Plenty of Options For Penguins At Forward

Friday, July 24, 2015
Has Conor Sheary proven he's ready for the NHL?
The Pittsburgh Penguins have plenty of depth at the forward position, and that was before they signed 2015-5th round pick Dominik Simon to an entry-level contract and re-signed Beau Bennett to a one-year deal. The addition of Bennett, as well as Sergei Plotnikov back on July 1st, gives the Penguins 10 forwards at the NHL level with three open spots up for grabs heading into training camp this fall.

There are plenty of guys that will be fighting for an NHL spot come September and competition is always a good thing, but who will make the cut and start the year on Pittsburgh's opening night roster?

After the jump, a look at the in-house options the Penguins have up front to fill out their fourth line.

Conor Sheary

Sheary was on an AHL contract last season and after joining the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the tail end of the 2013-14 season, continued to make an impact in his first full season of pro hockey following a four-year college career at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Sheary not only led the AHL Penguins in scoring in the regular season with 45 points (20G-25A) in 58 games, but he also led the team in playoff scoring as well with 12 points (5G-7A) in eight postseason games - nearly twice as many as any other player on the team (Andrew Ebbett was 2nd in playoff scoring with seven points).

Case For: If the Penguins truly want four lines that can score, Sheary could be a welcomed addition to Pittsburgh's 4th line wing. He brings speed and skill and despite being undersized (5-9, 175) Sheary is willing to battle for loose pucks and didn't let his smaller stature prevent him from being a competitor, at least at the AHL level.

Case Against: The obvious. How would Sheary handle bigger, stronger and more fierce competition in the NHL at his size in a bottom-six role? There have been comparisons drawn to Tampa Bay's Tyler Johnson, but Sheary most likely won't be playing alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin if he plays in Pittsburgh. At 23 years old, Sheary has just 83 games of pro experience - all in the AHL. There's obviously a learning curve, but is it wise for Sheary to be in Pittsburgh playing 6-8 minutes a night or playing twice as much and in a variety of roles as a top AHL player?

Oskar Sundqvist

The Penguins opted to have Sundqvist continue to play professional hockey in Sweden last season despite 2014-15 counting as the first year of his entry-level contract. In his second full season with Skelleftea, Sundqvist took on a bigger role than the previous season and despite appearing in 10 less games recorded more points (9G-10A in 2014-15) and had an improved plus/minus rating (from +6 in 2013-14 to a +15 this past season).

Case For: Sundqvist has NHL size (listed at 6-3, 209 on the Pens' development camp roster) and gets around well for a guy of his size. While he projects more as a two-way forward who plays well defensively and on the penalty kill, Sundqvist also has a good shot and isn't inept with the puck on his stick - something that could go a long way with the Pens' perceived plan of wanting four lines that can score.

Case Against: I personally didn't get to see much of Sundqvist last season, as he was injured in his AHL playoff debut in Manchester. The obvious questions are about his ability to adapt to the smaller rink in North America. There's also concerns about his durability, although he came to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after a long playoff run with Skelleftea in Sweden last spring. Is he truly ready to jump straight to the NHL, or would some time in the AHL do wonders for his development?

Bobby Farnham

Without a doubt the most controversial option for the Penguins as far as fan perception goes. It seems to be you're either on one side of the fence or the other. Some say he's the perfect option for the Pens' 4th line. Those against it say Farnham's skill set doesn't belong on the NHL roster.

Case For: Love him or hate him, there are things nobody can deny about Farnham. His speed and tenacity on the ice make him extremely annoying to play against. He's a fierce competitor - a heart-and-soul type of player that is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team. While the start of his stint with the AHL Penguins in 2012-13 saw his aggression cost him and his team with several unnecessary trips to the penalty box, the 2014-15 Bobby Farnham had the skill of drawing his team power plays down to a science.

Case Against: Can a guy who plays the style that Farnham does make it through an entire season at the NHL level maintaining that energy and tenacity? Do the Penguins want to get away from having grit and toughness on the 4th line? Can Farnham keep his cool in the NHL and help his team rather than take more penalties than he draws? There's no doubting his level of intensity and work effort, but is it something that Pittsburgh wants in their arsenal up front?

Scott Wilson

Of the rookie forwards in the AHL last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, I thought Wilson's game best-translated to the next level. If not for an injury in his NHL debut, it's likely Wilson would have appeared in many more NHL contests last season. His two-way game and hockey smarts had him a notch ahead of his peers/teammates last year, a season which saw him tally 41 points (19G-22A) in 55 regular season games.

Case For: His two-way style of play fits well for the Penguins' bottom-six opening and also allows them an option that can play in all three zones - including providing a secondary scoring touch. In the salary cap era, Wilson is another relatively inexpensive option who carries a cap hit of $655,000 at the NHL level this season. Durability and size might be a concern, but it appears Wilson has added to his frame over the off season - now up to 6-0 and 183 pounds per the Penguins Development Camp roster.

Case Against: Hi=Wilson only has one NHL game of experience due to an injury in his debut, and might be better served seeing regular ice time in a top-six role with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. While it's only hockey in July, Wilson was not a participant in last Saturday's camp-concluding scrimmage at Development Camp.  Like several other 2nd year pro forwards in the system, Wilson is waiver exempt and can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.

Bryan Rust

Rust is putting his name in contention for a spot with Pittsburgh with his play during his rookie season last year, primarily in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins - 27 points (13G-14A) in 45 games. Rust appeared in 14 games with Pittsburgh in 2014-15 and is looking to play in more NHL games this upcoming season.

Case For: Rust loves to shoot the puck and is very noticeable on the ice. His skating ability and the way he powers himself to the net is also good for a player of his stature (5-11, 192 pounds). Rust really turned things on towards the end of the season before an injury limited him to just three AHL playoff games last spring, though he tallied a goal in each of his first two games against Manchester in the 2015 Playoffs.

Case Against: For a guy who is looking to slot in on an NHL 4th line, Rust isn't overly physical and doesn't play much bigger than the size he's listed at. He's played four years of college hockey at Notre Dame, but only has a year of professional hockey under his belt heading into training camp this fall.

Dominik Uher 

Uher is coming into summer camps off his best season yet as a pro - 26 points (13G-13A) in 72 games in primarily a bottom six role in the AHL last season. Uher was retained to a one-year deal an has another chance to make Pittsburgh's roster this fall in training camp.

Case For: Of the bubble forwards looking to make the jump to the NHL, Uher looks to be the best fit on an NHL 4th line. His tenacity and physical play, as well as routine penalty killing shifts are exactly what Pittsburgh is looking for from players on it's 4th line. While his style of play is more defensive, he can compliment skilled players with his willingness to create space and enter the dirty area of the ice.

Case Against: If the Penguins want to add toughness on the 4th line, perhaps they'd want a more veteran-type player with NHL experience on a similar one-year deal to fill out the roster. It's also possible Uher and Farnham could be battling for the tenacious spot on the 4th line while the other offensively-minded forwards will be competing for another spot on the line.

Kevin Porter/Kael Mouillerat

If the Penguins want someone with experience, a guy like Kevin Porter or Kael Mouillerat provides the Pens with exactly that. Porter is one year removed from his last season of NHL action, having spent all 76 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, but brings 206 games of NHL experience to the table. Mouillerat will be entering his 6th season of professional hockey and the 6-game stint with the New York Islanders last season should have the 27-year-old hungry for another taste of NHL action this upcoming season.

Regardless of who makes the NHL club, the depth at the forward position gives the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins plenty of options for their AHL roster. If Pittsburgh doesn't sign anymore forwards, then three spots up front are up for grabs in the NHL. Even without three of the names in this next list (which would drop the AHL depth chart to 17 forwards), the AHL Penguins forward core looks to be mighty deep entering training camp this fall.

Penguins Depth Forwards Signed Through 2015-16

Josh Archibald, Tyler Biggs, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Bobby Farnham, Tom Kostopoulos (AHL), Adam Krause (AHL), Tom Kuhnhackl, Ty Loney (AHL), Matia Marcantuoni, Patrick McGrath (AHL), Kael Mouillerat, Kevin Porter, Carter Rowney (AHL), Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Dominik Simon, Oskar Sundqvist, Dominik Uher, Scott Wilson and Anton Zlobin


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