Roster turnover is a common theme for every American Hockey League team during the summer.
But for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, this offseason was more like a roster overhaul.
Gone are forwards Kevin Porter, Adam Krause and Oskar Sundqvist, defensemen Tim Erixon, Stuart Percy, Barry Goers, David Warsofsky and Cameron Gaunce. In addition, Josh Archibald, Carter Rowney and Derrick Pouliot are all likely to spend the upcoming season with Pittsburgh.
The blueline saw the most change with the signings of Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi, Kevin Czuczman and Zach Trotman. In addition, blueliner Frank Corrado was also brought back on a one-year, two-way deal.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton general manager Bill Guerin admitted it’s tough to see familiar faces leave the organization, but he’s happy with the new ones coming in. And the makeup of the defense, which features a blend of veterans, youth and prospects seeking a change of scenery, it was all by design.
”I know there’s a different look to the defense. I’m really comfortable with the guys we signed,” Guerin said. “When you take a look at what we did last year, it’s pretty apparent that you can’t have enough good defensemen. That depth not only helped us stay afloat (in Pittsburgh), but win.”
Summers, Trotman and Czuczman are the veterans of the group, while Tinordi is a former first-round draft pick (Montreal, 2010) and comes with tremendous upside. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound defenseman has 53 NHL games under his belt and posted 102 penalty minutes last season with Tucson in the AHL.
“There’s a lot of untapped potential there,” Guerin said of Tinordi. “The next step is helping identify what he’s going to be at the next level.”
Guerin added that all of the new defensemen are able to contribute at the NHL level if needed, and that’s perhaps the most important aspect when it came to signing them.
Among the forwards, one of the more intriguing signings was Adam Johnson, who inked a two-year, entry-level contract after an impressive showing during Pittsburgh’s development camp this summer. The 22-year-old decided to leave the University of Minnesota-Duluth after his sophomore season, where he posted 18 goals and 37 points in 42 games.
Guerin said he’s been following Johnson for two years and lauded his skating ability among his many strengths.
Other new forwards include Colin Smith, who signed an AHL deal, and Gregg McKegg, who split last season between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Smith is coming off back-to-back 40-point seasons in the AHL and split last year between the Toronto Marlies and San Antonio Rampage.
Returning to the team are forwards Reid Gardiner, Tom Sestito and Jarrett Burton.
Gardiner left the team early last season to return to juniors, where he put up a point-per-game. Guerin expects Gardiner to be a point producer for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.
“I don’t think it was a bad decision to go back to junior. It was good for his confidence,” Guerin said.
Sestito brings a combination of toughness and veteran leadership to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. While Pittsburgh addressed its need for a physical player with the acquisition of Ryan Reaves, Guerin said it was important to have that element at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well.
While fighting has declined in today’s game, Guerin said it’s still a factor.
This will mark Sestito’s third season with the Pittsburgh organization.
“When (Sestito) came to us (in 2015) he wasn’t in the best shape. We made a deal with him and he’s lived up to every part of it,” Guerin said. “He’s put a lot of work into his game and the way he carries himself as a pro, and it rubs off on guys.”
As far as additional moves, Guerin said he’s constantly in talks with agents about players at every position, but for now he’s comfortable with the players he has brought in.
While the NHL won’t be sending players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, teams can loan those on AHL deals to national teams to compete in the games. When asked how that could impact Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Guerin said the organization’s depth will help overcome the temporary loss of any player to the Olympics.
“If a situation like that comes about we’ll have to deal with it,” he said. “I’ve been to the Olympics and it’s amazing. For that door to open up for AHL guys, it’s a great opportunity.”
With Chris Taylor taking over the head coach job in Rochester, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will need a replacement to serve with head coach Clark Donatelli and assistant coach J.D. Forrest.
Guerin said he’s made a lot of headway in the search process and an announcement will be made in the near future.