The Baby Penguins, as is expected with young teams, have been very inconsistent all season. For every good game they have had a bad one – for every winning streak there is a losing streak. They need to find their identity and to fix their defensive issues if they have any hope of making the playoffs.

First Half Individual Awards
Top Scorer
Zach says: Dustin Jeffrey – He has regained the form he showed in his final season in Juniors and has become a dynamic player in all three zones of the ice. 13 goals, 9 even strength, 3 shorthanded, and 1 power play goal. Honorable Mention: Letestu, Caputi, Bayda (when healthy).

Eric says: Dustin Jeffrey – After his role increased from third line checker to a first line playmaker, he flourished along with line mates Mark Letestu and Nick Johnson. Penguins management also decided it would be a good decision to move him to left wing from his natural center position and it has worked out for the best. He seems to have found a new scoring touch as well already surpassed his total goals output from his rookie season. He is undoubtedly Wilkes-Barre’s top scorer this season.

Top Defensive Scorer
Zach says: Chris Lee – He’s the default answer due to his 20 points in 41 games but if Lovejoy had been healthy all season and wouldn’t have been recalled to Pittsburgh he would be here instead. Honorable Mention: Lovejoy.

Eric says: Chris Lee – Lee has been the Baby Pens’ biggest offensive threat from the blue line. Good power play quarterback and leading the team in points among defenders. When Lee’s on top of his game it reflects positively onto the rest of the team.

Team MVP
Zach says: Dustin Jeffrey – He’s been their best player all season and is plays on the top line, penalty kill, and power play. He does everything for them. Honorable Mention: Letestu, Caputi.

Eric says: Dustin Jeffrey – Integral part of the team on both sides of the puck, night in and night out. Used in all situations – Even strength, power play, and penalty kill.

Rookie of the Year
Zach says: Brian Strait – After a rough training camp, Strait landed in WBS and has been a great defensive player for the Penguins. He has also chipped in some offense this season as well. Honorable Mention: Vitale, Tangradi, Bortuzzo.

Eric says: Eric ‘Big Dog’ Tangradi – He has been the most impressive rookie this year. With the most NHL potential out of all our current prospect pool, Tangradi has found good chemistry with rookie center Joe Vitale. Although he has been playing primarily on the third line, he still gets ample playing time and time on the second PP unit as well. He has shown glimpses of his offensive prowess, but still needs time to develop in the AHL before making the big jump. He also leads the team in GWG with 4.

Best Defensive Defensemen
Zach says: Nate Guenin – He has been the shot blocker and defensive stalwart for the Penguins this season but his play has slowed down lately, along with the rest of the defense. He is my choice at midseason but Strait could catch him if his play does not improve. Honorable Mention: Strait, Lovejoy.

Eric says: Brian Strait – Strait has been by far the strongest player defensively and positionally for the Baby Pens. Usually paired alongside Nate Guenin, Strait has shut down the opposition effectively with effective pokechecks and strong play in his own zone. Leads all defenseman with a +9 rating.

Best Defensive Forward
Zach says: Joe Vitale – Vitale has been the teams top penalty killer and his willingness to block shots, throw the (admittedly small) body and do anything in his power to clear the puck is a welcome addition to the Penguins. He backchecks harder than any player on the team and is never caught out of position. Skates extremely well and uses that footspeed to skate the puck out of danger as well. Honorable Mention: Jeffrey, Smith.

Eric says: Joe Vitale – Good at taking away angles and blocking shots on the PK. Above average in the faceoff circle and loves to steal the puck and rush up ice with his quick foot speed.

Rookie Forward
Zach says: Joe Vitale – Tangradi has been good after a slow start but Vitale has more points while playing a reduced role. He has developed some chemistry with Tangradi and his speed and checking line skills have been extremely valuable to the young Penguins. Honorable Mention: Tangradi, Sill.

Eric says: Eric Tangradi – See above in Rookie of the Year.

Rookie Defensemen
Zach says: Brian Strait – Strait and Bortuzzo have both exceeded expectations this season. They have slowed down lately, as the whole team defense has, but they have been very solid in their own end. Strait gets the nod for playing more PK time and generally is getting more attention from WBS writers and coaches. Strait has already played more games this season than he did all of last season in college. Honorable Mention: Bortuzzo, Caffaro.

Eric says: Brian Strait – See Best Defensive Defensemen but Bortuzzo is a close second: Robert Bortuzzo has moved up the depth chart after a strong camp, and has shown new strides in the physical department and a willingness to fight anyone that no one knew he had.

Best forechecker
Zach says: Tim Wallace – The energy level for the Penguins has been sporadic this year but Wallace is a guy that brings it every night. He has even scored the fourth most goals on the team, more than super prospect Eric Tangradi. Honorable Mention: Tangradi, Sill, Spurgeon, Vitale.

Eric says: Joe Vitale – Close decision between Vitale and Tim Wallace.

Best Tough guy
Zach says: Wade Brookbank – WBS roster includes several tough guys inlcuding Boulerice and Boogaard along with middleweights like Tangradi, Bortuzzo, Engelland, Wallace, and scrappy guys like Caputi, Vitale, Smith, Caffaro, and Lovejoy. Brookbank stands out because he has been the physical leader for the Penguins and has stepped up for his teammates when they have been targeted by the many goons of the AHL. Plus, he’s been the healthiest of the heavyweights. Honorable Mention: Boulerice, Boogaard, Engelland.

Eric says: Deryk Engelland – Engelland has been the most effective tough guy for the Pens from the back side, and his strong defensive play earned him a call-up to the NHL earlier in the year. He is 4-0-1 in his fights unofficially, and most of his scraps ensue due to him sticking up for a teammate. If you’re looking for a call-up for a Godard injury, you’ll want Wade Brookbank. He can take a regular shift on the fourth line anyday. He has an impressive 6-0-4 record, which would rank him in the top 5 in the league.

Hardest Shot
Zach says: Dustin Jeffrey – There are not too many Penguins with big shots so I chose the one that has scored the most goals. The Penguins score most of their goals through hard work – not big shots. Honorable Mention: Tangradi, Lovejoy, Pushkarev, Veilleux.

Eric says: Konstantin Pushkarev – He has the hardest wrist shot on the team, but has been unable to stay in the line-up consistently.

Best Stickhandler
Zach says: Nick Johnson – Johnson’s hands are something to behold when he is hot and feeling confident. He has a ton of one-on-one moves that often times leaves AHL defenders perplexed. He’s great at using his hands when coming in alone on a goaltender as well. Honorable Mention: Caputi, Letestu.

Eric says: Nick Johnson – This dangler can stickhandle as well as anyone in the system and has had a very strong season to boot. After returning from an early season injury he has been on fire, producing points on a nightly basis.

Smartest player
Zach says: Mark Letestu – Letestu is similar to Sidney Crosby in that he always knows exactly where his linemates are going to be and how best to get them the puck. He is always aware of the situation and sees the play unfold a few steps before everyone else on the ice. Honorable Mention: Vitale, Engelland, Lovejoy.

Eric says: Mark Letestu – He definitely has the most poise and patience on the team and will not force any dumb passes or try low percentage moves to get around a defender. He is reliable as they come with the biscuit on his stick.

Best Playmaker
Zach says: Mark Letestu – Jeffrey has more assists but Letestu is a pure playmaker that can make passes others wouldn’t even attempt. The dynamic line of Jeffrey, Letestu, and Johnson is one of the better lines in the AHL and Letestu’s feeds are what have allowed Jeffrey and Johnson to be so successful this year. Letestu was hurt for part of the year and the team’s offense has been much more dynamic since his return to the lineup. Honorable Mention: Jeffrey, Connor.

Eric says: Dustin Jeffrey

Most Improved
Zach says: Dustin Jeffrey – He put up huge numbers in juniors and came to WBS and put up 37pts in 63 games. He has already surpassed all of his career highs from last season and is 10th in the AHL in scoring. Honorable Mention: Johnson, Caputi.

Eric says: Dustin Jeffrey

Hardest Hitter
Zach says: Zach Sill – This guy could make the NHL one day in a Craig Adams type role. He can play center or wing, can play pk and fourth line minutes and will fight anyone that messes with a teammate. A real heart and soul guy that all teams need. He also hits pretty hard too. Honorable Mention: Tangradi, Engelland, Wallace.

Eric says: Zach Sill – Last year in the QMJHL, he was voted the hardest hitter, best defensive forward, hardest worker and dirtiest player. He defines the term “finishing your check”. When he’s on the ice, you better keep your head up… or make a line change ;)

Biggest Disappointment
Zach says: John Curry – His numbers have dropped off significantly this year compared to previous years and his play will need to improve if he wants to prove he can be a backup in the NHL someday or for his team to qualify for the playoffs. Honorable Mention: Veilleux (injury), Bayda (injury), Grant (performance).

Eric says: Keven Veilleux – Big KV only played in 9 games at the start of the year, and I felt like he was about to break out. Unfortunately, he was injured on a hit up high in Hershey and will be out for the rest of the season. He had 3 pts (including one highlight reel goal) and 12 PIM (two complete beat downs he handed out).

Highlight of the First Half
Chris Conner scores one of the most ridiculous goals you will ever see at any level: