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Minor Distractions - October Week 4

Wrapping up the month of October with a look at the Pens minor league affiliates.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The month of October draws to a close as the Pittsburgh Penguins have had their fair share of ups and down, including an early battle with the injury bug. However, this has allowed some of their young prospects an opportunity to shine that would have been otherwise impossible with a fully healthy roster. And how are their minor league affiliates faring?

WBS Baby Pens

The AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins currently sit at 1st in their Division, 3rd in their Conference, and 4th in the AHL. However, the 3 teams that are ahead of them have played 2 more games and only lead by 2 Points. They went undefeated to start this season, but last weekend their Win streak was cut short with a Shootout Loss and then their point streak cut short the following night with a regulation Loss. They are now 6-1-0-1 and kick off the month of November with a Home-and-Home against the Hershey Bears this weekend, Home Friday at 7:05pm and Away Saturday at 7:00pm.

Tony Androck of Highland Park Hockey has a nice breakdown of the player performance in the month of October, be sure to check it out if you have the time. Here is my take on it:

Jeff Deslauriers has seen the lion's share of starts, winning his first 5 and then losing the last in a shootout. His numbers could be better, 2.47 GAA and .901 Sv%, but he's getting the job done and walking away with the W, and in the end that is all that matters. His backup has been Peter Mannino who split his two starts with 1 win and 1 loss, but despite the loss still has an impressive 2.02 GAA and .926 Sv%. Eric Hartzell was injured before he got a chance to play in the regular season and was recently sent down to Wheeling.

On D the top scorer, and 2nd highest on the team overall, has been Brendan Mikkelson with 1 Goal, 8 Points, and a +5 rating. He has been a huge influence over the young D, particularly his most frequent partner Scott Harrington, who has 1 Goal, 3 Points, and a +4 rating. Both of them have been getting work on both the PP and the PK in addition to being utilized as the mobile 2-way D. The top pair, however, is their shutdown pair, responsible stay at home D that don't put up big numbers offensively but get the job done in their own end.

Their top shutdown D and a key member of the PK is Phillip Samuelsson, 2 Assists and a +3 rating. He had been leading the team in Plus/Minus, but a poor game or two dropped his numbers, but it will balance out as the season continues. His most frequent partner has been Simon Despres, 3 Assists and a +6 rating, currently the highest amongst the D. The reports on Despres are mixed, some impressed that he is already back on the top pair while others suggest he should be doing much better for a player that was supposed to be a Top 4 NHL D last season. He gets work on both the PP and PK, and he is playing a much more responsible defensive game this year, possibly due to the influence of his partner Samuelsson, but as they said on the radio during the Boston game what they want to see out of him is for him to be completely dominating the AHL, and he most certainly isn't doing that.

Brian Dumoulin is ostensibly the #1 D, but he got injured early in Pittsburgh's pre-season and missed most of NHL Camp and all of AHL Camp as well as the first week of the regular season. His numbers thus far are not impressive considering what he accomplished last year, just 2 Assists and a -3 rating, but for a player working his way back into game shape and getting stuck on the 3rd pair because the Top 4 were already established by the time he returned, he is doing pretty well. Like Despres there are mixed reports on Dumoulin, with Corey Pronman saying of his first game back that he was easily the most impressive player on the ice, and others being unimpressed due to the lofty expectations built up after last year. He played one game on the top pair with Samuelsson when Despres was hurt, which unfortunately was a bad game overall and hurt both of their stat blocks. But usually he has been on the 3rd pair working with one of the rookies. Nick D`Agostino is the most frequently used, but Reid McNeill gets a few looks when they want extra toughness and defensive ability. But neither of them have earned any Points yet, although McNeill at least has a decent +2 rating while D`Agostino is merely an even 0. Peter Merth and Harrison Ruopp were injured and have yet to play, while Dustin Stevenson was injured and recently sent down to Wheeling.

Up front the leading scorer is Brian Gibbons with 5 Goals, 14 Points, and a +11 rating. He leads the team in Goals, Assists, Points, and Plus/Minus, as well as being #3 in the AHL in both Assists and Points and #1 in Plus/Minus. He plays on the PP and PK and was responsible for quite a number of shorthanded goals. His most frequent linemate had been Jayson Megna, they played together on a line as well as on the PK and combined for some excellent shorthanded goals, he has 3 Goals, 5 Points, and a +8 rating in the AHL.

The lines have shaken up a bit lately, but Gibbons and Megna had skated with Chris Conner or Paul Thompson on their right. Conner was off to a strong start before getting called up to Pittsburgh, with 3 Goals, 4 Points, and a +3 rating in 5 games being pretty good. Thompson, however, has really struggled to find his groove this year and spent a number of games as a healthy scratch. He has just 1 Assist and a -1 rating, which is quite bad for a player that was one of the top scorers the past 2 seasons.

The rest of the team, Andrew Ebbett and Nick Drazenovic tend to Center the other two Top 9 lines, although which is considered 1st, 2nd, or 3rd changes from game to game. Tom Kostopoulos, Harry Zolnierczyk, and Tom Kuhnhackl usually find themselves playing on the wing for one of the Top 9 lines in a scoring role, with Dominik Uher and Adam Payerl shifting around to different lines, sometimes getting Top 6 work as a scoring Power Forward, sometimes 3rd line work as a shutdown guy, and sometimes playing on the 4th line when there is no room elsewhere. Zach Sill, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, and Bobby Farnham usually wind up on the 4th line, and Mike Carman is struggling just to make it into the lineup.

Wheeling Nailers

The Nailers are currently 1-2-0-0, 2nd in their Division and 9th in their Conference. They kick off November with a 2-game homestand this weekend, Reading Royals Friday at 7:00pm and Greenville Road Warriors Saturday at 7:00pm. Then they have off again until Wednesday when they are away at Kalamazoo Wings at 10:30am.

Their lone goaltender to play has been Montreal Canadiens prospect Mike Condon, and they had recently brought back Peter Delmas as well, but when Hartzell got sent down to Wheeling Delmas got returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Condon actually has an impressive 2.36 GAA and .928 Sv% despite losing 2 of the 3 games they played.

The team as a whole has only scored 5 goals in 3 games, so there aren't an awful lot of standouts yet. However, Christiaan Minella, on an AHL contract with WBS, is currently the leading scorer with 2 Goals, while another AHL contract with WBS Carter Rowney has 2 Assists and a team leading +2 rating.