Taking in the session this morning, you get the sense the future has somewhat arrived for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Probably by both equal parts happenstance and design, a sizeable contingent of recent Penguins draft picks and signees will take the ice in the fall for their first seasons of pro hockey. This next wave is dominated by forwards all who spent the of last with season in the AHL with the Penguins and received in some game action as well: Josh Archibald (Rd 6 (174), 2011), Matia Marcantuoni (Rd 4 (92), 2012), Bryan Rust (Rd 3 (30), 2010) and Scott Wilson (Rd 7, (209), 1011). Defensemen Derrick Pouliot (Rd 1 (8), 2012) and Clark Seymour (Rd 5 (143), 2012) will also officially make the jump in a few months, along Murray between the pipes. This is even before mentioning free-agent signees like Conor Sheary, who was as dynamic as any other player not named Chuck Kobasew last spring, and Jean-Sebastien Dea.
This camp, more than others in the recent past, not only has a number of players who have spent recent seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Reid McNeill, Scott Harrington, Adam Payerl, Dominik Uher, etc), but also the large group ready to start their professional careers. Of the 36 players on the ice this week at Development Camp, 18 of them were on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's roster at some point last year. That's almost a full line-up right there. Veterans Tom Kosotopoulos, Andrew Ebbett and Nick Drazenovic are returning also, but because of the influx of talent this off-season for the Penguins organization, there were already relatively few holes to fill.
Penguins Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald echoed this sentiment, "One of the plans that really has changed from years past is you're not going out and finding July 1 free agents for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton that we believe can come up and play games. Every year, we were trying to put four or five, at times even six players there because of what we didn't have coming through as prospects... ...Now they're starting to come through."
These rookies may be just beginning their journeys as professionals, but because of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's recent extended playoff runs, they have become familiar with the organization and each other as well. As "Black Aces", the players have built bonds during the early morning practices, watching numerous games from the stands and van rides to playoff destinations. Rust, for one, thinks the camaraderie created off the ice will produce dividends during the upcoming season.
"We all got to know each other at the end of the year... ...We're all friends, but we're all battling each other too... ...We all got into games and saw the speed of the game. That's going to be really big for us moving forward, especially at the beginning of the year."
It wasn't just about time spent together for the players, but also time in the locker room and around the team. "I learned a lot up there just watching the pro guys," Marcatuoni said. "Especially TK [Tom Kostopoulos], an older guy who took me under his wing."
The rest of the summer will not provide much more a break for the young prospects. After Development Camp is completed tomorrow, the players must continue to train and condition for the Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario at the beginning of September. Soon thereafter, Pittsburgh will start up its training camp with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quickly following. The off-season may be quickly coming to an end, but for a new wave of youth and talent at the onset of their pro careers for the Penguins, it is just the beginning.
After three days of on-ice practices and off-ice workouts, Day 4 of Pittsburgh Penguins Development Camp saw the players take the ice for some friendly competition in a 3-on-3 tournament during the morning session. The rosters for the four teams were as follows:
As has been the case all week, the older, more experienced players stood out. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin was methodical in his coverage on the ice, pushed the pace when the opportunity arose and scored a nifty wraparound goal during the "second period". Also looking good during the tournament was goaltender Matt Murray. The only goalie at camp with any pro experience, Murray seems to have built off his time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the end of last season and made several big stops during the course of the tourney today.
A lot of attention has been focused on Kasperi Kapanen this week and, rightfully so, as the 22nd pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in this summer's draft. It does not take very long to see he has a ton of skill and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the full-team scrimmage tomorrow.
When it was all said and done, Team #4 was the victor of the 3-on-3 tourney after a championship shootout. Bryan Rust and Domink Uher had the deciding goals to help their team to clinch the crown for their team. Afterwards, the team held an individual shootout in which Blaine Byron (U. of Maine, Rd 6 (179), 2013) was the last man standing.
Saturday's scrimmage begins at 3pm at CONSOL Energy Center and is open to the public. This year's scrimmage will have some new rules as well.
During his session with the media today, Fitzgerald spoke about the development strategy between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with the management and coaching change up top and it sounds like things will be status quo. For the full audio of Fizgerald's interview, click below
For the full audio of Rust's interview, click below
For the full audio of Marcantuoni's interview, click below
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