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Pens add four young players from AHL as reserves

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P.O Joseph, Anthony Angello, and Drew O’Connor are back with the NHL Penguins now that the AHL season is over

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

With Wilkes-Barre’s AHL season wrapping up over the weekend, the Penguins called up four players to the NHL today. From the team:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have recalled forwards Anthony Angello, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Drew O’Connor and defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League, it was announced today by general manager Ron Hextall.

None of the four will be expected to appear in games, but be a part of the practice squad. Now the Penguins have 20 forwards on the roster, 11 defensemen and 5 goalies, which is similar to what their opponents in the Islanders are carrying right now (22F, 12D, 4G).

The names are some of the better young players in the organization and could have the opportunity to help more in the future than right now.

O’Connor had a very interesting second half of the season. He just finished his first season under this weird COVID year, and it was quite the ride. O’Connor appeared in 10 NHL games this year, recording just one point (an assist). He wasn’t much of a factor at the NHL level and eventually got shuttled down to Wilkes. Down in the AHL O’Connor was a force. He played wing and center and scored 19 points (7G+12A) in 20 games down with Wilkes-Barre.

Joseph, of course, needs no introduction to NHL fans with his early season cameo where he had a few very strong games in the Penguins’ time of need in late January when they had all those injuries. Joseph put up 13 points (1G+12A) in 23 AHL games, playing first pair minutes. That’s a nice step for his age-21 season. A lot of the concerns or knock on Joseph was how much offense he would bring with him to the professional level and 12 assists in 23 games is a nice showing in a short sample, exhibiting him to get more time to work on his game. It’s worth remembering that at the same age Brian Dumoulin and John Marino were fairly anonymous players in the NCAA level, Joseph’s future still looks very bright.

Angello seemed like he was close to graduating to the NHL level full-time, and might in the future. He does have a contract next year that pays him a one-way NHL level salary, though it remains to be seen if he will stick. Angello was a force in the AHL, scoring 10 points (6G+4A) in 12 games down the stretch for Wilkes-Barre. That’s nice to see some production since he’s played a very limited role in the NHL, with just four points (2G+2A) in 19 games with Pittsburgh this season.

Bjorkqvist, a former second round pick, came back to the Pens’ organization after playing the 2020-21 season on loan in his native Finland. Bjorkqvist recorded one point (a goal) in five games for WB/S after coming back. He needs a new contract this summer, skating with the team now will quietly be a nice little opportunity for him to show what he can do to a new GM in Hextall and Chris Pryor, the new director of player personnel that Hextall hired soon after joining the organization.

It remains to be seen if the Penguins will boost their “black aces” any further or if this is it. They’re getting to have close to a full compliment of a second group, so other names in the organization like Jordy Bellerive, Cam Lee and Josh Currie might be starting their off-seasons officially now.

In the past, black aces have been young players on the fringes of the roster who have gone on to be NHL players in the future, like Derrick Pouliot, Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong participating in such a role for the 2017 Stanley Cup winning team.