In a minor move yesterday, the Penguins’ organization is keeping last year’s Wilkes-Barre captain defenseman Taylor Fedun.
The Penguins have re-signed defenseman Taylor Fedun to a two-year contract extension.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 25, 2022
The two-way contract runs through the 2023.24 season and carries an average annual value of $762,500 at the NHL level.
Details: https://t.co/styuiUYVnC pic.twitter.com/p0Bh6KPMPP
Fedun, 33, is a really nice player to have around for leadership and presence at the AHL level. He recorded 5G+11A in 44 games last season as Wilkes-Barre’s captain. In a pinch, he could probably also be considered in that “AAAA” type in the Kevin Czuczman/Zach Trotman role as extreme organizational depth with 127 career NHL games.
This extension got me interested in the free agency picture on the minor league level. Most are well aware by now that the NHL Penguins have 12 impending free agents and very big decisions loom to shape the NHL team.
But the results of those decisions will trickle down and impact the 2022-23 construction of the AHL club as well. For instance, if the Pens keep higher-priced players like Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, that might imply cheaper, young players like Sam Poulin and Filip Hallander might be needed in Pittsburgh to round out the roster. If the Pens instead re-sign players like Danton Heinen and Evan Rodrigues, that could indicate due to roster space that those prospects on the fringe of the NHL roster may start out the year in Wilkes.
It’s always a fluid situation when it comes to composing the ever-shifting roster of a minor league pro team, and this year will be no different for both of the Penguins’ main teams in Pennsylvania next season.
One interesting aspect is that a big new wave of pro prospects will be starting their careers in 2022-23 with all of the following officially starting the first full season of their recently signed entry level contracts. At forward there is Corey Andonovski, Lukas Svjekovsky, Ty Glover, Jordan Frasca and Raivis Ansons. On defense there is Colin Swoyer. In goal, Taylor Gauthier will be joining the organization. The Pens also have until summer to sign or lose the rights to former second round pick and Penn Stater Clayton Phillips as well.
Even for the world of hockey, that is a big wave of seven rookies to all be joining the organization at the same time.
Some of these young pro rookies might be bumped to a stint with ECHL Wheeling if there isn’t enough room, but internally there will surely be some level of departures and typical off-season churn to clear out space. The Pens have the following minor league players becoming free agents this summer: Anthony Angello and Michael Chaput (both UFAs) and restricted players in Jordy Bellerive, Alex Nylander, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Justin Almedia, Jan Drozg, Niclas Almeri, Cam Lee, P.O Joseph and Will Reilly.
Naturally, some of the above list will be back in the Pens’ organization at some level next season. General manager Ron Hextall specifically brought up the names of Bjorkqvist and Joseph as players who could be in the running to claim an NHL job next season, those two will surely be given qualifying offers and be a part of the organization’s plans moving forward. Others who haven’t been able to make big impacts at the lower levels might well move on.
Not uncommonly for this time of year, there aren’t too many players already signed for next season to join Fedun in Wilkes-Barre at the moment. Defensively, there is only Swoyer and Josh Maniscalco (a mostly ECHL level player to date) on the organizational depth chart. In net, the Pens have Gauthier and Filip Lindberg but could probably use a veteran netminder for insurance. Up front, the Pens have Jonathan Gruden and Nathan Legare signed to join the new wave of young faces, and whatever may happen at the NHL level with Poulin, Hallander and Valtterri Puustinen.
The AHL group can (and likely will) be supplemented to round out the team with veteran free agent signings - like Fedun and Chaput were last summer.
It’s very striking to see all those new names on the verge of taking the next step. While there is always a lot of movement and activity with AHL rosters, it does feel like the Pens’ organization on a whole is at a point where a lot of players are in a cycle to have some possible promotions from key AHL players last season (such as potentially Poulin, Joseph, Drew O’Connor, Radim Zohorna, possibly Hallander and Bjorkqvist) moving up and a big batch of fresh blood with a lot of Ron Hextall/Chris Pryor ties that will be starting their own pro careers at the minor league levels.
Getting Fedun in the fold is the first step for that minor league roster construction for this off-season, and a nice box to check and get out of the way very early in the free agency process.