Tonight Albany completed a four game sweep on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the first round of their series in the AHL Calder Cup playoff series. It's a disappointing end for the Baby Pens, who battled down the stretch to make the post-season. They were unfortunately overwhelmed by Albany and a couple of NHL level young players like Zach Boychuk and Jamie McBain that dropped down for the AHL playoffs and played well.
The Baby Pens had to deal with losing Brad Thiessen, their #1 goalie entering the playoffs and the late loss of defensemen Ben Lovejoy but it didn't help that a number of WB/S's most important players didn't step up and produce. Dustin Jeffrey only registered 1 assist in the four games, Tim Wallace was held pointless, and captain Wyatt Smith had 1 goal, 0 assists and was a -6.
Some other players had as decent of series as you could hope: Nick Johnson had 4 goals (0 assists), Mark Letestu had 0 goals, 3 assists and Chris Conner had 2 goals and 2 assists.
The Penguins already have 14 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goaltenders, so they may not be bringing that many more players up to be on the practice squad or "black aces" as they're sometimes known. Last season players outside of the normal roster like Alex Goligoski, Philippe Boucher, Miroslav Satan and Petr Sykora were all plugged in at various points due to injuries and due to the grind of the NHL playoffs, Pittsburgh may need some extra bodies to plug into the lineup temporarily if they go on another playoff run.
There's no more salary cap or maximum players on the NHL roster rules to be adhered to, so the Pens can bring up whoever they please now that the Baby Pens have been eliminated.
Last season the WB/S Pens made it deep into the playoffs, which may have affected some personnel moves at the end. At the end of last season the Pens had 17 forwards (not counting the injured Mike Zigomanis), 9 defensemen and 3 goalies. Assuming the Pens want similiar numbers, which players might keep playing?
- Letestu played the best of any WB/S callup in the NHL this season, he should be a lock.
- Conner has by far the most NHL experience of any taxi-squad player (79 reg season games and 1 playoff game two years ago in Dallas). That, plus what he brings to the table with speed -- and memories of that game where he scored 2 goals on Crosby's line -- should bring Conner to the show.
- Eric Tangradi is the best prospect and he earned the trust of Dan Bylsma, so he probably will get a call to just get the practice experience of being around an NHL playoff atmosphere, even if he'll never get on the ice in 2010.
- Nick Johnson's strong playoff performance plus his flashes of solid play in the NHL ought to earn him the chance to keep at least practicing with the team.
- Jeffrey and Wallace are guys who have a small bit of NHL experience, may be in the fray too. But everyone's not going to make it, it's a taxi squad, not a taxi team.
- Deryk Engelland looked good in a brief cameo in the NHL earlier this season and he adds a physical edge. This ought to make him a lock for the taxi squad, and 8th on the defensive chart (behind previous call-up Ben Lovejoy). This doesn't even consider Jordan Leopold, who's head injury has an unknown timetable for a return.
- Chris Lee (29 years old) and Steve Wagner (26) have hockey experience, but not much at the NHL level. Lee's never played an NHL game and Wagner has 46 games of experience with the St. Louis Blues in the regular season over two seasons. Wagner may have the edge here, if the Pens want to bring a veteran, juust in case. But he'll be no higher than 10th on the depth chart, again not counting Leopold.
- Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Strait are two young defensemen who by all accounts had fairly successful 1st professional years. Perhaps the Pens would take one of them, just for practice purproses, but definitely don't expect them to get a sweater for the NHL playoffs under about any conditions.
Goalie wise, maybe the Pens don't let John Curry start his summer just yet, but there's only two nets in practice and Pittsburgh already has 3 goalies.
Who's on your list of black aces? Mine would be Letestu, Conner, Johnson, Tangradi, Lovejoy, Engelland, Wagner and Brad Thiessen.