In addition to Ruopp, who just recently returned to practice after an injury in Pittsburgh caused him to miss most of both the NHL and AHL pre-seasons, a number of other players have recently made their way back into the lineup. Anton Zlobin made his pro debut this week after sitting out the entire summer recovering from shoulder surgery. Nick Drazenovic, who missed the past couple games due to injury, is also back in the lineup. Peter Merth has yet to play, but he has resumed skating and it shouldn't be long before he returns to practice. The only other player that is currently out is Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who is listed as Day-to-Day.
WBS Baby Pens
The Baby Pens lost both of their games last weekend and are going into this weekend hoping to bounce back from a 3 game losing streak. Their recent struggles have caused them to fall out of the top seed, they are now 8-3-0-2 and are currently #2 in the East Division, #4 in the Eastern Conference, and #5 in the AHL. They have the #16 PP in the league scoring on 14 of 81 for 17.3% and the #16 PK in the league allowing 12 of 66 for 81.8%.
In order to try to bounce back from this recent slide they have made a number of recent changes. One of the biggest changes came today with the return of Megna. As Tony Androck of Highland Park Hockey points out, "The WBS Penguins are a perfect 6-0-0-0 with Jayson Megna in the lineup. Since his departure to Pittsburgh, the AHL Penguins are just 2-3-0-2." The assumption is that he will rejoin Brian Gibbons on the 1st line, and also return to partner with Gibbons on the PK once again. The only question is which of the wingers he will replace and which line said winger will fall to.
The other change they made in recent practices was to shake up the lineup. Prior to getting Megna back, the lines in practice were:
Harry Zolnierczyk - Brian Gibbons - Chris Conner
Tom Kuhnhackl - Andrew Ebbett - Tom Kostopoulos
Mike Carman / Anton Zlobin - Nick Drazenovic - Paul Thompson
Dominik Uher - Zach Sill - Bobby Farnham / Adam Payerl
Simon Despres - Phillip Samuelsson
Brian Dumoulin - Scott Harrington
Reid McNeill / Nick D`Agostino - Brendan Mikkelson
With Megna returning it means we will be replacing either Zolnierczyk or Conner. Both of them skated with Gibbons and Megna earlier this season, as did Thompson when they were both called up to Pittsburgh, so anything is possible. However, they started the year with Conner, and that is who they were with when they scored most of their even strength goals. So if it were me I would go back to the tried and true Megna-Gibbons-Conner line and bump Zolnierczyk down to one of the lower lines. Tony, on the other hand, thinks it will be Zolnierczyk-Gibbons-Megna, so we will have to wait and see what happens.
With the return of Megna, and PL3 still out injured, they will need to have 3 healthy scratches at Forward. Thompson just recently worked his way back into the lineup, so I would hope he is able to get another chance to play and get back on track to be one of the top scorers as he has been in years past, but he certainly falls under the bubble category. The others on the fringe players, based on the lineup listed above, are Payerl, Zlobin, Farnham, and Carman, although Jonathan Bombulie also suggests Kuhnhackl is still a bubble player at this point. So 3 of those 6 will be in the lineup, and 3 will be scratched.
Considering they are moving towards a healthy lineup, with PL3 expected to return fairly soon, it means they now have 16 forwards on the roster. Chances are at least 1 if not 2 of those guys are going to be sent down to Wheeling. Zlobin makes the most sense since he is just coming back from shoulder surgery after missing the entire summer and all of the activities that happen in the off-season, so a stopover in the ECHL to work on his conditioning seems inevitable. He can get playing time, possibly even on one of the top lines, rather than being just another face watching from the press box.
On D they switched it up by moving Dumoulin back up with his pre-season partner Harrington. That should help him start improving his numbers again, as he has had a slow start coming back from injury playing with the rotating group of partners on the 3rd pair. It's actually quite similar to how the D was used in Pittsburgh last year, the #1 D playing on the 2nd pair helping out the inexperienced #4/5D while the #2/3 D work together as the top unit shutdown pair. Mikkelson has moved down to the 3rd pair to work with the 6/7 D rookies, the hope is that his experiece will rub off on them and help them improve. Like the Forwards, a similar decision looms with the impending return of Merth. They don't need to carry 8 D, so likely one of Merth, D`Agostini, or McNeill will find their way back down to the Wheel.
The Baby Pens have another 2 games coming up this weekend, away at Syracuse Crunch on Friday 7:00pm and home vs Hershey Bears on Saturday 7:05pm. Then they play again in the middle of the week, away at Rochester Americans 7:05pm Wednesday.
The Nailers also had a pretty rough weekend, they had a blowout victory on Friday and then lost a home-and-home on Saturday and Sunday. They are 3-5-0-1 so far this season and currently sit at #2 in the Atlantic Division, #10 in the Eastern Conference, and #17 in the ECHL. They are dead last at #22 on the PP, scoring on just 1 of 33 chances for a 3.0% but they have a much better PK, #7 in the league allowing just 4 goals in 37 attempts for a 89.2%.
Penguins G prospect Eric Hartzell is still serving as the backup, he has now played 3 games going 0-2-0-1 with a 2.95 GAA and .907 Sv%. The stats don't really paint a clear picture of his performance, however, as they are skewed by the results of his terrible first game. Despite not finding himself a W yet, in the past 2 games he has put up a really impressive performance, stopping 63 of 67 shots for a .940 Sv% and a 1.95 GAA.
The Nailers have a 3 game stretch starting tonight, playing home, away, and then back home again against the Elmira Jackals. Thursday 7:00pm home in Wheeling, Friday 7:05pm away at Elmira, and Saturday 7:00pm home in Wheeling.