Penguins In-House Free Agents 2014: Part Three - How Penguins' Free Agency Moves Affect AHL Roster

Thursday, June 26, 2014
Will Samuelsson make the NHL roster in 2014-15?
It's quickly that time of year again - the NHL Entry Draft and subsequent days leading up to the start of free agency when the calendar moves from June to July.

After the jump, the third and final part of the Penguins in-house free agents series leading up to this weekend's draft and Tuesday's start of free agency. If you missed either of the first two parts of the summer series I wrote, below are links to both.

Penguins In-House Free Agents 2014: Part One - Forwards

Penguins In-House Free Agents 2014: Part Two- Goalies/Defense

First, a quick refresher of what we know:
  • Matt Niskanen will make himself available to the free agent market on July 1st, per his agent Neil Sheehy.
  • Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was quoted as saying it was time for Niskanen and Jussi Jokinen to get their big contracts and you get the feeling both will move on and get better offers in the open market.
  • Tanner Glass seems to be getting the "silent treatment" from the Penguins per Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Molinari also reported Deryk Engelland and Joe Vitale haven't heard from the Penguins either, per their agent Allain Roy.
  • The Penguins plan to submit qualifying offers to all five of their restricted free agents - defensemen Philip Samuelsson and Simon Despres and forwards Brandon Sutter, Jayson Megna and Bobby Farnham.
  • Defensemen Samuelsson and Despres will need to clear waivers in order to be assigned to the AHL next season. Forwards Brian Gibbons and Zach Sill - both unrestricted free agents (UFA) - will also need to clear waivers to play in the AHL in 2014-15.
With the 2014 NHL Entry Draft this weekend in Philadelphia, free agency is just around the corner. Being that Highland Park Hockey is a more AHL-centric media source, part three of the Penguins in-house free agents looks at the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins roster and how the moves made at the NHL level affect the depth of the AHL club heading into free agency.

After the draft, check back for some posts on the free agency market and good ideas the Penguins should look into for both their NHL and depth (AHL) rosters.


Quite ironically for the AHL Penguins, perhaps the most clear position right now heading into the 2014-15 season. The NHL Pens have Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff under contract which leaves two young goaltenders - Eric Hartzell and Matt Murray - left battling for the number one role in the AHL.

Both Peter Mannino and Jeff Deslauriers' AHL contracts expire on July 1st, but the WBS Penguins would be wise to add a third goaltender on an AHL deal. A veteran guy like Mannino, who took them into the third round of the playoffs last season, to stabilize things and mentor the younger goaltenders. After the draft, look for a post on the free agent goaltenders that would be a good option for the Penguins to look at adding to a one-year deal.


With Niskanen likely moving on, and seemingly nothing going on between the Penguins and their other three UFA defensemen - Brooks Orpik, Deryk Engelland and Brendan Mikkelson - it looks like the Penguins NHL defense will be very young without an addition or two in free agency.   
Current NHL Penguins depth chart on defense signed through 2014-15 (RFA's included):
Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Olli Maatta (shoulder surgery), Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres (RFA), Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson (RFA), Scott Harrington, Derrick Pouliot (shoulder surgery), Reid McNeill, Harrison Ruopp and Nick D'Agostino.
As it stands right now, with both Samuelsson and Despres needing to clear waivers to play in the AHL, that Brian Dumoulin might be the odd man out to start the season in Pittsburgh if the Penguins add another defenseman in free agency. Currently the Penguins have 13 signed defenseman through the 2014-15 season.

The WBS Penguins Defense:
Look for the AHL Penguins to add depth with some AHL contracts to players like Barry Goers, Dustin Stevenson and Peter Merth - the guys they signed to AHL deals throughout last season. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Penguins add another defenseman or two on NHL contracts, one who can push for the NHL or be a veteran presence to mentor the young defensemen in the AHL like Brendan Mikkelson (an impending UFA) did in 2013-14.


Here's where it gets a bit tricky. Pittsburgh has seven forwards signed from last years team and one soon to be qualified restricted free agent in Brandon Sutter, so for sake of discussion we'll count Sutter as the 8th forward.

Of the other forwards under NHL contract for 2014-15 that played in the AHL last season, Adam Payerl and Andrew Ebbett seem to be the only two ready for NHL work. Jayson Megna is a soon-to-be qualified RFA as well. Even counting all three of them onto the NHL roster leaves you with empty spots up front.

Unrestricted free agents Brian Gibbons and Zach Sill will need to clear waivers to play in the AHL next season, so even if they re-sign they might have played out their last days in a WBS Penguins uniform earlier this month. There will be changes to the organization's depth at forward this season.

AHL Forward Depth

Trying to map out lines now would be silly, but I will point out some of the incoming rookies up front might start their 2014-15 seasons in the ECHL with Wheeling. If you count Ebbett and Payerl to the AHL roster, there's already 14 forwards battling for ice time and that doesn't include recently signed draft pick Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist would likely return to play in Sweden if he doesn't make the NHL roster.

A look at all the forwards under contract at the AHL level:
Andrew Ebbett, Tom Kostopoulos (AHL deal), Adam Payerl, Anton Zlobin, Dominik Uher, Pierre-Luc Leblond, Bobby Farnham (RFA), Tom Kuhnhackl and incoming rookies Conor Sheary, Josh Archibald, Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust, Jean-Sebastien Dea and Matia Marcantuoni
Most of the forward additions in free agency will likely be to help the NHL roster, but that could be good news for the AHL Penguins who might see a guy like Jayson Megna (RFA) return to the AHL lineup or a reliable AHL scorer, who the Penguins originally signed to try to make the NHL squad, trickle down to Wilkes-Barre.

Teams were allowed to start reaching out to impending free agents of other teams on Wednesday, so the amount of reports of which teams were talking to the agents of which players are at season-highs.

I'll have mention of any players the Penguins re-sign or former Penguins who have signed elsewhere. This stretch of time leading up to the draft and the start of free agency tends to lead to some players signing overseas, but surprisingly none of the Pens free agents who played mostly in the AHL last season have done so, yet.


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