AHL Veterans Carrying the Load in Wilkes-Barre
At the conclusion of the 2011-2012 AHL season, the Penguins’ top 5 scorers were Ben Street, Bryan Lerg, Colin McDonald, Geoff Walker, and Jason Williams. All five of those players left for greener pastures in free agency this past summer. Losing your top five forwards is crippling to any organization, and the Penguins knew they had to rebuild their farm team.
Ray Shero and Jason Botterill addressed those concerns by signing AHL veterans Benn Ferriero, Philippe Dupuis, Trevor Smith, Riley Holzapfel, and Warren Peters. From an NHL-only perspective, early July was a disappointment for the Penguins organization. But in Wilkes-Barre, this hodgepodge group of veterans would take over the team dynamics.
Riley Holzapfel is second on the team with 16 points, while Smith and Ferriero are tied for 3rd with 13 points. Phil Dupuis (as he prefers to be called) has established himself as a versatile and responsible forward that winning teams have to have. Warren Peters is dominant in the faceoff dot and his hard-hitting style has already endeared himself to Penguins fans. There’s no official captain in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (the role having been vacated by Ryan Craig), but if there were, it would probably be Warren Peters.
It takes more than scoring to win hockey games though, and management bolstered a talented defense corp with the signing of Dylan Reese, the Pittsburgh native and reliable two-way defenseman. His +4 rating is tied for second on the team. As an effect of the NHL lockout, NHL-ready defensemen Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo are also patrolling the blueline and dominating opponents.
Behind the defense corps, Brad Thiessen was expected to start the season and be the #1 goaltender he has been the past few years. That plan has since been scrapped by newcomer Jeff Zatkoff. Zatkoff has taken the starting position by the horns and put up excellent numbers.
After a shaky start to the season, the Baby Penguins have roared back into contention and sit two points out of first place in their division. The strong rebound performance has everything to do with these veteran players getting used to each other and learning how to work together.