What Happens Next 1/7

Monday, January 7, 2013
While the finer details are hammered out to officially end the NHL lockout, many wonder the fate of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players. Especially those who might be heading to Pittsburgh this week when the NHL announces a schedule.

The general consensus is that there will be a 48 game season starting in mid January, with no preseason and a shortened training camp. Penguins GM Ray Shero is quoted as saying the Pens are prepared for however long the camp may be, be it a 5 or 7 day camp.

The magic number is 24-26 guys. Currently, Pittsburgh has 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders. The WBS Penguins scratched Eric Tangradi, Beau Bennett and Robert Bortuzzo yesterday, so by adding those three to the mix the Penguins have 23 bodies at camp. So who will fill the last 1-3 spots in camp for a chance with the NHL club?

On defense, it's possible that the Penguins could call upon Brian Strait. Strait had been out of the lineup the first two games of the weekend with an illness, but played yesterday. Strait has battled through injury and hasn't had much luck so far this season. In 24 games with the AHL Penguins this season, Strait has no points and is a -6 with 34 penalty minutes.

Many Penguins fans think Simon Despres played well enough in the NHL last season to come back this year. But after being a healthy scratch for the Penguins on Friday and Saturday night, he returned to action Sunday. Since returning from injury, Despres has been rather ineffective which is why he sat out this weekend. With 8 guys on one-way NHL contracts ahead of him, I don't think Despres makes the NHL club right away. Of course, moves can be made to make room for him, but I don't think teams will be quick to make moves now. At the trade deadline (whenever that will be), all bets are off.

Up front it is clear the Penguins have room in their top six. Beau Bennett and Eric Tangradi appear on the way to Pittsburgh to challenge for that spot. It's possible that the Pens could seek out a free agent forward to bring in to camp for a tryout as well.

My take on Beau Bennett? He's been far and away the best forward for the WBS Penguins night in and night out. He'd be a great fit in Pittsburgh's top six on a line with Crosby or Malkin, but if he's not going to get top six minutes in the NHL than I think the Pens should ship him back to Wilkes-Barre for the time being.

Eric Tangradi meanwhile, is more suited for 3rd and 4th line minutes if he doesn't impress in a top six role as a power forward.  He's been a streaky scorer for the WBS Penguins this season.

With the recent injury to Benn Ferriero and Phil Dupuis' lack of production, the only other forwards in the AHL with an outside chance would be Trevor Smith and Warren Peters. 

The other thing WBS Penguins fans will have to worry about is what happens with waivers this season. Under the old rules, the following players would need to clear waivers before being able to play in the AHL:

Eric Tangradi, Steve MacIntyre, Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, Brad Thiessen and Jeff Zatkoff

We will have to wait and see how that all shakes out, but I don't think the two goaltenders or MacIntyre would have trouble clearing waivers. The other three, however, could be harder to send back to the minors if they do in fact need to be put on waivers.

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