AHL Monthly WBS Penguins Prospects Report - January Grades

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The AHL affiliate's attention to team defense is a big reason for their current standing as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Photo credit: @ItsJacki
*Editor's Note: For the sake of confusion and taking one game off of every players season totals, the February 1st loss to Rochester is included in every players season statistics when mentioned in this article.

After four months (and one day*) of the 2013-14 regular season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL) have played 46 games. With a record of 26-16-1-3, good for 2nd place in the East Division and 5th best in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins are still in the thick of things heading into the final 12 weeks of the season.

January saw the WBS Penguins start to get some bodies back, with Harry Zolnierczyk and Brian Dumoulin returned from Pittsburgh. Subsequently, it spelled re-assignments of defensemen Peter Merth and Nick D'Agostino and forwards C.J. Severyn and Cody Sylvester.

Nick Drazenovic and Pierre-Luc Leblond got their first NHL recalls of the season in the first month of the 2014 calendar year, each appearing in one game and being held scoreless. January also saw the suspension to goaltender Peter Mannino lifted as he reported to Wheeling in mid-January.

With 30 games left, and the team in the midst of several sets of three game weekends, points in the standings are at a premium with so many teams pushing for the postseason.

Highland Park Hockey's Player of the Month

Every month, I compile a look at how every player on the team performed and offer insights to what each player has done over the course of the month.  I choose one player who has performed well in the last month and feature him on the main page and "tag" him as HP Hockey's Player of the Month.

January's player of the month is...

Eric Hartzell - Grade A

AHL Stats: 19 games played, 9-5-1, 1.85 GAA, .925 SV%, 3 SO 
January Stats: 10 games played, 5-2-0, 1.33 GAA, .944 SV%, 1 SO

Hartzell was an easy pick here, considering he was named the American Hockey League's (AHL) Goaltender of the Month for January. In ten appearances in January, Hartzell continues to impress and has definitely started to make a case to take over the team's starting role heading down the stretch.

Previous winners with links to each month's prospect report below:

December (2013) - Nick Drazenovic
November (2013) - Tom Kostopoulos
October (2013) -Brian Gibbons

January by the Numbers

Season Record: 46 games played, 26-16-1-3
January Record: 14 games played, 8-6-0-0

Second Place East Division (Tied 5th - EAST)

January Leading Scorers: Philip Samuelsson (3G-7A), Harry Zolnierczyk (4G-5A), Tom Kostopoulos (4G-4A)

League Honors

CCM/AHL Player of the Week - Philip Samuelsson
CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month - Eric Hartzell


Alongside Hartzell in the WBS net is the guy who seemingly carried most of the goaltender duties through the first three months of the season in Jeff Deslauriers. The AHL Pens seem to be riding the hot goaltender, as Deslauriers started the month starting six of the team's first seven games before Hartzell got the nod in six of the team's final seven games of the month.

Jeff Deslauriers - Grade C+

AHL Stats: 30GP,  16-11-2, 2.39 GAA, .901 SV%, 1 SO
January Stats: 7GP, 3-4-0, 3.11 GAA, .882 SV%, 0 SO

Hard to solely blame Deslauriers for his below-average month and it's obvious frustration set in towards the end of the month. Nonetheless he finds himself in a goaltending battle with Hartzell and will likely split time the rest of the season.


The WBS blue line has returned to a pretty steady six guys with three extras looking for a chance to showcase their abilities. What was thought to be a pretty young core, still is, but the group is playing like a bunch of veterans.

Current Depth Chart

Despres - Samuelsson
Harrington - Mikkelson
McNeill - Goers/Ruopp

Injured: Dumoulin (lower body)
As a team, the Pens have allowed the fewest shots per game on average and that is in large part to the emphasis on shot blocking and closing down shooting lanes. The Pens have allowed 111 goals through 46 games, also the fewest in the league.

Brendan Mikkelson - Grade B+

AHL Stats: 45GP, 3G-22A, +10, 43 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 0G-6A, +4, 8 PIM

The veteran defenseman leads the team's blue liners in scoring on the season, while also playing alongside rookie defenseman Scott Harrington on the team's 2nd pairing for most of the 2013-14 season.

Philip Samuelsson - Grade A

AHL Stats: 44GP, 3G-15A, +13, 52 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 3G-7A, +9, 12 PIM

Samuelsson was the team's best defenseman in January, nabbing AHL Player of the Week honors in the process as well. Samuelsson has been on the team's top pairing all season while at the AHL level, assigned to shutting down the opponent's top offensive threats on a nightly basis.

Simon Despres - Grade A-

AHL Stats: 26GP, 6G-10A, +17, 29 PIM
January Stats: 8 GP, 3G-2A, +7, 6 PIM

Despres continues to be impressive at the AHL level, playing alongside Samuelsson on the team's top pairing.

Scott Harrington - Grade B+

AHL Stats: 46 GP, 3G-13A, +5, 43 PIM
January Stats: 14 GP, 1G-5A, +5, 10 PIM

Harrington goes unnoticed some nights, but that's not a bad thing for him as a rookie defenseman. The first year pro is getting some time on special teams paired alongside the veteran Mikkelson on the 2nd pairing and is developing just fine, adjusting to the pro-style game quickly like his former teammate with the OHL's London Knights in Olli Maatta.

Brian Dumoulin - Grade B-

AHL Stats: 37GP, 3G-9A, -5, 19 PIM
January Stats: 14 GP, 2G-4A, -4, 0 PIM

Dumoulin was having a so-so month before injuring his left knee in the last game of the month. Currently on a "week-to-week" diagnosis from WBS head coach John Hynes, Dumoulin has been relegated to the third pairing with Reid McNeill as the team's 5th defenseman. Dumoulin was still getting regular ice time in all situations before his recent lower body ailment.

Reid McNeill - Grade B+

AHL Stats: 27GP, 1G-2A, +2, 47 PIM
January Stats: 13 GP, 1G-2A, +1, 23 PIM

A now healthy McNeill has been a 3rd pairing staple for the AHL Penguins in January, delivering big hits, crushing hip checks and dropping the gloves whenever he feels necessary. His efforts on the penalty kill and his play in the defensive zone are his strengths. He even started to chip in offensively, tallying his first AHL goal at the end of the month. The continued playing time will only help his confidence and maturity grow.

Harrison Ruopp - Grade Incomplete

AHL Stats: 11GP, 0G-0A, Even, 18 PIM
January Stats: 3GP, 0G-0A, +1, 9 PIM

Ruopp is a physical, defense-first kind of defenseman who isn't as polished for third pair duties at the AHL level as a guy like Reid McNeill just yet. In his first season of pro hockey, Ruopp still has some adjusting to do to the pro-style game.

Barry Goers - Grade Incomplete

AHL Stats: 8GP, 1G-4A, +1, 2 PIM
January Stats: 2GP, 1G-1A, +1, 2 PIM

Goers has come in and played well in the eight games he's been in the WBS lineup. With the injury to Dumoulin, he also has a chance to get in some more games early on in February. He replaced Dumoulin in Feb. 1st's 4-0 loss to Rochester.

Nick D'Agostino - Grade Incomplete

AHL Stats: 25GP, 1G-6A, -1 11 PIM
January Stats: 2GP, 0G-1A, +1, 0 PIM

DAgostino is losing a numbers game behind highly touted blue line prospects in Harrington, Dumoulin, Samuelsson and Despres and he isn't as defensively sound as Mikkelson or McNeill. Top pairing minutes in the ECHL would give him playing time and more progress in his development.


Only 15 forwards suited up for a game for the AHL Penguins in January, and while goal scoring and offense have been an issue (eight goals in last six games, including two shut outs), the team has been able to find ways to win low-scoring games more times than not.

Offensively, they've been led by a top line of Zolnierczyl-Drazenovic-Kostopoulos with a lack of a consistent secondary scoring punch. Guys like Tom Kuhnhackl, Anton Zlobin, and Zack Torquato have chipped in offensively in spurts, but the lack of consistent secondary scoring and minimal success on the man advantage (0-31 in their last several games) have prevented this team from being one of the top three in the conference. They'll look for a boost from recently re-assigned Andrew Ebbett.

Tom Kostopoulos - Grade A-

AHL Stats: 43GP, 16G-13A, +8, 47 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 4G-4A, +4, 10 PIM

Captain Kostopoulos continues to play well in front of the net, scoring most of his four goals on the month (if not all) by tipping pucks in or getting to loose rebounds around the net. He's been on the top power play unit getting traffic in front, and has filled in on the penalty kill from time-to-time as well.

Harry Zolnierczyk - Grade B+

AHL Stats: 37GP, 14G-11A, +7, 51 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 4G-5A, Even, 10 PIM

Zolnierczyk led all forwards in scoring in January before earning another recall to Pittsburgh earlier this week. Appearing in his 10th NHL game of the season last night for the Penguins, Zolnierczyk will need to clear waivers if the Pens intend to send him to the AHL again this season.

Nick Drazenovic - Grade B+

AHL Stats: 35GP, 8G-15A,+5, 14 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 3G-4A, +2, 4 PIM

Since returning from injury, Drazenovic has centered the teams top line and been the most offensively dynamic player night in and night out. He earned his first NHL recall with the organization this past month and appeared in one game with the NHL Pens.

Dominik Uher - Grade C+

AHL Stats: 39GP, 5G-8A, +1, 32 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 2G-1A, +2, 2 PIM

Since returning from taking a puck to the face at the end of December, Uher finds himself getting back into regular game shape and used to playing without a full cage, which he just recently took off towards the end of January.

Mike Carman - Grade B

AHL Stats: 38GP, 4G-7A, +3, 20 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 1G-3A, +3, 6 PIM

Carman has played as the team's 2nd/3rd line center, depending on the team's depth up the middle, and has played a simple, yet effective game. He hasn't seen much power play time, but has been a staple on the penalty kill and is defensively reliable enough to be on the ice in late-game and end of period situations.

Tom Kuhnhackl - Grade C

AHL Stats: 42GP, 8G-2A, -3, 20 PIM
January Stats: 12GP, 2G-1A, +2, 4 PIM

The streaky scorer has created offensive chances while in a top-six scoring role but has gone unnoticed on nights where he's reduced to bottom-six minutes. Still an occasional healthy scratch (two games in January), maybe the return of a former line mate of Kuhnhackl's in Andrew Ebbett could push Kuhnhackl and the Pens to a more two-line dimensional offense.

Anton Zlobin - Grade B

AHL Stats: 25GP, 5G-3A, +10, 12 PIM
January Stats: 13GP, 4G-0A, +8, 8 PIM

Zlobin has played well in a top-six role and continues to grow more confident with every passing AHL game.

Paul Thompson - Grade C+

AHL Stats: 39GP, 4G-3A, -8, 50 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 1G-2A, +1, 17 PIM

Thompson has been relegated to mainly a third line checking role with some time on the team's 2nd power play unit.

Zack Torquato - Grade B-

AHL Stats: 15GP, 2G-5A, +3, 10 PIM
January Stats: 11GP, 1G-5A, +3, 10 PIM

Torquato was playing well early in the month before sitting out the last few games of January as a healthy scratch.

Denver Manderson - Grade B

AHL Stats: 25GP, 1G-6A, Even, 4 PIM
January Stats: 10GP, 1G-4A, +4, 2 PIM

Manderson has played better as the season has unfolded, but the return of Ebbett increases the Pens depth at the center position, which will certainly cut into Manderson's ice time.

Bobby Farnham - Grade C+

AHL Stats: 36GP, 2G-3A, Even, 99 PIM
January Stats: 11GP, 0G-0A, -1, 27 PIM

Farnham continues to use his speed, hustle and willingness to engage to be a pest and tempt opponents into taking penalties.

Pierre-Luc Leblond - Grade C+

AHL Stats: 40GP, 1G-2A, -3, 172 PIM
January Stats: 14GP, 0G-1A, -1, 38 PIM

The Pens enforcer got his first NHL recall with Pittsburgh this month and appeared in one game.

Carter Rowney - Grade B-

AHL Stats: 13GP, 0G-1A, -2, 0 PIM
January Stats: 9GP, 0G-1A, -1, 0 PIM

Rowney has seen increased minutes late in games with the AHL Penguins recently, a sign that the coaching staff is pleased with the 4th line center's play in recent games.

Zach Sill - Grade Incomplete

AHL Stats: 16GP, 3G-3A, +5, 29 PIM
January Stats: 2GP, 1G-0A, +1, 2 PIM

After his first NHL stint, Sill injured himself in Norfolk when the skate of Nolan Yonkman cut his left forearm. Sill is expected to miss 8-12 weeks after having surgery in Pittsburgh last week.

Cody Sylvester - Grade Incomplete

AHL Stats: 17GP, 2G-0A, -4, 18 PIM
January Stats: 2GP, 0G-0A, -2, 0 PIM

Sylvester was re-assigned to Wheeling in the beginning of the month, but his time in the AHL is paying big dividends in the ECHL as Sylvester was named the league's Player of the Week in January.


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