The entire Penguins organization can close the books on the 2014-15 season now with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pens bounced from the second round of the playoffs losing in 5 games to the AHL's best regular season team, the Manchester Monarchs. The Pens defense and goaltending - long their strengths under coach John Hynes - were no match for the might of Manchester's high flying offense.
Looking on the bright side, in the big picture for the Pittsburgh Penguins, what can we take from this?
- Conor Sheary is very good. The diminutive 5'9 inch forward 22 year old led the WB/S Penguins in scoring in the regular season (20 goals + 25 assists in 58 games) and playoffs in his first full professional season. In fact, he scored 12 points (5 goals + 7 assists) in the 8 playoff games, almost than 2nd on the team Andrew Ebbett and his 7 points. Sheary isn't even on an NHL contract, but he can't be overlooked any longer. He might not be ready for the NHL next season (it took Tyler Johnson 2 years in the AHL before he made the jump) but the Pens might have found an undrafted diamond in the rough with Sheary.
- Matt Murray had one of the best years in AHL history. The Pens talented rookie goalie set many a team and league record in the regular season for his stellar play (12 shutouts in just 40 games and a sterling ..941 save %) and he played decently well in the playoffs too, even though he was humbled and beaten by Manchester. Murray's star rose more than anyone else in the organization this summer, what's he got up his sleeve for an encore next year?
- Kasperi Kapanen got his feet wet. The Pens 2014 first round pick played 7 AHL playoff games this spring, which should be great for his future development. He struggled a little in Game 2 vs Manchester (and was a healthy scratch Game 3 because of it) but got back in the lineup and got to play more and learn more. His 3 playoff goals were 2nd best on the team and his 5 points tied him for 3rd. Solid debut for the young man with a lot of skill. Struggling and learning is an important part of progression and Kapanen learned some lessons about the strength (physically and mentally) that it takes to play at the high level of the AHL playoffs. It should serve him very well.
- NHL reinforcements were good. Despite battling injury, Scott Wilson scored 4 points (2g+2a) in 3 AHL playoff games. Derrick Pouliot added a power play goal and 2 assists in 6 games. Brian Dumoulin had 3 assists in 6 games (though he was a -4 on the playoff). The big guys that Pittsburgh sent to solidify the AHL team definitely looked the part.
- Bryan Rust ends his year on a high note. Rust is an interesting prospect, he looked lost and overmatched at times in his 14 game NHL cameo, but yet he ended the season very strong in the minor leagues as a productive and dynamic winger. He came back from injury to play in the last 3 games of the playoffs, and he scored 2 goals and was arguably the team's best player down the stretch.
It's a shame the WB/S Pens season ended early as well, but they had another strong season out there and were the only team in the organization to win a playoff series this year. Congrats to them for that, and hopefully next year everyone wins a lot more in the spring.