Penguins Camp Set To Open Today
Last week, the ice surface at Mohegan Sun Arena received a fresh coat of paint and a brand new logo at center ice.
That can only mean the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are ready to kick off the 20th season in franchise history.
But the road to what many hope will be the team’s first Calder Cup actually begins today, when the Penguins open up training camp with their first on-ice practice at the Toyota SportsPlex. Not surprisingly, expectations remain high for a team that has qualified for the playoffs a league-high 16 years in a row.
So, expect had coach Clark Donatelli and his staff to push each player to skate and perform at a high level.
With all that in mind, here are a few storylines to follow before the team’s season opener on Oct. 6:
Injuries and call-ups forced the Penguins to play seven goaltenders last season, a team record.
While that level of instability is unlikely to happen again, the team’s tandem in net is far from set.
With Matt Murray established as the starter in Pittsburgh, Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith are competing to be his backup. DeSmith is the logical choice for the spot, namely because he would need to clear waivers to be reassigned to the AHL.
But, don’t pencil the 23-year-old Jarry in as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton starter just yet. He made 41 saves in a preseason game on Wednesday to make Pittsburgh’s decision a little bit tougher.
Meanwhile, Anthony Peters and John Muse could have a battle of their own for the No. 2 spot with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Peters made the most of his tryout agreement last season and came out of nowhere to win 12 games when the team’s goaltending situation was most in flux. As a result, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rewarded him with an AHL contract.
The 27-year-old has to be considered the favorite, especially considering Wheeling doesn’t have his ECHL rights.
However, Muse signed an NHL contract this offseason and is a former 27-game winner in the AHL. He’ll certainly be in the conversation.
As Pittsburgh makes more cuts and proven AHL players begin to join the rotation, the team will need to make a decision on how to replace the leadership void created by Tom Kostopoulos’ retirement.
One option is a captaincy by committee, something a number of NHL teams have tried in recent years. With many players from last year’s team expected to be back, there will be a strong veteran presence throughout the lineup.
If the honor is to be granted to one individual, Garrett Wilson is probably the odds-on favorite. The 27-year-old served as an assistant captain last season and was referred to as the “heart and soul” of the team by Donatelli. He frequently used his physicality to stand up for teammates, as evidenced by his 139 penalty minutes.
Chris Summers would be another good choice. The 30-year-old defenseman was a very vocal presence around the dressing room last season.
In any case, one or more Penguins will have big skates to fill.
Deep on defense
The Penguins will look a lot different on the blue line this season with the departures of Jarred Tinordi, Andrey Pedan and Lukas Bengtsson, along with Frank Corrado’s current free agency. Furthermore, Kevin Czuczman will need at least two months to recover from offseason surgery.
Luckily, the Penguins have plenty of pieces to fill in the gaps.
Will O’Neill returned to the team this offseason after a lackluster stint in Lehigh Valley, and 2017-18 mainstays Zach Trotman and Summers are also back.
Stefan Elliott and Juuso Riikola were added by Pittsburgh in the offseason to further build depth — although, the latter has impressed at NHL camp. Ethan Prow has also proven more than capable of being a full-time AHL player. Looking even further, players like Jeff Taylor and Kevin Spinozzi will be clawing for a regular spot as well.
It will be interesting to see how all the pairings shake out by the first game.
Earn your spot
One of the best stories to come out of training camp last season was Spinozzi.
As an invitee, the 22-year-old survived every round of cuts to earn a tryout contract and be part of the opening day roster. By the middle of the season, he had earned an AHL contract to stick with the organization.
With too much depth never a bad a thing, perhaps one or more individuals can turn an invitation into an extended stay this year.
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