Prospect Report - AHL Penguins Mid-Season Grades

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rookies forwards Conor Sheary (left) and Josh Archibald (right) look to continue to develop in the AHL this season.
In years past I did a monthly report card on the prospects in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization playing in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but between my increased role at Hockey's Future and also covering the Lehigh Valley Phantoms as well this season I have been reduced to piling my thoughts on these prospects in two (maybe three) posts instead of seven.

I'll also be doing one of these prospect reports on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms sometime next week, as they will reach the halfway point of the season on Sunday night after a three-game weekend this weekend.

The format is just about the same as the report card styled monthly posts on the Pens prospects the last two seasons. Instead of a "Player of the Month" where I recognize one player, below are my three stars of the first half for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 

Through 39 games in the 2014-15 season, the Penguins have a record of 20-15-1-3 good enough for first place in the East Division. Oddly enough, the effect of losing so many players to Pittsburgh hasn't caught up with them until the team started getting bodies back from the NHL. The Penguins have lost their last four games (0-3-0-1) after going 9-4-0-1 in their previous 14 contests.

The multitude of call ups has given several rookies and other young players a chance to gain valuable ice time at the AHL level as well as provided some of the team's top prospects a chance to get their first/second taste of NHL action.

Before I get to the three stars of the first half, some links to extra reading on Pens prospects I have caught up with this season, ranging from development camp this summer to in-season updates on the several rookie forwards and a talk about prospects with Penguins head coach John Hynes.

Player Profiles
Hockey's Future
Three Stars of the first half of the season and grades/insights on all of the players who suited up for the AHL Penguins after the jump.

NOTE: All 2014-15 Season Stats in this article refer to the player's games played in the AHL.

Brian Dumoulin isn't far off from being an NHL regular.

3rd Star, Brian Dumoulin - Grade A
2014-15 Season Stats: 29 GP, 2G-11A, +19, 10 PIM
AHL Role: Top Pairing, Two-way Defenseman

Dumoulin continues to prove he's ready for the NHL, and his eight-game stint with Pittsburgh earlier this season only further establishes that. While in the AHL, Dumoulin is a top-pairing defenseman who logs big minutes in all situations and is not scored against while on the ice often. His +19 rating in 29 games this season is tops in the AHL among defenseman and second in the entire league behind Manchester's Nick Shore.

Zatkoff is one of three AHL All-Star representatives on the team.


2nd Star, Jeff Zatkoff - Grade A
2014-15 Season Stats: 21GP, 11-8-2, 1.82 GAA, .927 SV%, 3 SO
AHL Role: Starting Goaltender

Zatkoff lost the backup position in Pittsburgh to Thomas Griess in training camp, was re-assigned the AHL this season and  got off to a slow start with the WBS Penguins - allowing nine goals on 34 shots in his first two starts of the season. From there, Zatkoff responded and ultimately has held the team together and kept them in games amidst a multitude of injuries, sickness and call ups in the organization. At the height of the call up spree, Zatkoff played his best - going 6-1-0 in December with a 1.28 goals-against average, a .955 save percentage and two shutouts.

Derrick Pouliot in a foot race with ex-WBS forward Brian Gibbons. Poulot is a rare talent.

1st Star, Derrick Pouliot - Grade A
2014-15 Season Stats: 23GP, 7G-13A, Even, 12 PIM 
AHL Role: Offensive Defenseman (Power play)

Coming off an off-season shoulder surgery that forced Pouliot to miss all of the summer camps and preseason, he still came back and made an immediate positive impact upon his return to pro hockey on October 21st in the AHL. It didn't even take two months before Pouliot got his first NHL call up to Pittsburgh - a stint that ended yesterday after three points (one goal, two assists) in seven games - and it's apparent his AHL days are numbered. His offensive skills are few and far between, even more so at the AHL level. His ability to make plays and create offense, especially on the power play, is fun to watch. WBS Pens fans should enjoy the time Pouliot is in the AHL while they can.


Matt Murray - Grade B+
2014-15 Season Stats: 17GP, 7-7-2, 2.06 GAA, .920 SV%, 3 SO

AHL Role: Backup Goaltender

Murray has played pretty well so far in his first full season in the AHL. He looked especially strong when Zatkoff was first recalled to Pittsburgh earlier this season, perhaps showing he is capable of shouldering the load in net if needed.


Taylor Chorney - Grade B+
2014-15 Season Stats: 34GP, 2G-7A, +14, 21 PIM
AHL Role: Top pairing, two-way defenseman

Chorney has split time between the AHL and NHL this season, and he was recalled to Pittsburgh today to be the Pens' 7th defenseman. While in the AHL, Chorney has anchored the WBS Pens defense as the veteran presence on the back end. He logged big minutes in Wilkes-Barre playing in all situations, paired often with Dumoulin. Together, the two formed a dominant top pairing at the AHL-level.

Scott Harrington - Grade B+
2014-15 Season Stats: 23GP, 0G-6A, +4, 12 PIM
AHL Role: Top-4 pairing, two-way defenseman

Much like Dumoulin and Pouliot, it is more a question of when Harrington becomes a full-time NHL player than if that dream becomes a reality for for the former London Knights captain. Harrington continues to kind of go unnoticed on the ice at the AHL level, but that's a credit to how well he's playing in his own zone. He's a guy that has matured well beyond his years and is primed for future success.

Barry Goers - Grade C+
2014-15 Season Stats: 23GP, 0G-5A, +1, 15 PIM
AHL Role: Third pairing, offensive defenseman
Goers was signed to an AHL deal over the summer to give the WBS Penguins added depth and be a 6th/7th defenseman. Instead, with all the injuries/illness, Goers has not only carved out a roster spot but been a staple on the WBS blue line in the first half of the season.

Alex Boak - Grade B
2014-15 Season Stats: 18GP, 1G-3A, +3, 30 PIM
AHL Role: 6th/7th defensive defenseman

Boak has split time between the ECHL and AHL this season but after some seasoning with the Nailes in the fall, he's come back to Wilkes-Barre and been very solid defensively while also matching the offensive output of Nick D'Agostino - a guy labeled as an offensive defenseman. If Boak continues to play well, he should see more time as the 6th defenseman as opposed to being a healthy scratch.

Reid McNeill - Grade B-
Season Stats: 36GP, 1G-3A, -4, 72 PIM
AHL Role: Top-4 pairing defensive defenseman

McNeill is still adjusting to life in the AHL, but has built his reputation on being a physical stay-at-home defender that is certainly not afraid to drop the gloves when the time calls for it. He's big, strong and takes pride in his defensive play and bringing something different from the many offensive-minded skill guys on the blue line in the organization.

Nick D'Agostino - Grade C
2014-15 Season Stats: 17GP, 0G-4A, +2, 8 PIM
AHL Role: 6th/7th offensive defenseman

D'Agostino is still adjusting to life in pro hockey, looking a little unsure of himself at the AHL level again this season. The puck-moving defenseman has seen time on the team's second power play unit, but is a bit of a liability in his own zone. It will be crucial in the second half of the season for D'Agostino to make himself more noticeable to avoid being lost in the shuffle of blue line prospects in the organization.


Jean-Sebastien Dea - Grade B
2014-15 Season Stats: 35GP, 9G-10A, +2, 14 PIM
AHL Role: Offensive-minded Center

Dea found himself as a healthy scratch for a game or two in October to watch top-six guys like Andrew Ebbett to pick up on some of the finer details of the pro game. It worked, as Dea went on to record eight points (three goals, five assists) in eight games in October. He's hit a bit of a dry spell of late, with just one goal in his last 10 games, but his offensive upside isn't in doubt. Dea will need to play better away from the puck if he wants to really take the next step in his career.

Tom Kostopoulos - Grade A
2014-15 Season Stats: 36GP, 6G-13A, +1, 44 PIM
AHL Role: Top-6 winger

The team captain was quiet early on in the season, but has turned things up as of late much like a leader should when the time calls for it. With several top scorers out of the lineup, Kostopoulos became one of those leading the offensive charge. He was recently named as playing captain for the AHL Eastern Conference All-Stars in this year's All-Star Classic in Utica at the end of the month.

Conor Sheary - Grade B+
2014-15 Season Stats: 30 GP, 10G-7A, -1, 4 PIM
AHL Role: Top-6 winger

Conor Sheary was hampered by injuries at the start of the season, but much like last spring when he first came to the AHL Sheary has been an offensive weapon for the WBS Penguins in 2014-15 - getting top line minutes on the left wing after a stint at center earlier this season. He's on an AHL-only deal, so moving forward Sheary will need to continue to prove his worth if he wants to sign his first NHL contract this summer.

Andrew Ebbett - Grade A
2014-15 Season Stats: 17 GP, 5G-12A, +11, 8 PIM
AHL Role: Top-line center

While in the AHL, Ebbett has been a top line center and a game-changer averaging a point per game. The veteran has split time between the AHL and NHL this season in the second year of a two-year deal he signed before the start of the 2013-14 season.

Jayson Megna - Grade B+
2014-15 Season Stats: 26GP, 11G-5A, +8, 16 PIM
AHL Role: 2nd/3rd line two-way forward

There couldn't be anymore varying stances on Megna than there already is. Where does he project? It depends who you ask. While in the AHL, Megna has used his speed  and skating ability to cause problems for opposing defenders both at even strength and on the penalty kill. Despite the doubts by some, I still think Megna is an NHL player.

Bryan Rust - Grade A-
2014-15 Season Stats: 25 GP, 10G-4A, +2, 8 PIM
AHL Role: Top-6 winger

I don't think anyone could have asked for more from Rust in his first full season of pro hockey, coming off a successful collegiate career at Notre Dame. He took the AHL by storm this fall and has gained 13 games of valuable NHL experience already in his rookie season.

Scott Wilson - Grade A-
2014-15 Season Stats: 21GP, 3G-9A, +10, 14 PIM
AHL Role: Top-6 winger

Wilson is nearing a return from injury and could be re-assigned to the AHL Penguins as soon as this week. While in the AHL, Wilson was as steady as they come for a first year player - playing a solid and reliable two-way game and earning his 1st NHL recall in his rookie year as well.

Nick Drazenovic - Grade B+

2014-15 Season Stats: 14GP, 7G-3A, +4, 6 PIM
AHL Role: Top-line center

Injuries have limited Drazenovic to just 14 AHL games this year, but when healthy and on the ice he's been creating offense and scoring chances centering a top line with Kostopoulos and Sheary the past few weeks.

Dominik Uher - Grade B
2014-15 Season Stats: 37GP, 5G-5A, +6, 46 PIM
AHL Role: Bottom-6 checking forward

The word I always use to describe Uher is feisty, and that's because, well, he's feisty. A bottom-six grinder, Uher is physical and tenacious on the forecheck and when he's scoring goals it's usually because he's creating turnovers more so than being a flashy kind of player. That's just not him. He's been steady at the AHL level and was one of the many who made their NHL debut with Pittsburgh.

Carter Rowney - Grade B
2014-15 Season Stats: 28GP, 2G-6A, +3, 25 PIM
AHL Role: 2nd/3rd line two-way center

I will dub Rowney as the most underrated player on the team this season. He's been the team's second line center much of his time in the AHL this season after starting the year in Wheeling (ECHL) and has been playing his way into a full-time AHL role. The bigger Rowney is good in the dirty areas of the ice, which helps him stand apart from all the smaller, speedier rookies on the team. Rowney is another guy on an AHL-only contract, but if he continues to trend upward there might be an NHL contract for him somewhere down the line.

Tom Kuhnhackl - Grade C
2014-15 Season Stats: 35GP, 2G-4A, +3, 13 PIM
AHL Role: Bottom six forward

Unfortunately, Kuhnhackl hasn't been able to enjoy much if any success at the AHL level this season. Now finally healthy, the German-born forward has played better in his own zone and you've seen his battle-level increase and remain consistent from shift-to-shift but the puck just isn't going in for him. Crucial period of games approaching for Kuhnhackl in the second half of the season.

Matia Marcantuoni - Grade C+

2014-15 Season Stats: 24GP, 2G-3A, -2, 6 PIM
AHL Role: 4th line center

Marcantuoni is another rookie forward trying to stand out with the AHL Penguins, and he does. Like most of the young players on the team, he has blazing speed and is probably the fastest skater on the team if not the entire AHL. Where his game differs from a guy like Dea or Sheary is in the defensive zone and his play away from the puck. That's his identity and being solid on the PK, hard on the puck, physical and competitive against opposing teams' skill players is his ticket to being successful at the pro level.

Josh Archibald - Grade B-
2014-15 Season Stats: 28GP, 2G-3A, -3, 11 PIM
AHL Role: 2nd/3rd line winger

Archibald injured his shoulder in the last team practice before the WBS Penguins season opener and missed the early part of the season, but has come in and seen regular ice time since returning to the lineup. Archibald brings even more speed to an already quick team and head coach John Hynes said they've established his identity of being a competitive, smart and quick player and its up to him to play to his identity at the pro-level if he wants to have success.

Adam Payerl - Grade C

2014-15 Season Stats: 22GP, 1G-4A, +2, 41 PIM
AHL Role: Bottom-6 checking forward

Payerl was having a rough season before an injury in a game last month has put him on the shelf for an extended period of time. Payerl is at his best when he's playing physical and being strong with the puck in the corners and along the boards. He needs to use his size and strength to his advantage and play to the strengths in his game more in general.

Bobby Farnham - Grade B+
2014-15 Season Stats: 25GP, 1G-3A, -1, 115 PIM
AHL Role: 4th line energy guy, agitator

Farnham's game has always revolved around getting under his opponents' skin. The difference between last year and this year is that instead of taking penalties and putting his team shorthanded, Farnham is drawing penalties and power plays for his team. Always a speedy and hard-working guy, Farnham's motor never stops and these  heart-and-soul type players are well liked in Wilkes-Barre.

Pierre-Luc Leblond - Grade C+
2014-15 Season Stats: 31GP, 0G-2A, -2, 129 PIM
AHL Role: 4th line checking forward, enforcer

Leblond has been a steady fourth liner for the AHL Penguins this season and is a calming force when things start to get chippy. He's not going to score a ton of goals, but his physical presence as well as veteran leadership in the locker room and on the bench doesn't go unnoticed.

**********The following players did not receive a grade because they did not appear in enough games for me to get a real sense of their value at the AHL level.**********

Sahir Gill
2014-15 Season Stats: 13GP, 1G-2A, +1, 0 PIM

Gill has come up from Wheeling in recent weeks and played well, especially in his first few games. When the organization gets healthy, the ECHL Nailers will get a guy who should be a difference-maker at that level.

Zack Torquato
2014-15 Season Stats: 12GP, 1G-1A, +1, 15 PIM

Much like Gill, Torquato came from Wheeling during the height of the injury plague in Pittsburgh. Torquato plays with a little more grit, but has already been returned to the Nailers.

Anton Zlobin
2014-15 Season Stats: 6GP, 0G-0A, -3, 0 PIM

After appearing to have taken the "next step" down the stretch and in the postseason last year, Zlobin had a slow start to the 2014-15 season before taking a hit from Norfolk's Nathan McIver on Halloween night and needing another shoulder surgery - his 2nd surgery on the same shoulder he had surgically repaired before the start of his rookie season. Zlobin is out for the season and will miss a lot of crucial development time.

Patrick McGrath
2014-15 Season Stats: 2GP, 0G-0A, -2, 12 PIM

The Shavertown, Pa. native signed his first AHL PTO and made his WBS Penguins debut in his hometown hockey arena. McGrath is much improved from last season and continues to work on his game outside of his role of agitation and hard-nosed physical play he displayed with the Wheeling Nailers last season.

Clark Seymour
2014-15 Season Stats: 5GP, 0G-1A, -2, 2 PIM

After joining the AHL Penguins at the tail end of each of the last two seasons, Seymour made his much-awaited AHL debut with the Pens earlier this season. As a third pairing stay-at-home guy, Seymour played well and did not look out of place at the AHL level.

Harrison Ruopp
2014-15 Season Stats: 1GP, 0G-0A, Even, 2 PIM

Injuries have prevented Ruopp from getting much of anything going this season, as he returned to the Nailers' lineup recently after missing more time. With incoming rookies like Boak and Seymour making an impression, Ruopp has a difficult road ahead of him being a defenseman in this organization.

Paul Cianfrini
2014-15 Season Stats: 3GP, 0G-0A, -3, 0 PIM

A PTO call-up when literally the entire AHL blue line was in the NHL. A stay-at-home guy who didn't stand out in his brief time with the team.

Eric Hartzell
2014-15 Season Stats: 2GP, 2-0-0, 2.92 GAA, .882 SV%, 0 SO

Hartzell has been bumped to the #5 goaltender in the organization now, behind Fleury, Greiss, Zatkoff and Murray. With Wheeling this season, Hartzell has an 8-7-0 record with a .912 save percentage and one shutout.


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