End of the Year Prospect Report - AHL Penguins (Part 1)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Scott Harrington spent his season traveling between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh in his 2nd season of pro hockey.
Now that the season is over for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, I've had some time to reflect on the season as a whole and have put together an "end of the year update" on all Pittsburgh Penguins prospects who played in the AHL during the 2014-15 season.

I have split this year's end of season prospect development report into two parts, with this Part One taking a look at the defensemen and goaltenders. Part Two, which will be posted online later this week, will take a look at the forward prospects.

For those readers who are fans of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, I will be doing the same kind of prospect reports on those Philadelphia Flyers prospects who competed in the AHL this season too.

After the jump, a look at the W-B/Scranton Penguins goaltenders & defensemen from the 2014-15 season.

Matt Murray (20 years old) - Grade A
Contract Status: NHL RFA in 2017-18

Regular Season AHL Stats: 40GP, 25-10-3, 1.58 GAA, .941 SV%, 12 SO
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 8GP, 4-4, 2.37 GAA, .923 SV%, 1 SO

No matter how you look at the numbers, Matt Murray had an incredible rookie season with the Pens' AHL affiliate - leading all AHL goaltenders in the regular season in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts - taking home several league-wide honors such as Rookie of the Year, Goaltender of the Year and being named to the AHL's All-Rookie and First Team All-Star teams in recognition of his achievements this season.

Murray hasn't completely come out of nowhere with his performance this season, joining the AHL Penguins at the tail end of the 2013-14 season after a 32-win season in the OHL with the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds - earning his first AHL start in the 2013-14 regular season finale and serving as the team's backup throughout the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs.

The biggest question surrounding Murray, his future development and what his potential ceiling is, rests upon how he responds to his breakout rookie season next fall. Is it possible he has set the bar too high for himself down the road? Could he be the future starting goaltender of the Pittsburgh Penguins? All in all, not a bad problem to have. Murray was lights out this season and despite the 4-4 record in the postseason was very sharp in net since the middle of the regular season.

Jeff Zatkoff (27 years old) - Grade B
Contract Status: NHL UFA in 2016-17

Regular Season AHL Stats:  37GP, 18-14-4, 2.45 GAA, .910 SV%, 3 SO
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 2GP, 0-0, 1.03 GAA, .958 SV%, 0 SO

Zatkoff is an interesting case. He's on a one-way NHL contract through the end of next season and was pegged to be Marc-Andre Fleury's backup again this season after backing him up in 2013-14 until the Pens signed Thomas Greiss in free agency over the summer.

Zatkoff didn't respond well initially, starting off the season allowing nine goals on 34 shots through the first two games of the season - seeming off his game. The 5th year pro picked it up from there, however, and put together a solid season serving as the veteran mentor to the rookie Murray, who took over duties as the team's starting goaltender midway through the season.

What's next for Zatkoff? With Greiss's contract expiring this summer it would appear that Zatkoff could be headed back to Pittsburgh to back up Fleury in 2015-16. Time will tell, but having Zatkoff as the #2 in Pittsburgh isn't much of a downgrade, if any, from what Griess did in a Penguins uniform this season.

Eric Hartzell (25 years old) - Grade C
Contract Status: NHL RFA

Regular Season ECHL Stats: 32GP, 17-14-1, 2.75 GAA, .914 SV%, 1 SO
Kelly Cup Playoffs Stats: 5GP, 2-2-1, 2.36 GAA, .924 SV%, 0 SO

Hartzell is a pending restricted free agent, and this summer will be an interesting one for the former Quinnipiac University standout who turns 26 on Thursday. The confidence in his game trailed off at the tail end of the 2013-14 season and Matt Murray came in from juniors and took the backup spot away from him during the 2014 postseason.

This season, Hartzell was an ECHL goaltender with average numbers. He did appear in two AHL games with the AHL Pens this season - one in late October and another in early November - but it was only because Jeff Zatkoff went down with an injury. In those two games, Hartzell went 2-0 despite allowing a combined six goals on 51 shots in those games.

With the emergence of Matt Murray and the addition of Tristan Jarry from the WHL, this could spell the end for Hartzell in the Penguins organization.

Tristan Jarry (20 years old) - Grade Incomplete
Contract Status: NHL RFA in 2018-19

Regular Season WHL Stats: 55GP, 23-26-3, 2.74 GAA, .907 SV%, 3 SO
WHL Postseason Stats: 5GP, 1-3-1, 2.88 GAA, .896 SV%, 0 SO

Jarry joined the AHL Penguins upon the completion of his season in the WHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings. His numbers from the Memorial Cup Championship team in 2013-14 dropped a bit in 2014-15, but his team as a whole saw several of his teammates graduate to the professional ranks this season.

Time will tell where Jarry will begin his pro career - as the 20-year-old didn't dress for any of the AHL Pens' final regular season games or in the postseason. It's certainly possible that a duo of Matt Murray and Jarry will begin as a tandem for the AHL Penguins this season, but it seems more likely that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will look to employ a veteran backup on an AHL-only contract to allow Jarry to get quality playing time in the ECHL rather than sit behind Murray in 2015-16.


Harrison Ruopp (22 years old) - Grade C
Contract Status: NHL RFA in 2016-17

Regular Season ECHL Stats: 30GP, 0G-1A, +1, 58 PIM
Kelly Cup Playoffs Stats: 4GP, 0G-0A, -2, 2 PIM

Injuries have plagued Ruopp in his professional hockey career through his first two seasons and with one year remaining on his entry-level deal, 2015-16 is a big year for him in terms of both his development as a blue liner and leaving a final impression before his first stint as a restricted free agent.

The physical, in-your-face defender is tough as nails when healthy and not someone opposing forwards look forward to going into the corners and dirty areas of the ice against. His play in the defensive zone is improving, but Ruopp has yet to contribute offensively - no goals in his pro career to date (28 AHL games and 49 ECHL games) with a total of four assists at the ECHL level. Offensive output certainly isn't something to expect from Ruopp, but to stick in the AHL in 2015-16 his play with the puck needs to improve.

Reid McNeill (23 years old) - Grade B
Contract Status: NHL RFA

Regular Season AHL Stats: 54GP, 2G-5A, +6, 121 PIM
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 8GP, 0G-1A, Even, 11 PIM

In his second full season of pro hockey at the AHL level, McNeill has fit the mold of a physical stay-at-home defender capable of logging big minutes in the defensive zone as well as on the penalty kill - often matched against the opposing team's top offensive players.

There's no questioning whether or not McNeill can hold up physically at the pro-level. He trains in the off-season under the direction of health/training extraordinaire Gary Roberts and it has shown in his fitness testing each summer at the Penguins' annual development camps where he is among the highest scorers in each of the fitness categories.

McNeill looks to be a staple of the AHL Penguins blue line in 2015-16 and is a guy who can compliment a more offensively-minded blue liner (McNeill was often paired with Derrick Pouliot while Pouliot was in the AHL).

Taylor Chorney (28 years old) - Grade B+
Contract Status: NHL UFA

Regular Season AHL Stats: 62GP, 4G-15A, +26, 42 PIM
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 6GP, 1G-1A, -4, 6 PIM

Chorney served as the AHL Penguins' veteran presence on the blue line - now with 7 years of pro hockey experience under his belt. A top pairing defenseman while in the AHL, Chorney teamed up with Brian Dumoulin to form arguably the best tandem on the blue line in the entire AHL in the 2014-15 season. Chorney's plus 26 rating was tied for third best among defensemen.

The pairing also performed pretty well as the third pairing with the NHL club in the postseason, leaving Chorney as a viable option to be a 7th defenseman at the NHL-level should the Penguins re-sign the pending unrestricted free agent. At the very least, Chorney would be a good option as a top-pairing AHL veteran to mentor the blue line prospects and fill in at the NHL level should injuries arise mid-season as they normally do.

Scott Harrington (22 years old) - Grade B
Contract Status: NHL RFA in 2016-17

Regular Season AHL Stats: 48GP, 2G-10A, +19, 20 PIM
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 8GP, 0G-1A, +2, 0 PIM

In his second season of pro hockey, Harrington got his first taste of NHL action - going pointless in 10 NHL games with a minus 10 rating. While in the AHL this season, Harrington was as reliable as they come - posting a plus 19 rating in 48 games in addition to 12 points (2G-10A). Classic case of a player too good for the AHL but not quite ready for the NHL?

It was a season well-traveled for Harrington in 2014-15, where he was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 10 times to join the NHL club. Harrington is a formidable two-way defender at the AHL level, who combines smart plays in his own zone with the ability to move the puck and skate up ice to join the attack as well.

Depending on what the NHL club does to revamp its defense for 2015-16, a guy like Harrington could compete for an NHL job out of camp in the fall. He's comparable to a guy like Mark Eaton in that he plays well in his own zone and often goes unnoticed on the ice - which is not necessarily a bad thing for a defenseman. His offensive game isn't quite where it needs to be to make himself stand out among the likes of a Brian Dumoulin or Derrick Pouliot, but he currently projects to be a solid defender that can eat up minutes on a third pairing in the NHL.
Alex Boak (25 years old) - Grade B-
Contract Status: AHL UFA

Regular Season AHL Stats: 31 GP, 1G-5A, +5, 80 PIM
Postseason Stats: None

Boak joined the Wheeling Nailers at the tail end of the 2013-14 season after his tenure at Clarkson University came to an end, making his pro debut in the ECHL and appearing in 8 games. This season, his first full season of pro hockey, Boak split his time between the ECHL and AHL where he made his presence as mainly a depth defenseman at the AHL level, getting in 31 games and getting some experience. Boak also appeared in 14 ECHL games, recording a goal and an assist along with a plus three rating.

If re-signed, Boak should be an AHL mainstay in 2015-16 as he continues to adjust to the speed and skill level of the pro game from his time playing in the college ranks. He's a physical defender who isn't afraid to drop the gloves, but if he improves his play with the puck Boak could turn out to be a solid two-way player for the AHL Penguins next fall.

Brian Dumoulin (23 years old) - Grade A-
Contract Status: NHL RFA

Regular Season AHL Stats: 62GP, 4G-29A, +25, 18 PIM
Calder Cup Playoff Stats: 6GP, 0G-3A, -4, 0 PIM

Dumoulin is at an interesting point in his professional hockey career. After his third season of pro hockey, he has little left to learn at the AHL level - a plus 25 rating had him in the top five among AHL defensemen in 2014-15. Paired with Taylor Chorney, the duo performed well in the AHL this past season and didn't look out of place in the NHL Pens' first round series against the New York Rangers either.

Dumoulin is a big, rangy two-way defenseman who quarterbacked the AHL Penguins power play and also logged big minutes on the penalty kill - playing in all situations and being a go-to guy for WBS head coach John Hynes while Dumoulin was in the AHL.

As a restricted free agent, the Penguins will only need to submit a qualifying offer with a 5% raise of his $890,000 NHL salary from last season to retain his rights. In today's salary cap era, a promising defenseman that can be signed for under $1 million is a no-brainer. The question will be whether or not to invest in Dumoulin by re-negotiating a contract or giving him a 1-year deal and hoping he isn't given an offer sheet from another NHL team - forcing the Penguins to match another team's offer or lose Dumoulin for draft pick compensation.

Nick D'Agostino (24 years old) - Grade C+
Contract Status: NHL RFA

Regular Season AHL Stats: 50GP, 0G-10A, +8, 10 PIM
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 2GP, 0G-0A, +1, 0 PIM

Though hard to tell from his numbers, D'Agostino has improved as a player at the pro level from his rookie season a year ago to his sophomore campaign this past season. As an offensive defenseman coming out of college, it was expected that his deficiencies would come in his own zone and in his rookie season he looked lost at times when the puck wasn't on his stick.

In 2014-15, D'Agostino appeared more confident on the ice - though with the logjam of blue line prospects in the organization it seemed he wasn't given as much of an opportunity to show his stuff. There were a few times D'Agostino was sent to Wheeling to get some playing time, evidenced by four points (1G-3A) in five ECHL games this past season.

As a restricted free agent, it won't be hard to retain the former Cornell University product as there won't be teams looking to poach him to an offer sheet. The real question is whether the new Penguins management, who didn't draft D'Agostino, is willing to give him another year to develop his game and prove his worth.

Clark Seymour (22 years old) - Grade C+
Contract Status: AHL UFA

Regular Season ECHL Stats: 54GP, 1G-14A, +7, 72 PIM
Kelly Cup Playoffs Stats: 2GP, 0G-0A, +4, 0 PIM

Seymour was relegated to mainly ECHL duties in his first professional hockey season, but the 6-4 205 pound defender formerly from the OHL's Peterborough Petes didn't look out of place in his 12 AHL games with the Penguins this past season either.

The big, physical defender plays a defense-first game and makes simple plays when the puck is on his stick. If Seymour can continue to mold himself into that role at the pro level, he could be a very similar player to that of a Reid McNeill in the future.

Barry Goers (28 years old) - Grade B-
Contract Status: AHL UFA

Regular Season AHL Stats: 51GP, 2G-7A, +3, 25 PIM
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 8GP, 0G-2A, +1, 2 PIM

Goers is another AHL-only contract defenseman the AHL Penguins employed last season. In his second year with the organization, the undersized blue liner continued to be a puck moving defenseman and play a regular shift in a third pairing role with occasional special teams play, mainly on the man advantage.

Goers was paired with Scott Harrington in the postseason and the duo was certainly exposed in the AHL Penguins 2nd round series against Manchester in which they were eliminated in five games.

All in all, Goers isn't a bad option for AHL depth and can be that 6th/7th defenseman at the AHL level. He's a guy capable of adding an offensive element from the back end and while he hasn't played in any NHL games, still brings experience to the younger players.

Derrick Pouliot (21 years old) - Grade A 
Contract Status: RFA in 2017-18

Regular Season AHL Stats: 31GP, 7G-17A, +2, 20 PIM
Calder Cup Playoffs Stats: 6GP, 1G-2A, -1, 2 PIM

AHL Penguins fans have almost certainly seen the last of Pouliot in a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton uniform. While his play in the defensive zone still needs work, his skating ability and vision with the puck on his stick combined with his ability to make plays offensively makes him an intriguing NHL option for Pittsburgh next fall.

In 31 AHL regular season games, it was evident that Pouliot's offensive abilities were too much to handle for his opponents. An effective player on the power play, Pouliot's offensive ceiling might not have been reached at the pro level after his rookie season. If he can sure up things in his own end and continue to improve defensively, Pouliot has a very bright future ahead of himself in the NHL.


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