguins, and rumor has it John Curry is blossoming into a young, yet phenomenal goaltender as well. Down through the system, how would you rate the Pens' goaltending for the future?
I'm not one of these guys who thinks Marc-Andre Fleury is on his way to being a bust, so as far as I'm concerned, because Fleury's so young, all WBS really needs to do is develop a potential backup, so the parent club doesn't need to go fishing for the next Dany Sabourin or Ty Conklin some summer in the future. Curry could definitely be that man. He looked shaky in training camp, but he's been lights out lately. He's a scrapper who was undrafted and never highly touted. Fans love kids like that. Very competitive. Dave Brown has looked shakier, so I'd call Curry the top goaltending prospect in the organization for now.