Lacing Up: Lesser known players carrying Wilkes-Barre
The late Ashley Gallant was the originator of “Lacing Up,” and its reincarnation is in her honor. Each week, Matt Bodenschatz, Zach Boslett, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF.
Zach Boslett: It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with Jason Iacona of Chirps from Center Ice about the state of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.
Everyone knows about the many injuries the Pittsburgh Penguins have faced – but those injuries in the NHL have a trickle down effect to the AHL. At one point Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was without their top 7 scorers.
Now the news has come down that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will be without leading scorer Dustin Jeffrey, All Star Eric Tangradi, and Nick Johnson for the remainder of the season. How has the team responded down their top players and can this team compete without Jeffrey, Tangradi, and Johnson?
Jason Iacona: Other guys like Brett Sterling, Keven Veilleux, Joe Vitale and Tim Wallace have to step it up. So far so good as we are still the division, conference and overall leader. The injuries and the unfortunate rule circumstance surrounding Johnson and Tangradi do make it tougher for Wilkes-Barre going forward, but I still like our chances against any team in a playoff series.
Zach: Can you talk a little about the lesser known guys forced into larger roles like Ben Street, Veilleux, Bryan Lerg, and Geoff Walker? What have their contributions meant and what kind of upside do you see in these guys?
Jason: I see Ben Street with the most upside. Here is an unknown kid called up from Wheeling, thrust into first line duties, and he responds The organization is extremely high on Veilleux, but honestly Zach most nights it doesn’t look like his head knows what his feet are doing and vice versa. Lerg has cooled off a bit and Walker can score and bang bodies with the best of them. Every one of them has stepped up in a big way.
Zach: I, as well as the organization, think that Veilleux has had such a rough past few years that he is really a 19 year old kid development wise – a 6’5” 220lb kid that has barely played hockey in 3 years. One questions has to be asked though – what pissed him off so much this year? He has 96pim this season. His previous career high is 54.
And I know Nick Petersen has been hurt since getting called up but he seems well liked by management – what are your thoughts on this kid? He seems to have responded well to starting the year in Wheeling has he not?
Jason On Veilleux, I think it’s part undisciplined play, part standing up for yourself on the ice. I think he’s good enough to play in the NHL, but due to the injuries he’s still proving himself at the AHL level. Sometimes he still makes mistakes that pure rookies make. He will also stand up to anybody and fight anyone. Sometimes it’s unwarranted and sometimes it’s justified.
On Petersen, he seems to be the yin to Ben Street’s yang so to speak. The two play off of other so well. Petersen reminds me a bit of a guy like Tim Wallace, someone who will go into a corner and fight a puck out one shift, then have everyone on their feet the next with the puck in the back of the opposing teams net the next. If others don’t watch out, Petersen could bypass other prospects next year. The sky is the limit for this kid at this point, that is what makes it so fun to watch him.
Zach: That’s really good to hear about Petersen. He was drafted as a overager and seemed to be an odd choice considering not much was really known or talked about with him.
Do you see any of these guys playing a big role next season for Wilkes-Barre? And how do you think the organization will handle over the next year or two having Bortuzzo-Strait, Sneep-Despres, Grant-Samuelsson, Velischek-D’Agostino, all AHL/NHL ready at the same time?
Jason Petersen certainly has “diamond in the rough” qualities.
As for big roles, this is going to be Street’s team someday. I truly see him being a big time player at this level. As far as those possible defense pairings you listed, if I can steal a quote from an overpaid NFL diva wide receiver, “Get your popcorn ready.” I personally can’t wait to see Simon Despres play here in Wilkes-Barre. I have a feeling he’s going to be like a Kris Letang in that he’s going to play maybe 20 games here in Wilkes next year then graduate to full time NHL duties. He was one of the last men standing at training camp this year wasn’t he? It’s all up to him.
If you add one, maybe two scoring wingers as free agents for next year, WBS could be in the discussion next year as favorites to win it all next year. Best part is it is all with home grown talent.
Zach: I have no doubt that Despres could play 12-15 minutes per night with the Penguins next season but I would rather have him skate 20 minutes per night with Wilkes-Barre in a pressure free environment then have to jump right into the NHL where he is not exactly needed.
An entire season of carrying the load in the AHL would be better for his long term development than skating on the third pairing in Pittsburgh but if he earns the promotion I certainly won’t be against it.
There are many players contributing to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins’ success this season but, similar to Pittsburgh, it all comes down to defense and goaltending for the AHL Penguins.