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WBS Penguins Summer Update, Part 2

Second in an ongoing series chronicling the WBS Penguins and their summer news.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When we last left the WBS Penguins, the Pittsburgh Penguins had just promoted Bill Guerin to be the general manager of WBS. The next several weeks would show just what Guerin and staff would do.

Pre-Draft Signings

On the morning of June 22, Pittsburgh announced two signings, the first of which likely affects WBS more than Pittsburgh, but the second of which featured a key cog in the WBS defense early last season and an invaluable backup option for the Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh drafted forward Freddie Tiffels in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, pick number 167 overall. Tiffels attended Western Michigan to play his college hockey, scoring a grand total of 59 points (27 goals, 32 assists) in his 105 collegiate games. Among the honors enjoyed by Tiffels at college were Rookie of the Year for Western Michigan as a freshman and naming to the All-Academic team of the National Collegiate Athletic Conference as both a sophomore and a junior. Tiffels has also enjoyed success on the international stage for his native Germany, scoring nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) for Team Germany in three IIHF U-20 tournaments and two goals for Germany in this past spring’s IIHF world championships. Pittsburgh signed him to a two-year entry level contract, starting with this upcoming season.

Chad Ruhwedel first joined the Penguins organization last July 1. He played in 28 games for WBS last season, scoring 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) before being promoted to Pittsburgh on January 16 alongside Jake Guentzel. Ruhwedel’s new contract is for two seasons.

Draft Day Trade: Sundqvist for Reaves

I think I said all I really wanted to say or have to say about the trade of prospect Oskar Sundqvist for rugged winger Ryan Reaves on the night of the draft, so here it is again. Let me reiterate my opinion, though, that Sundqvist will be missed here in WBS this season.

Draft Day Selections

The staff here at Pensburgh did some remarkable work documenting the draft selections for the Penguins this season. These will likely be the WBS Penguins of the future, so rather than rebuild the wheel, I’ll just link you to our analysis of Zachary Lauzon, Clayton Phillips, and the remainder of the Class of 2017.

Pre-Free-Agency Signings

Just before the floodgates opened to free agency, Pittsburgh locked down one of its minor league free agents, signing forward Garrett Wilson to a two-year contract. Like Ruhwedel above, Wilson enjoyed his first professional season for WBS in 2016-17, scoring 11 goals and 20 assists during his 59 WBS games. Wilson also added two assists in WBS’s five-game defeat to the Providence Bruins in the Calder Cup playoffs.

Free Agency Signings

Once the smoke had cleared from the major free agency activity of the day, including the departures of David Warsofsky to Colorado, Kevin Porter to Buffalo, and Cameron Gaunce to Columbus, the Penguins struck with four additions at once.

Defender Chris Summers joins the Penguins with a two-year contract following seven seasons in the AHL spanning the San Antonio Rampage, Portland Pirates, and Hartford Wolf Pack. In 386 AHL games, the 29th selection in the 2006 NHL Draft by Arizona has scored 13 goals and recorded 46 assists, along with 336 penalty minutes. Summers has only played in the AHL playoffs once, recording three games for Portland in 2013 and scoring no points.

Defender Jarred Tinordi, listed at 6’6” and 225 pounds by the AHL and drafted 22nd overall by Montreal in 2010, joins the Penguins after five AHL seasons spent in Hamilton, St. John’s, and Tucson. After playing only six AHL games in 2015-16, being traded from Montreal to Arizona in the infamous John Scott trade/All-Star banishment attempt, then serving a 20-game suspension for violating the NHL’s performance enhancing drugs policy, Tinordi played in 64 games for Tucson last season, scoring one goal and 10 assists alongside 102 penalty minutes.

Defender Zach Trotman, listed at 6’3” and 219 pounds by the AHL, joins the Penguins after missing most of the 2016-17 season to injury, playing only nine games for Ontario and recording only two assists. Prior to that, Trotman, likewise a 2010 draft choice (#210 overall by Boston), posted 13 goals and 43 assists in 150 games spanning four seasons for the Providence Bruins, also scoring one goal and four assists in 17 playoff games.

Forward Greg McKegg, drafted 62nd overall by Toronto in 2010, joins the Penguins after a 2016-17 season split between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers organizations between Florida and their top affiliate Springfield. McKegg played in 7 games for Springfield, scoring two goals and assisting on two others. McKegg has scored 62 goals and 73 assists over 244 AHL games for Toronto, Portland, and Springfield, while also scoring 9 goals and 6 assists in 31 playoff games over that span.

Free Agency Returns

Shortly after the new arrivals were announced, the Penguins also announced the return of three of their own from last season, including perhaps the onset of the most intriguing early storyline of the 2017-18 WBS season.

Big, bad Tom Sestito returns to the Penguins organization for his third season. Perhaps most notable and reviled for his four-game suspension following Pittsburgh’s visit to Winnipeg on March 8, Sestito played in only 31 games for WBS last season, scoring 6 goals and assisting on 10 others. Sestito also played in all five playoff games against Providence, scoring a goal in WBS’s Game 2 overtime victory. Sestito recorded 121 penalty minutes last season, adding to a career AHL total that will enter 2017-18 at 1,234, including playoffs.

Defender Frank Corrado joined the Penguins at the 2017 trade deadline in the deal that sent Eric Fehr, Steve Oleksy, and a 4th round draft pick in 2017, to Toronto. In 143 career AHL games, the 150th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft (Vancouver) has 15 goals and 40 assists to his credit, including 1 goal and 3 assists for WBS during his 17 games.

Most notably, though, the third signing was the first NHL contract, a two-year deal, for 2016-17 AHL All-Rookie goaltender Casey DeSmith. In 29 games during 2016-17, DeSmith posted a 2.01 GAA, a 92.6% save percentage, and one shutout, compiling a 21-5-3 record. Together with Tristan Jarry, the WBS netmiders earned the fifth Harry “Hap” Holmes award in the last seven years for the WBS Penguins (team lowest goals-against average; award is shared between goalies playing in at least 25 games). Following Jarry’s promotion to Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup playoffs, DeSmith backstopped WBS during its five-game playoff exit to Providence, recording a 2.78 GAA and 91.6% save percentage in the 5 games.

DeSmith’s return on a two-year contract, combined with Pittsburgh goaltending coach Mike Buckley’s pronouncement on June 29 that Jarry would return to WBS for another season, sets 2017-18 up to be a very fascinating season for WBS in net. I would suggest that whichever of the two goalies performs better this season would have an inside track to be Matt Murray’s backup of the future. Pittsburgh seems to be pegging Jarry for this role, but if DeSmith were to put up numbers superior to Jarry’s again this season in a workload that lends itself to backup duty, then Pittsburgh’s decision on a backup of the future might become more difficult than it wanted.

More Signings

As free agency started to settle down a bit, the Penguins kept very busy. On July 6, the Penguins signed forward Colin Smith on July 6 to an AHL deal and undrafted Adam Johnson out of Minnesota-Duluth to a two-year entry level contract following a standout performance at Pittsburgh’s prospect development camp. On July 10, the Penguins announced the signing of former WBS Penguin forward Reid Gardiner to an AHL contract for 2017-18, as well as defender Kevin Czuczman to a two-way contract for 2017-18 on July 11; Jarrett Burton to an AHL contract on July 18; the 2016-17 captain of the RPI men’s hockey team and Wheeling-Nailer-for-10-games Riley Bourbonnais to an AHL contract for 2017-18 on July 25; the leading goal scorer for the Wheeling Nailers in 2016-17, Cody Wydo, to an AHL contract on August 2; returning forward Ryan Haggerty to an AHL contract on August 3; and prior year Wheeling forward Gage Quinney to an AHL contract on August 7.

The Schedule

On July 11, the AHL released its regular season schedule for 2017-18, the earliest the AHL has released the schedule in many years. The usual suspects of the schedule are still here: 76 games, split evenly between 38 home games and 38 road games, and 50 games against the Atlantic Division, including 12 each against Hershey and Lehigh Valley, six each against Bridgeport, Hartford, Providence, and Springfield, and four against Charlotte. Elsewhere, WBS will play six against Binghamton, now the Devils; four against Syracuse, and two each against Belleville, Laval, Rochester, Toronto, Utica, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, and Rockford.

On July 24, WBS announced its four-game exhibition schedule, which will consist of the only four-game-in-five-day stretch of the entire season (by AHL rules, the regular season contains no such stretches anymore). WBS will host Hershey on September 27, then the Binghamton Devils on September 29; they will travel to Hershey on September 30, then to Binghamton on October 1.

The 19th season of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey will begin with the home opener on October 7 against the Charlotte Checkers.