Johnson back at full health
Right winger Nick Johnson (6ft2, 200lbs), is regarded by many NHL scouts as the Penguins most under-rated prospect. Johnson plays a strong two-way game and caught the eye of many members in the organization this past September, when Johnson pushed for a roster spot out of camp.
Johnson likely would have been one of the Penguins call-ups during the Penguins rash of injuries in October and November but Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain just 7 games into the season, which sidelined him for 7 weeks.
Johnson returned to the lineup Wednesday night, scoring 2 goals in Wilkes Barre’s 6-0 rout of Syracuse. This is a big year for Johnson to prove that he is an NHL player. Johnson will turn 24 this month.
Stat Line: 8 GP – 3 goals – 1 assist – 4 pts
Penguins grooming Dustin Jeffrey to be a left winger?
Dustin Jeffrey does not have a future in Pittsburgh as a center. An AHL scout told me about a month ago that Jeffrey is viewed as being too finesse to be a productive 3rd or 4th line center in the NHL, especially with the Penguins.
Jeffrey leads Wilkes Barre/Scranton in scoring with 25 points including 21 assists but where he would fit in a NHL lineup is debatable among scouts.
One scenario that will be explored by the Penguins organization is grooming Jeffrey into a left winger. It’s been discussed internally for months and Jeffrey played left wing last night for the first time this season, scoring a goal and an assist.
One major complaint from scouts about Jeffrey is that he holds onto the puck too long. Moving him to left wing could help correct that problem. It’s a smart move by the organization to at least explore the possibility.
Stat Line: 22 GP – 4 goals – 21 assists – 25 pts
Penguins want more commitment from Eric Tangradi off-the-ice?
After battling a shoulder injury, top prospect Eric Tangradi has put up modest numbers, 8 pts in 16 games, including 5 goals.
Despite the sub par numbers, he’s about where the team expected. No one expected him to come in and score 30-to-35 goals as many inside the organization felt coming into the season that he needed at least a year in the minors.
Tangradi has been productive on the power play, creating space in the slot and getting a number of chances. He only has two power play goals but along with Luca Caputi has provided a net presence for Wilkes Barre.
However, a team source says the Penguins want more commitment from Tangradi off-the-ice. There was some concern surrounding Tangradi’s off ice habits when the Penguins traded for him and while it’s not a major concern, a source tells me he’s not putting in the extra work they want from him and he needs to put down the video games.
Stat Line: 16 GP – 5 goals – 3 assists – 8 pts
Around the Rink
*It’s hard to get anyone to say a negative thing about defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo, 6-4, 212 lbs, the Penguins 2007 third round draft pick has been Wilkes Barre’s best defenseman night in and night out.
He’s a player Pittsburgh envisions being a regular on their blueline for years to come. Bortuzzo made great strides in the past year in improving his skating, which has helped his ability on the breakout.
He has also taken his game to the next level in the physical department. He’s regarded inside the organization as the Penguins No.2 rated defenseman.
*Another defenseman who has performed very well in his first pro season is Brian Strait. The Penguins 3rd round pick in 2006, Strait plays a strong defensive game and has a team leading plus/minus rating of Plus 10.
He reminds some scouts of a future Rob Scuderi. Pittsburgh has a deep group of defenseman coming up in Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Carl Sneep, Ben Lovejoy and Strait.
*Keven Veilleux (2007, 2nd round pick) remains sidelined with a hip injury and has only appeared in 9 games this season.
The talented center has been moved to right wing this season and has drawn comparisons to Viktor Kozlov. He was just starting to find his game before he went down with the injury.
*Ryan Bayda (knee) may need knee surgery which could keep him sidelined for months. He received a second opinion two weeks ago. Bayda is rehabbing at the moment and word from his camp is that Bayda will make a decision in the next week. Surgery is being explored as the last possible option.
Bayda is second on the team with 8 goals.
Stat of the day: Defenseman Deryk Engelland has a team worst plus/minus rating of minus 8.