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Wilkes Weekly: AHL Penguins reach the quarter point, Pysyk released

Looking back at the week for the Wilkes-Barre Penguins of the AHL

@wbspenguins

A 1-2-0 week for the Wilkes-Barre Penguins brings them to the quarter-point of their 72-game AHL season this year in fifth place of their division with a 9-7-2 record.

Nick Hart at WBSPenguins.com had the following weekly recap of the action:

Wednesday, Nov. 22 – PENGUINS 1 at Hershey 2

Joel Blomqvist turned in a dazzling, 30-save effort, but the Bears pulled out the win in a nailbiter. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s only goal came from Rem Pitlick midway through the first period.

Friday, Nov. 24 – PENGUINS 3 at Charlotte 6

A third-period charge gave the Penguins life, but the comeback bid proved to be too little, too late. Down 3-0 entering the final frame, Jonathan Gruden and Cédric Desruisseaux scored quickly to pull the Black & Gold within one. Charlotte rebuilt a multi-goal lead before Ty Smith tallied again for the Pens.

Saturday, Nov. 25 – PENGUINS 4 at Charlotte 1

The Penguins corrected course by scoring early and often in their rematch with the Checkers. Valtteri Puustinen, Joona Koppanen and Raivis Ansons all scored in the first period, followed by Gruden notching a power-play goal in the second. Blomqvist clamped down with a career-best 44 saves.

Here’s a look at the current statistics for the team.

As to be expected, veteran newcomers like Rem Pitlick and Jansen Harkins have provided boosts of skill and experience to help things out on the farm. Mid-lineup players like Marc Johnstone, Joona Koppanen, Xavier Ouellet and Sam Houde have also all stood out while bringing solid depth to the club.

As far as the actual NHL prospects goes, it’s been a mixed bag.

Wilkes’ undisputed first-quarter MVP (had such an award existed) has to be rookie goalie Joel Blomqvist. Blomqvist, 21, ranks sixth in the AHL in GAA (2.01), tied-for-seventh in wins (6) and eighth in save percentage (.926%). Limit that to just rookies and he improves to third in GAA, first in wins, and fourth in save%.

Blomqvist started out strong from the very get-go in September’s prospect challenge and then during training camp and has picked up right where he left off. The former second round pick in 2020 has long been considered one of the finer goalie prospects in his age bracket, and that talk should only continue now that he’s building an impressively strong rookie AHL season at a young age.

Other than Blomqvist, results have been mixed. Sam Poulin, Pittsburgh’s 2019 first round pick, has been limited to only five AHL games due to a couple injuries in a season where he badly needed to get a lot of games in. Valtteri Puustinen appears to be in a sort of organizational purgatory at this point and lost in the shuffle.

In brighter news, Alex Nylander earned a call-up to the NHL due to injuries. It remains to be seen how long that lasts with Bryan Rust on the cusp of returning to action, but Nylander always seems to hang around and get that extra opportunity after it looks like he could have been written off.

23-year old Ty Smith is tied for the team-lead in points, though the memories of being an NHL regular back in the spring of 2022 are fading and growing further every day.

Though having a limited ceiling as a fourth line grinder, Jonathan Gruden has been coming on as of late in the AHL (2G+5A in last 10 games, also 2G+3A in last five games). Gruden received a brief one-day call up recently and was not needed at that time, but if he continues to play this strongly he is making a solid case to earn a look at the NHL again soon when the next opportunity arises.

Pysyk released from PTO

The Pittsburgh organization was clearly invested in giving Mark Pysyk a long amount of time to see if he could help them. Unfortunately the veteran defender suffered an injury in training camp back in September and that looked like a bad sign for things to come. When Pysyk regained his health, he was given an AHL tryout contract earlier this month. After playing just eight games (the team could have kept him up to 25), the decision was made to move on today.

The Penguins could have badly used the defensive depth at the bottom of their NHL roster, but Pysyk, 31, couldn’t catch back up after a major Achilles injury suffered in September 2022. That’s probably good news for the John Ludvig’s and Ryan Shea’s of the world for right now, but also informs Pittsburgh that they will have to look in a different direction via trades or waivers if they want to add a right-handed depth option for their NHL lineup.