Free Agency Preview: #Pens Need to Restore Depth at #AHL Level

Thursday, July 4, 2013
Taking a look at those departed and those still unsigned heading into the beginning of free agency, it is clear that the Penguins organization will be active when the free agent market opens tomorrow. They might have their big contracts settled with Evgeni Malkn, Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang all signed long term, but they'll need to restore some forward and veteran depth to replace what has been lost overseas so far this off-season.

They need to replenish forward depth for Pittsburgh's bottom six, as well as some proven AHL scoring forwards for top six roles with their AHL counterpart. The Pens might not be signing big-name NHL guys, but they will be active nonetheless.

The glaring need on the farm team is certainly a veteran presence. Currently, no player on the AHL roster has played more than two seasons of professional hockey outside of forward Zach Sill (205 regular season AHL games) and Harry Zolnierczyk (116 regular season AHL games). In addition, Zolnierczyk is the only skater with NHL experience (44 NHL games played). One or both could have NHL jobs, leaving Wilkes-Barre with a lot of young players.

The remaining in-house free agents relative to Wilkes-Barre are forwards Trevor Smith and Warren Peters. Nothing new to report on my latest update on Peters a few days ago. He is exploring his options and not leaving any out. I haven't been in contact with Smith, but I would imagine at this point that both will take a look at the free agent market tomorrow to see what kind of interest is out there.

So with that, let's take a look at a preliminary AHL depth chart on what the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins roster looks like heading into free agency:

xxxxxx - xxxxxx - xxxxxx

Kuhnhackl - Gibbons - Thompson

Zolnierczyk - Sill - Uher
Zlobin - Megna - Payerl

Dumoulin - Samuelsson
xxxxxx - xxxxxx
Harrington - McNeill
Ruopp - D'Agostino

Zatkoff - Hartzell

Team Needs
  • Three top-six forwards, preferably 1-2 veteran-type forwards.
  • Two veteran defenseman to help stabilize and give direction to the younger prospects
  • Some AHL-only deals for more depth at both the forward and defenseman position
Although I think Megna can play a top-six role on this team next season, I believe he will have to earn it. I think the AHL Penguins should be in the market for a top-line center and look to add a scoring winger or two as well to round out the top-six forward depth.

On defense, the WBS Penguins lack a veteran presence. They will need to add two veteran defenseman, preferably one stay-at-home type and one with offensive upside. Joey Mormina would have been a nice fit, but he signed a two-year deal with the Syracuse Crunch yesterday.

The bottom line is that while the Penguins won't be considered an active participant with the big-name free agents out there, they still have their work cut out for them in building depth to store at the AHL level for when injuries/call ups arise next season. If the Pens don't sign anymore bottom-six NHL forwards, then look for Sill and Zolnierczyk to push for a spot with the big club.

I'll be live blogging the entire first day of free agency, so keep Highland Park Hockey active on your browser tomorrow. I will have breaking news on the Twitter side with a blog update every step of the way. It will be an interesting day, and a day to write about hockey. It will be Fall before you know it.


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