LATEST PENGUINS BUZZ
— The Penguins had two scouts in attendance for the Canadiens – Capitals game last night. Read what you want into that but the Dale Weise talk isn’t going away, despite an iffy past between Weise and Mike Sullivan.
ON THE AHL FORWARD GROUP
With Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino set to return Saturday afternoon vs Winnipeg, Sullivan has to open two spots in his lineup. When it’s certain both are going to be able to play, roster moves will be made.
The easiest call is removing centers Kevin Porter, a favorite of Sullivan’s it should be noted, and Oskar Sundqvist, leaving Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Scott Wilson, and Conor Sheary on the wings for now.
Porter is a wildcard, though. Because of his ability to play wing and a penalty kill presence, he could still stick around. Almost every coach seems to have a Kevin Porter type they love. Mike Sullivan appears to be no different. That will be an interesting call. Others have clearly established themselves above him where he doesn’t deserve to stay in the lineup.
While Rust, Sheary, Wilson and Kuhnhackl could be safe for now, it could still be short-term for at least a couple of them. The Penguins have not ruled out adding a forward at the deadline, they are confident Eric Fehr will return at some point in mid-to-late March and Beau Bennett is again avoiding shoulder surgery, meaning he could become an option at some point, though, iron-man Beau doesn’t have much support from the coaching staff anymore.
What’s interesting with the group of AHL guys is they all provide different attributes and it’s a group of wingers where some are more effective against certain teams than others and vice versa.
Get in a playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning that is a skating game and Conor Sheary makes more sense than others. Play a heavy, structured team and not so much.
Some Thoughts on the Group
Scott Wilson – 3 goals, 1 assist, +1 rating, 54.6 CF% in 16 games
Wilson was a prolific goal scorer this season in the minors and he plays a type of style that correlates to playoff hockey, one reason former coach Mike Johnston put him in the lineup last season in the playoffs against New York. What has stood out with Wilson of late is his ability to get to the soft spots in prime scoring areas. Everything bodes well for Wilson being a player who should stick as a 4th line winger down the stretch but it was interesting how many others were called up ahead of him, including Tom Kuhnhackl. Even with his strong play of late, far from certain he sticks around.
Bryan Rust – 2 Goals, 1 Assist, -2 rating, 50.24 CF% in 24 games.
Rust gives the Penguins a speed dimension on the wings. His speed through the neutral zone makes him effective at zone entries. He’s defensively responsible and we’ve seen the confidence the coaching staff has in him as he’s played over Phil Kessel on a few occasions late in games. 37 hits in 24 games. With Rust, the question is whether there’s any real scoring upside. He flys around the ice but so did Joe Vitale. He’s one of those players who skates so well his impact looks better than it actually is.
Conor Sheary – 3 Goals, 2 Assists, -6 rating, 57 CF% in 26 games
The advance stats are excellent for Sheary. He drives possession, 57 CF% 5 v 5, tops among Penguin forwards, and a 32.4 scoring chance/60 percentage is tops among the AHL callups. Sheary gives the Penguins a skill option in the bottom-6 but can anyone imagine him being much of a factor in a seven game series against the Capitals? That said he’s a slippery player who stood out against the Rangers a few weeks ago. Mike Sullivan is a big fan. I get the sense he has some sustaining power in the lineup for now but we’ll see.
Tom Kuhnhackl – 2 goals, 1 assist, -2, 48.6 CF% in 19 games
Kuhnhackl possesses less speed and skill than the others but gives the Penguins more size on the wing and a player who can play along the wall, providing somewhat of a heavy game. Kills penalties, his play is starting to trend up. The Penguins’ coaching staff looks at him as somebody whose play could translate to playoff hockey.