Penguins Looking For Varied Scoring Production
As much of a big play threat as Daniel Sprong was for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, making up for the 32 goals he scored doesn’t seem like an incredibly difficult task.
The problem is the Penguins lost much more than Sprong and his cannon of a slap shot.
Three of the team’s top five scorers — Sprong, Jean-Sebastien Dea and Christian Thomas — are gone. Throw in Gage Quinney and Tom Kostopoulos, and the number of goals to replace balloons to 87. That doesn’t even account for lost production from the blue line.
With a number that big, the Penguins will need to rely on multiple players becoming an instant scoring threat as rookies or increasing their output from last season in order to reach the playoffs a 17th consecutive year.
“Overall, it won’t be one guy,” head coach Clark Donatelli said. “It’s going to be, collectively, a bunch of people that are going to be doing it. ... As a group and as a team, playing really good, solid defense creates offense, and I think there’s going to be some jump on some of our guys (to produce more).”
The biggest X-factor might be Teddy Blueger.
The 24-year-old, now the longest-tenured player in terms of games played, was already the team’s best two-way player and somehow looks even better. His wrist shot has been nearly unbeatable in practice, and he scored on one Saturday against Hershey. He could easily build on his 21 tallies from a year ago.
But much like Zach Aston-Reese, he seems destined for Pittsburgh. How long he stays will go a long way toward determining Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s ultimate fortune.
If the preseason is any indication, also keep an eye on Ryan Haggerty and Adam Johnson.
Haggerty is entering his third season with the team after recording career highs in goals (16) and points (37). He carried that momentum into the fall and had a standout camp with Pittsburgh, parlaying his AHL contract into an NHL deal.
Other than Sprong, his shot has been, by far, the most lauded of any recent Penguin. The other elements of his game have all started to come together.
“Starting last November, going until my injury and then coming into camp ready to go, I really had one thing on my mind: to prove that I can help Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh as an organization win another Cup,” Haggerty said. “It’s (all a result of) the past year. Work and continue to prove myself and just show up and trust the organization and trust myself.”
Johnson, meanwhile, struggled to adjust to the pro game out of college and managed only 11 goals in 70 games.
So this summer, he built more muscle mass and continued to work on his shot, making his release quicker. Ideally, Donatelli would like the 24-year-old to play all three forward positions to further utilize his versatility.
“It was a really big up and down year for me,” Johnson said. “Obviously didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I think physically and mentally I kind of know what to expect now.
“I hope to keep improving on (my strength and shot) and try not to lose the speed, because that’s an important part of my game.”
One other crucial element that should work in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s favor is its power play can only get better after finishing 29th in the league. With Garrett Wilson and Jimmy Hayes setting screens at the net front, plus defensemen like Will O’Neill and Stefan Elliott moving the puck, the team should get plenty of scoring chances.
The result, hopefully, is a balanced lineup that may not feature any league leaders, but will be extremely hard to defend against.
“I think, collectively, as a group with our forwards - we have Haggerty back healthy - every guy can up their production, and that will take care of the 32 (goals from Sprong),” Donatelli said. “Plus (Anthony) Angelo and (Sam) Lafferty, Dips (Thomas Di Pauli) is going to do well. I’m not worried about the scoring.
“I just think it’s a good opportunity for our younger guys, and some of our older guys and some of our guys that have been here two years, just to up their game and up their goal production. I think we’re going to be fine.”
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