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Wilkes Weekly: AHL update heading into 2024

Checking in on the farm

@wbspenguins

The Wilkes-Barre Penguins dropped a game to Hershey last week and then split a pair of home games against visiting Charlotte.

Via Nick Hart’s roundup on WBSPenguins.com:

Wednesday, Dec. 27 – PENGUINS 1 at Hershey 4

In the first game out of the holiday break, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was defeated at Giant Center. The Bears built a 3-0 lead in the first two periods. Austin Rueschhoff notched the Penguins’ tally midway through the third, but the comeback bid stopped there.

Friday, Dec. 29 – PENGUINS 4 vs. Charlotte 1

The Penguins soundly defeated the Checkers, executing a physical gameplan that led to offense in all three periods. Will Butcher, Alex Nylander, Colin White and Matt Filipe scored for the home team. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton carried a big lead into the third period, then rode 30 saves by Joel Blomqvist to victory.

Saturday, Dec. 30 – PENGUINS 2 vs. Charlotte 6

Charlotte exacted revenge one day later in the rematch, receiving two-goal outings from Zac Dalpe and Patrick Giles. Both of the Penguins’ goals arrived in the third period, including Jack St. Ivany’s first career AHL goal.

The Penguins remain in the middle of the pack of the division, as they have been for much of the season. Other than the two outliers at either side of the standings in first place Hershey and last place Bridgeport, the other clubs have been tightly packed this season, with that pack now ranging from 31-38 points. Wilkes currently has 35 right in the middle of things.

Individually, here’s a look at the stats of the players entering 2024 via hockeydb.

Rem Pitlick has done well in the AHL, but not even earned a sniff of an NHL call-up this season, even when Pittsburgh had the salary cap space when Rickard Rakell or Bryan Rust was on LTIR. Given the numerous other forwards recalled instead of Pitlick, it stands to reason from the NHL perspective he was little more than a throw-in and salary dump by Montreal in last summer’s massive Erik Karlsson trade.

Similarly, the second leading scorer on Wilkes to date is also something of a forgotten or unwanted NHL option in Ty Smith. Smith has been loaned to play for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup, a B-level international tournament. Only four AHL players went this year. Weird cross-roads for him at his career and based on a move like that to leave the organization mid-season, it doesn’t look like the Penguins have any faint desires to use Smith at the NHL level anytime soon. Wilkes is overly loaded with LHD (Ryan Shea, Will Butcher, Dmitri Samorukov, Jack Rathbone, Xavier Ouellet) so it’s not like the team needs Smith, but it’s curious a player who ostensibly qualifies as an NHL prospect to be seemingly moving in a direction away from playing in the NHL.

That leaves Sam Poulin as perhaps the last best prospect currently in the AHL level that could make a soon-ish NHL impact. Poulin returned from a six week injury in mid-December with a bang, scoring 3G+1A in his first three games back but has since cooled off and failed to record a point in the last three games. It’s becoming a long time (draft+5) since Poulin was a first round pick.

Another bright spot for Wilkes is the continued strong play of rookie goalie Joel Blomqvist. Blomqvist’s play hit a bit of a wall in late November/early December (giving up 13 total goals in three games with a .819 save%), but has bounced back with three wins in his last three games and a .950+ in each contest.

Looking at a lineup such as below, it’s possible in about 18-24 months that only Blomqvist will be factoring into the organization’s future in the mid to long range. Wilkes may have recently graduated a player in Valtteri Puustinen who could be at that level as well, but overall the Pens still have quite a bit of work to do in terms of bringing NHL potential at the 20-23 year old range into the organization.