O'Neill Brings Much Needed Offense to Pens' Blue Line Core

Monday, July 6, 2015
Will O'Neill was a fan-favorite in St. John's. Photo credit: Colin Peddle.
Several new faces will be in Wilkes-Barre when the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins take to the ice for the 2015-16 season, particularly on the blue line - a position that was well-known as a place of depth in the organization in recent years.

Heading into the start of free agency on July 1st, the AHL Penguins defensive depth was much in question. Gone are Taylor Chorney (Washington Capitals) and Scott Harrington (traded to Toronto in Phil Kessel trade). Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot have perhaps played their final games with the WBS Penguins and will be looking to make the NHL club in Pittsburgh out of training camp this fall.

The Penguins wasted no time, adding several depth defensemen on July 1st to replace those who won't be with the organization this upcoming season. They added some offense with the addition of former Providence Bruins defenseman David Warsofsky and some physical play with the addition of Steve Oleksey. Perhaps the most intriguing addition on defense came on day two of free agency.

The Penguins signed 27-year-old defenseman Will O'Neill, formerly of the AHL's St. John's IceCaps, to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday in a continued attempt to shore up the depth on the back end.

Charles Dart, IceCaps reporter for RogersTV, was kind enough to provide some insights as to the kind of player and person the Penguins added:

The 27 year-old brings three seasons worth of experience and leadership to the Penguins lineup. Off the ice, O’Neill is every bit a leader as he was as a leader and assistant captain on the ice. O’Neill partook in every IceCaps community appearance this season, including visits to schools and IceCaps-lead hockey programs. In recognition he was named the 2014-2015 IceCaps Top Defenceman of the Year, Statoil Community Man of the Year, and IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year.

O’Neill ranked fifth among defencemen league-wide with 48 points (10G, 38A) in 72 games with IceCaps this season, surpassing his previous season-high goal, assist, and point totals. He is a very offensive-minded defenceman, who in the 2014 Calder Cup playoff run, led all AHL defencemen with sixteen points, including 13 assists that led all AHL skaters.

He is skilled defenceman who is quick on his feet and does not hesitate to jump up during a rush. O’Neill uses precision passing and wrist shots effectively in all game situations. Eight of his ten goals this season came on the powerplay.

One thing O’Neill will need to work on in order to crack the Pittsburgh lineup will be to reduce his number of turnover situations.

[Interview with Chris Ballard on the IceCaps website:]

“I want to get that chance at the next level and take advantage of it,” he said.

“I obviously like to play against good players and with good players and I know I can get those good players the puck and make plays. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before I get my chance.”

[From mid-period interview Dart had conducted on Rogers TV]

“I can’t even say how much I’ve grown you know as a player, as a person. I’ve really matured and come in to my own through the help of the coaching staff and everything and the players.”

And grown he has. O’Neill came to St. John’s at the end of the IceCaps inaugural season (2011-2012) after finishing up his final year of collegiate hockey at the University of Maine with the Black Bears. He arrived in St. John’s and came under the wing of veteran defenceman such as Mark Flood, Travis Ramsey, Derek Meech, and Dean Arsene. He has steadily improved over the past three seasons with his rigorous work ethic and has become one of the top AHL defencemen who is ready for a shot at the top tier.
One thing is for sure. The AHL Penguins blue line has certainly reloaded for the 2015-16 season.

Here's a look at the defensemen signed through next season:

Pittsburgh (5): Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy

On The Bubble (3): Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin (RFA) and Tim Erixon

W-B/Scranton (7): Niclas Andersen, Will O'Neill, David Warsofsky, Steve Oleksey, Reid McNeill, Barry Goers (AHL) and Harrison Ruopp


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