Three Pressing Needs For AHL Penguins Heading Into Free Agency

Monday, June 30, 2014
Harry Zolnierczyk scored 18 goals last season for the AHL Penguins. The Pens need to replace several goal-scoring forwards in 2014-15.

It's that time of year again - when the calendar reaches the end of June and the massive amount of big money contracts are about to get handed out without hesitation. At the AHL level, there aren't big-money contracts but still several NHL clubs will pad their roster with depth to help out their AHL affiliates in the upcoming season.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins reached the AHL's Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row and in 2014-15 will look to qualify for the postseason for the 14th straight season. To do so, they will need to add some pieces whether it be some depth guys signed to NHL contracts or some AHL deals that the WBS Penguins will have to help themselves with.

For all the latest free agent signings in the Penguins organization tomorrow, stay tuned here or follow along on Twitter (@H_P_Hockey). I will also try to keep up with the free agents from the Penguins who sign elsewhere this offseason.

After the jump, a look at three pressing needs the AHL Penguins should be trying to fill in free agency.

1. An AHL Veteran Goaltender

With young goaltenders Matt Murray (rookie) and Eric Hartzell (2nd year pro) under contract next season and veterans Peter Mannino and Jeff Deslauriers a day away from becoming unrestricted free agents (UFA), the AHL Penguins will probably look to add a veteran presence in net. Whether or not they bring in an AHL stud on an NHL contract or find a veteran looking to prove he can still play quality minutes on an AHL deal remains to be seen.

Highland Park Hockey's Top Five AHL Goalie Free Agents

1. Drew MacIntyre, Toronto Marlies

2013-14 Season Stats: 48 games played, 29-15-3, 2.53 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO
2014 Playoffs: 14 games played, 10-4-0, 2.08 GAA, .941 SV%, 2 SO

MacIntyre was lights out in the Calder Cup Playoffs after putting together a 29-win regular season. 

2. Tom McCollum, Grand Rapids

2013-14 Season Stats: 46 games played, 24-12-4, 2.30 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO
2014 Playoffs: 1 game played, 0-0-0, 3.50 GAA, .875 SV%, 0 SO

McCollum has spent parts of five seasons out West with the Griffins. Is it time for him to come East?

3. Peter Mannino, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton

2013-14 Season Stats: 18 games played, 11-4-1, 1.56 GAA, .932 SV%, 4 SO
2014 Playoffs: 17 games played, 9-8-0, 2.69 GAA, .900 SV%, 0 SO

Mannino turned things around after a suspension for failure to report to the ECHL early in June 2013-14 season. He was a big reason for the Pens' late season and postseason success.

4. David Leggio, Hershey Bears

2013-14 Season Stats: 45 games played, 23-18-3, 2.63 GAA, .913 SV%, 2 SO
2014 Playoffs: No Stats

The Bears acquired Eddie Pasquale at the NHL Draft and have young Philip Grubbauer in the system, leaving no room for Leggio - a reliable AHL goaltender.

5. Jason LaBarbera, Rockford/Oklahoma City

2013-14 Season Stats
Oklahoma City: 2 games played, 0-1-1, 1.93 GAA, .953 SV%, 0 SO
Rockford: 32 games played, 15-15-2, 2.94 GAA, 9.01 SV%, 0 SO

LaBarbera is a two-time AHL All-Star (2005, 2007) and a solid veteran option for the Penguins.

2. A Veteran Defenseman

With a plethora of young defensemen in the pipeline, the AHL Penguins could use a veteran presence on the back end to help mentor rookie-to-be Derrick Pouliot and second year guys like Scott Harrington, Harrison Ruopp and Nick D'Agostino. Brendan Mikkelson filled that role this past season, but appears to be moving on in free agency.

Top Five AHL Free Agent Defensemen

1. T.J. Brennan, Toronto

2013-14 Season Stats: 76 games played, 25G-47A, -10, 115 PIM
2014 Playoffs: 14 games played, 6G-8A, +3, 10 PIM

The five-year pro is coming off a career year with his highest goal and assists total in a single season. If Brennan wants to mentor and lead a talented young group of defenseman, Wilkes-Barre should be high on his list.

2. Zach Redmond, St. John's 

2013-14 Season Stats: 40 games played, 6G-19A, +18, 26 PIM
2014 Playoffs: 21 games played, 2G-12A, +12, 16 PIM

Redmond missed time with a career-threatening injury in 2012-13 (skate cut his thigh), but a +30 rating in 61 games this past year (regular season and playoffs combined) is nothing short of spectacular. Add in he's a right-handed shot (Harrington, Samuelsson, Dumoulin, Pouliot, D'Agostino and McNeill all lefties) and Redmond looks like a good fit.

3. Patrick McNeill, Springfield

2013-14 Season Stats: 63 games played, 11G-26A, Even, 46 PIM
2014 Playoffs: 5 games played, 0G-4A, -3, 2 PIM

Patrick (no relation to current WBS defender Reid McNeill) is coming off a career year with Springfield. The 7th year pro would not only add a veteran presence but an offensive weapon as well.

4. Derek Smith, Abbotsford

2013-14 Season Stats: 32 games played, 7G-17A, +9, 22 PIM
2014 Playoffs: 1 game played, 0G-0A, Even, 0 PIM 

Smith is a seven year pro who has spent the last three season in the Calgary Flames organization, racking up 85 NHL games with the Flames and splitting the 2013-14 season between the NHL and AHL.

5. Mike Moore, Providence

2013-14 Season Stats: 75 games, 7G-14A, +13, 106 PIM
2014 Playoffs: 12 games played, 0G-2A, +2, 22 PIM

Moore captained the AHL Bruins last season and while he wouldn't wear the "C" in Wilkes-Barre (Tom Kostopoulos was re-signed by the AHL Pens), Moore would instantly add experience and grit to the WBS blue line.

3. A Top-Six Scoring Forward

If you look at the Penguins free agents at the AHL level, you'll see the names Gibbons, Drazenovic, Kobasew, Machacek and Zolnierczyk among others. Those five combined for 62 goals in the regular season and 14 more in the postseason. There are several reports out there that the Penguins don't plan on re-signing any of their UFA's and while the new GM might be busy replacing forward depth at the NHL level, adding another proven AHL scorer is a must.

Top Five AHL Forward Free Agents

1. Andy Miele, Portland 

2013-14 Season Stats: 70 games played, 27G-45A, -18, 66 PIM
2014 Playoffs: No Stats

Miele managed 72 points on a not so good Portland team this past season. While the speedy, undersized forward (ring a bell to one of those five Pens UFA's mentioned above?) might have the NHL in his sights, a key role on a deep AHL team like the Penguins might help get him to professional hockey's highest level. 

2. Chris Mueller, Texas

2013-14 Season Stats: 60 games played, 25G-32A, +9, 29 PIM 
2014 Playoffs: 19 games played, 6G-5A, Even, 12 PIM 

Mueller has scored at least 18 goals in each of his last four AHL seasons, potting 25 on a offensively-potent Stars team that went on to win the Calder Cup this past season. The 6-year pro also has 44 games of AHL postseason experience, while accumulating less than 40 PIM in each of his pro seasons.

3. Trevor Smith, Toronto

2013-14 Stats: 24 games played, 10G-16A, +8, 10 PIM
2014 Playoffs: 14 games played, 3G-8A, +3, 2 PIM

A member of the 2012-13 AHL Penguins, Smith spent last season split between Toronto's AHL and NHL clubs. Could the classic "tweener" player return to the Penguins organization?

4. T.J. Hensick, Hartford

2013-14 Season Stats: 42 games played, 11G-23A, +5, 0 PIM 
2014 Playoffs: No Stats

After spending the first half of the season, Hensick returned to North America and was an effective AHL scorer. 

5. Andrew Gordon, St. John's 

2013-14 Season Stats: 76 games played, 23G-34A, +3, 43 PIM
2014 Playoffs: 21 games played, 8G-11A, Even, 22 PIM

Gordon was a Penguin-killer in his days with the Hershey Bears (2007-2011) and came back to bite the Pens with the IceCaps this past season. Maybe it's time to put Gordon in the only place he can't score goals against the Penguins - Wilkes-Barre. 


Post a Comment