The Pittsburgh Penguins AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins released the initial AHL Training Camp roster today as they are set to begin practice tomorrow at Coal Street. It is now called Toyota SportsPlex, but it will always be Coal Street to me. There will be more players added by next week as the NHL roster gets cut down even further.
Almost all of the names on the list should be quite familiar, since 17 of them were up in Pittsburgh earlier this week. One thing I notice that is a lot different this year is there do not appear to be any additional invites from the Wheeling Nailers, although some of these guys will inevitably wind up playing in the ECHL this season. There are 2 players on AHL deals who did not join the NHL Training Camp in Pittsburgh, as well as the one ECHL deal who attended Prospect Development Camp and played in the Rookie Tournament on a PTO before being released just prior to the start of Camp. That leaves just 4 invites from outside the system.
Nolan Schaefer (PTO)
One of the biggest battle to watch in WBS will be Murray vs Hartzell. Ostensibly the winner will remain in WBS to be the AHL backup trying to push for increased starts, while the loser is destined to start the year in Wheeling as the Nailers starting goalie. Based on last Spring as well as this year's NHL Training Camp I think that Murray currently has the edge, despite the fact that Hartzell is older and more experienced. Murray came in last Spring after his OHL team was eliminated and passed up Hartzell to be the backup for the entire playoff run, then he had an impressive 20 minute showing in the first pre-season game whereas Hartzell didn't even get to dress for one.
Shaefer was brought in as an AHL veteran just in case the loser of the Greiss/Zatkoff battle up in the NHL doesn't clear waivers. Despite how impressive Murray has looked in his limited showing, they aren't quite ready to hand him the reins just yet. Schaefer is a former WBS goalie, having played for the team back in the tail end of the 2006-07 season. He has limited NHL experience, just 7 games with the Sharks back in 2005-06, but he spent most of his career in the AHL. For the past 3 seasons he has been in Switzerland playing for Ambri-Piotta of the NLA, even managing a league leading Sv% last year.
Barry Goers (AHL)
Alex Boak (AHL)
Clark Seymour (AHL)
Jonathan Narbonne (PTO)
Kevin Ryan (PTO)
Ruopp and D`Agostino were with the team last year, but bounced up and down between the AHL and ECHL. They are looking to remain in the AHL full time this year and hope to become every day players. However, the Pens organizational depth at the blue line makes this a difficult task, as if they somehow manage to get everybody healthy and not losing anybody to waivers or trades then the two of them will be hard pressed to even find time on the 3rd pairing.
One guy that is looking to push his way past them and stick in WBS this year is Goers. He is a veteran who has mostly played in the ECHL, and it was his performance with the Nailers last year that earned him an AHL contract, which was renewed this summer. The other guys who are trying to break in but will most likely wind up down in Wheeling are Boak and Seymour, rookie D who joined on ATOs last spring and earned themselves AHL contracts this summer.
Narbonne was formerly one of the top scoring D in the QMJHL, playing with Zlobin back in 2011-12, and then after joining his 4th team in 3 years was named the QMJHL's Best Defensive Defenseman in 2012-13. He spent last season with the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators and this year is signed with the ECHL Bakersfield Condors. Ryan is a rookie that spent the last 4 years in the NCAA. His overall numbers aren't anything to write home about, but it could be worse. He is currently signed with the ECHL Utah Grizzlies.
Tom Kostopoulos (AHL)
Conor Sheary (AHL)
Carter Rowney (AHL)
Patrick McGrath (ECHL)
Tyler Murovich (PTO)
We know Kostopoulos will be in the lineup, he is the team Captain and while he may wind up anywhere in the Top 9, chances are he will play almost every game and finish as one of the top scorers. Drazenovic, if healthy, should also be a given for the Top 6, he is a veteran center and was one of the top scorers last year. He is still recovering from surgery after getting injured last season.
Zlobin was one of the best players in last year's playoffs, and while he may not have stood out playing against NHL level opponents in Pittsburgh's Camp he is all but guaranteed to play a big part of the WBS Top 6 this year. Dea and Sheary, while certainly not locks to make the lineup, do appear to have played well enough to assume they will most likely be part of the WBS Top 6 this year. Sheary was one of the best players in last year's playoffs, while Dea completely dominated the Rookie Tournament this summer.
Payerl has to prove himself this year, he has looked great in the Summer for each of the pas 2 seasons, but then struggled in NHL Camp and was slow to start even in the AHL. He should be an everyday Bottom 6 player though. The guy with even more to prove is Kuhnhackl. He was once considered one of the team's top prospects, but injury curtailed his development and he struggled mightily in the AHL last year, although he was solid when sent down to the Nailers. He is looking to prove that not only can he stay in the AHL, but that he can play a Top 6 role. If he continues to struggle a change of scenery trade may be in the near future.
The rest are AHL bubble guys, including the rookies coming over from the NCAA and Juniors. Rust had a really strong Camp up in Pittsburgh, so if anybody is able to stick with WBS to start the season it should be him. Marcantuoni has amazing speed and solid defensive talents, but really needs to improve his hands if he hopes to play at the professional level. Wilson and Archibald were highly touted in the NCAA, but they were somewhat less successful up in Pittsburgh during Camp, so they may very well need to start in Wheeling as they adjust to life in the minors.
Rowney was impressive last summer, earning himself an AHL contract and then being one of the Nailers top scorers. He looks quite impressive down in the ECHL, but still needs to prove himself at the AHL level. McGrath is signed with the Nailers, and he is a fan favorite down there, not to mention having quite a following in his native Wilkes-Barre. However, with PL3 and Farnham already slated to return there isn't much room for the young face puncher in WBS. Last in Murovich, having played mostly at the ECHL level, including spending time in WBS/Wheeling in 2010-11. The Pittsburgh native is just hoping to earn some sort of contract in order to keep playing for the 2014-15 season.