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Checking in on the Penguins’ reserve squad

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AHL players are waiting in the wings in case the Penguins need them. Who can we expect to see if any roster spots open up?

Anthony Angello celebrates after scoring a goal past Semyon Varlamov during the first period on March 29, 2021, at PPG Paints Arena. Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In anticipation of the upcoming series against the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh recalled four players from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on May 17. Let’s take a closer look at what those players have been up to lately— and what we could expect should we see them take the ice this NHL postseason.

Kasper Bjorkqvist

Bjorkqvist tallied 26 points (11-15—26) in 44 games while on loan to KooKoo of the Finnish Liiga in 2020-21. Perhaps worth noting is that his 11 goals— good for fourth-best on the team, and third-best amongst the league’s rookies— were scored with just a 7.3% shooting percentage. The 23-year-old right winger isn’t afraid to put pucks on net, which could be one reason that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton management has compared him to Patric Hornqvist.

He rejoined the AHL squad for just five games in May. Despite registering three shots on May 9, he was unable to tally against the Phantoms. In a rematch on May 15, he pounced on Jordy Bellerive’s rebound in overtime to get revenge by securing a 2-1 victory in Lehigh Valley.

Because of an ACL injury that ended his 2019-20 campaign early, Bjorkqvist has just 11 AHL games under his belt through the past two seasons (2-0—2). Fun fact: the rink size of the Finnish league in which he’s gotten the majority of his professional experience isn’t standardized, so arenas vary in size. It would be interesting to see how he adapts to playing on NHL ice.

Anthony Angello

Angello played in the NHL for 19 games this season, tallying four points (2-2—4) while averaging about eight minutes a game on a fluctuating fourth line. According to Natural Stat Trick, his underlying numbers were generally good— he allowed just 35 scoring chances against while seeing 52 for while on the ice— but he was outclassed on high-danger scoring chances, perhaps because of a lack of shots in the dangerous zone right in front of the net.

The tall winger returned to the AHL on April 24, where he began on a three-game point streak and continued consistent production until the season’s end. In 10 games, Angello recorded eight points (5-3—8). He showed off what might be the strongest part of his game in a 6-3 win over visiting Binghamton on May 5: his blistering one-timer.

Angello, whose long stride helps him outpace NHL skaters, could slot in as a depth winger should the need arise.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph

Joseph wowed in his NHL debut, impressing with his defensive decisions and the five points (1-4—5) he recorded through his first seven games. Those included a three-assist outing against the Rangers on Jan. 30 and his first NHL goal against the Islanders on Feb. 6.

This early success still revealed some growing pains, and Joseph returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on March 6. In 23 games, he recorded 13 points (1-12—13). The first thing that jumps out watching him in the AHL is his deliberation while pinching; he’ll sneak up the side to chip in a puck or contribute to a developing play if he sees open ice, but he’s hesitant of getting caught and is quick to retreat to his usual position at the blue line.

Joseph a smart defenseman with good positioning and a strong shot who’s shown he can succeed at the NHL level. It would be interesting to see who would get the nod between him and more veteran options like Mark Friedman or Chad Ruhwedel should availability open up amongst the Penguins’ defensive corps.

Drew O’Connor

O’Connor recorded a secondary assist in his NHL debut on Jan. 26. He played 10 NHL games for the Penguins this season alongside Mark Jankowski in a line that generally struggled to stifle scoring chances against.

The winger made his AHL debut on March 6, when he became a Wilkes/Barre-Scranton offensive force. O’Connor racked up 19 points (7-12—19) in 20 games, including four tallies on the power play.

He put pucks on goal in a variety of ways— wristers, one-timers— but the most notable may be his sharp-eyed deflections, like the one that put the puck on net in this April 3 assist.

O’Connor thrived during his stint in the AHL and could help the bottom six get pucks on net as another depth winger option.