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Wilkes Weekly: Splitting with Syracuse, the organization’s depth/balance starting to shine

Catching up with the Penguins’ minor league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre


Life moves fast in the wild world of minor league hockey. Just over a week ago, Taylor Gauthier was buried in Wheeling. It could have been easy to have been dismayed from that assignment and being so far down the depth chart - but a few NHL injuries forced AHL recalls, which was Gauthier’s ticket back to not only being in the AHL but being Wilkes-Barre’s top option in net in almost the blink of an eye.

Gauthier responded by earning a shutout in his first game back in the AHL, shelled in the next one, then the organization got a little healthier and now he’s back to Wheeling. Like we said, the pace moves quickly, and player’s fortunes can rapidly change (and then change again) with opportunity knocking out of no where.

From Nick Hart at WBSPenguins, here’s the weekly recap for WB/S last week, where they split two games with Syracuse last week on the ice.

Friday, Nov. 10 – PENGUINS 4 at Syracuse 0

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took the first game of its home-and-home set with Syracuse thanks to Taylor Gauthier’s first AHL shutout. Alex Nylander spearheaded the Penguins offense with a pair of goals and three points, while Gauthier denied 34 shots. During a three-goal third period, Ty Smith earned his first goal of the season, and Jansen Harkins buried a man-advantage marker.

Saturday, Nov. 11 – PENGUINS 3 vs. Syracuse 6

The Crunch found sweet revenge in their second meeting of the weekend. Syracuse built a 4-0 lead in the second period before Austin Rueschhoff notched a power-play goal to put the Penguins on the board. Jack Rathbone’s first two goals with the Black & Gold came in the third.

The standings remain about the same; most of the teams in the Atlantic Division are separated by a few points in the middle of the pack that separates second place (16) through seventh (12).

It’s a big week ahead, the Penguins host division-leader Hershey tonight for the fourth game between the two teams already, and then WB/S goes off for two weekend games in Providence against a fairly strong Bruins team.


To get a sense of who is playing where, here are the lineup cards for the two games. Valtteri Puustinen made a quick return from his “week to week” injury to get back into the lineup, but Sam Poulin remains sidelined with an injury of his own. Goalie Garret Sparks has recovered from an injury of his own and came into the second game in relief of Gauthier.

Mark Pysyk, you may remember, has been signed by the AHL Pens for an amateur tryout, and appeared in his first two AHL games of the season as he attempts a comeback. The tryout allows up to 25 games to decide if the organization wants to sign Pysyk to an NHL contract, and likely promote him to the NHL if his leg holds up following 2022 Achilles surgery.

There’s now a little more room for Pysyk, because the team and Andreas Johnsson resolved his long-time absence through a contract termination last week (at which point Johnsson formally signed with Skelleftea of Sweden). Johnsson appeared in one pre-season game in the AHL, but wasn’t seen since being waived coming out of camp. Johnsson’s official exit from the organization sheds one of the team’s NHL contract (max of 50), they currently have 47 active ones and plenty of space on that front to operate.

Gruden goes up and down in a day

No one tends to be feeling down when they receive the happy news about being called up from the AHL to NHL, and Jonathan Gruden was no different yesterday — at least until he found out he was going right back down.

Gruden was only needed briefly due to precautionary reasons about Jeff Carter’s status from a recent minor injury. Carter was able to practice and is serving as the extra forward these days anyways, bumping Gruden back down to the AHL.

One great area about the re-balance and investment in the AHL by the Pittsburgh Penguins is illustrated perfectly in the broader scope of this short-term recall. Last year, due to not being stocked with enough good players, Gruden played a key role on a top line in Wilkes. This year, he’s been a lower line grinder, which is more aligned withwhere he figures to make an NHL impact.

The boost of players at the AHL level allows the organization to better focus Gruden’s efforts on playing the same defensive/energy role in the AHL that he’ll be looked to in Pittsburgh. That time didn’t end up coming to fruition this week, but with plenty of season left to go, it could always be a factor in the future.

These days, when Pittsburgh has a fourth liner dealing with an injury, they can pull into their file of energy line players and make for an easier transition of that kind of player for that kind of role and not have to swing a player’s duties and responsibilities drastically from what he’s being groomed at in Wilkes-Barre.

Next up

Alex Nylander - After an early season funk, Nylander broke out with a three-point (2G+1A) game on Friday against Syracuse. That gets him up to seven points in 10 games on the season. If the NHL Pens needed some sort of scoring winger replacement call-up, Nylander is rounding into a nicer form and now doing his part production-wise to stay in the conversation.

Ty Smith - The NHL Pens are already flush with defenders, but Smith keeps doing his thing and picking up points in the AHL. Who knows when or what the next step will be for him, but he continues to be an impactful and positive contributing top-pair player at the AHL level, which at this point is all he can do with the task in front of him.

Jack Rathbone - After getting cycled out of the lineup on Friday night, Rathbone scored his first two goals as a member of the Penguins on Saturday. Can’t be easy for a trade at the start of the season and (perhaps) unexpectedly switching organizations at a moment’s notice, but Rathbone might be starting to settle in and acclimate himself to the Pens’ organization. Rathbone isn’t anywhere close to the NHL level right now, his upward move would be to keep his spot as a regular player in the crowded WBS blueline, but is worth tracking at the AHL level just the same.