AHL Opens 2014-15 Preseason Tonight 10/1

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins open their 2014-15 preseason schedule tonight at 7:05 p.m. ET. Photo credit: @ItsJacki.
Instead of a pre-game preview for tonight's opening preseason games in the AHL, some quick notes about the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. Utica Comets followed by a closer look at what Samuelsson's demotion to the AHL means for those in Pittsburgh. Also a clearer view of who is battling on the blue line in the Penguins organization at both levels.

Pre-Game Notes

Utica @ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - 7:05 p.m. ET
  • Goaltenders Matt Murray and Eric Hartzell will split time in net for the Penguins.
  • Patrick McGrath and Nick Drazenovic won't play tonight. McGrath is more likely to play in Saturday's game at home vs. Hershey. Drazenovic is still "day-to-day" and eying a regular season return is more realistic at this point.
  • Forward lines from practice Tuesday in no particular order:
    • Anton Zlobin - Conor Sheary - Bryan Rust
      Tom Kuhnhackl - Jayson Megna - Carter Rowney
      Scott Wilson - J-S Dea - Josh Archibald
      Tyler Murovich - Matia Marcantuoni - Adam Payerl
      Dominik Uher - Nick Drazenovic - Tom Kostopoulos
  • Defense pairings from practice Tuesday in no particular order:
    • Barry Goers - Kevin Ryan
      Nick D'Agostino - Harrison Ruopp
      Clark Seymour - Alex Boak
      Reid McNeill - Jonathan Narbonne
  • Things to watch for:
    • Matt Murray in net. He's very big (6-4) and didn't look out of place in the AHL Pens' 2013-14 regular season finale and the third period of a 2014 Calder Cup Playoff game.
    • The combination of Anton Zlobin and Conor Sheary. It looks as though Sheary is going to start at center this season, as he is coming off some instant-success at the AHL level last spring following four years at UMass. Zlobin is poised for a breakout season if he can build off of his 2014 playoff performance.
    • Another combo to watch out for if they are paired together like they've been in practice is Josh Archibald and Jean-Sebastien Dea. Both were standouts in the rookie tournament in mid-September and both can skate, move the puck and create offense. They could be very exciting to watch.
    • Matia Marcantuoni, if you can keep your eyes on him. The kid can absolutely fly on the ice and is looking to carve out a spot in the AHL Pens' bottom six as a penalty killing center. Small, very quick, center, kills penalties. Sound familiar?
    • One knock you could have against last year's team was the lack of physical defensemen. There will be no shortage in the lineup tonight as the Pens have Reid McNeill, Harrison Ruopp, Alex Boak and Clark Seymour all available. Could be some fireworks, but at the very least some guys finishing checks.

Pittsburgh's Blue Line

If you take a look at Pittsburgh's roster, I think regardless of who is sent down the battle for the final roster spot is pretty clear on both the NHL and AHL rosters:

Locks (7) - Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin, Olli Maatta*, Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo* and Rob Scuderi

On The Bubble (4) - Taylor Chorney, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot*

With Robert Bortuzzo out a few weeks and Olli Maatta still not 100%, it's realistic two of the three battling for the final spot will stick until Maatta is ready. Derrick Pouliot has skated the last two days with the AHL Penguins, but has not participated in any contact drills.

The question becomes what to do with Chorney - who must clear waivers - and two young NHL-ready but unproven prospects in Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin. Do they keep Chorney as the 7th defenseman while waiting for Bortuzzo and Maatta to get healthy? Do the Pens send both Harrington and Dumoulin to the minors to get more ice time, or put Chorney on waivers to keep one of the high-end blue line prospects in the NHL?

If Maatta isn't ready to start the season, the Pens could keep two of those bubble players. If Maatta plays in the opener, then they only need one to have seven healthy defensemen on the NHL roster.

What that means for Wilkes-Barre?  The blue line will again be deep.

Current Depth Chart (7) - Philip Samuelsson, Reid McNeill, Harrison Ruopp, Barry Goers (AHL), Nick D'Agostino, Alex Boak (AHL) and Clark Seymour (AHL)

Possible Additions (4) - Taylor Chorney, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot*

It's very possible that all four of those bubble players will end up in the AHL at some point early on in the season, barring any more injuries or a trade, etc.

This is where it gets interesting. Obviously, how many defensemen Pittsburgh send to Wilkes-Barre will determine how many the AHL Pens will send to Wheeling. You have to figure that when Pouliot is healthy he will start his pro career in Wilkes-Barre and that at least one of Chorney, Dumoulin or Harrington will sent down to start the year in the AHL.

What that leaves for the AHL Penguins top six in October?

Locks (4) - One of Chorney/Dumoulin/Harrington, Philip Samuelsson, Reid McNeill, Derrick Pouliot

Bubble Players (5) - Harrison Ruopp, Barry Goers (AHL), Nick D'Agostino, Alex Boak (AHL) and Clark Seymour (AHL)

For guys like Ruopp, Goers and D'Agostino it's the same as it was last year. The three look to battle for either one or two spots in the AHL, again depending on who is sent back from Pittsburgh.


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