Penguins

Wheeling Watch: Siebenaler gets ‘clean slate’

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Blake Siebenaler. -- ZACK RAWSON / WHEELING NAILERS

Last month, the Penguins acquired defenseman Blake Siebenaler from the Blue Jackets in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick.

The conditions of the draft pick are that if Siebenaler plays 10 games in Pittsburgh this season, the Blue Jackets get the pick. If not, the Blue Jackets get nothing. Unless a bad case of the mumps runs through the entire organization in the coming days, Siebenaler won't meet those conditions, and the pick will stay with the Penguins.

It's a win-win.

The Blue Jackets freed up a contract spot for flexibility on the trade deadline day, and the Penguins were in need of some defensive depth in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Wheeling this season, as both teams sit on the bubble of a playoff spot.

It's a win-win-win in the eyes of Siebenaler.

"It was sad to leave Cleveland, obviously I had a lot of buddies there," Siebenaler told me this week. "But I was pretty excited, I thought it was going to be a good opportunity for me. I was happy about it."

Siebenaler, 23, has had a bit of a bumpy start to his professional career. Originally a third-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2014, he made his professional debut with the Blue Jacket's AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, in the 2016-17 season.

In his sophomore season last year, Siebenaler hit a few bumps in the road. He sustained a shoulder injury in November that kept him out of the Monsters' lineup for six months, and then re-injured the same shoulder in early February. He was shut down for the year after just 23 games in order to have shoulder surgery. He rehabbed from the injury for six months, and felt 100-percent by training camp.

"That was tough, I had a tough summer. Usually summer is something I look forward to, as far as working out and getting stronger, and I had a lot of limitations," said Siebenaler.

Recovering from any major surgery is tough, but it was especially tough mentally for Siebenaler to miss that much time in just his second year of professional hockey.

"That was the toughest part, that was harder than the rehab," he said. "Just trying to stay positive, and keep a good outlook on things. I got to go home during that time too so that was nice to get my mind away from it."

Siebenaler struggled to find regular playing time with Cleveland this season, only appearing in 17 games prior to the trade.

When the Penguins acquired Siebenaler, a 6-feet-2, 207-pound right-handed shot, he reported to Wilkes-Barre. He played just one game, recording a plus-2 rating in a win over Hartford, before being reassigned to Wheeling where he can take on a more prominent role. Finally, it's nice for Siebenaler to just be able to play.

"A lot of people look at it as a downgrade, or a demotion, but I don't look at it that way," he said. "I think it's a big opportunity for me to play games. I'm just making the best of every opportunity that I get."

Siebenaler has played in three games since being reassigned to Wheeling, recording two assists and a plus-1 rating. Playing in a new organization in this role is a fresh start after the adversity Siebenaler faced early in his career.

"It's kind of nice getting a clean slate, it's almost like hitting the reset button," he said. "I think it's a good opportunity for me to come down here to Wheeling and play a ton of games, log some big minutes. I think that's great for me, I've learned so much just in these past three games that I've played."

Siebenaler has only recorded seven goals and seven assists in 84 career AHL games, a drop from his .48 points-per-game pace in the OHL. He wants to focus on his defensive play at the professional level, something he believes will lead to more of that offense.

"I say it all the time but I think (defense) is something that I need to work on," he said. "The better defensively I am, the more offense I can generate. The best offense is defense."

Siebenaler's next game with the Nailers will be Wednesday in Fort Wayne -- a big game for the Nailers' playoff push, but a big game for Siebenaler personally, too. This is the first time he'll be able to play professionally in his hometown.

"Right when I got sent down, I just checked what the games were going to be like, and I saw Fort Wayne was going to be the fourth game that I'd be down here," said Siebenaler. "I'm super excited. I grew up watching the Komets and going to the Coliseum, I think it's going to be huge. I've got a lot of family coming out too, I'm super excited about that."

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THE ROSTER MOVES

• Leading scorer Zac Lynch earned an AHL tryout deal with the Hartford Wolf Pack on Feb. 20.

• Alex Rauter and Brien Diffley were traded to the Manchester Monarchs to complete the offseason trade that brought Lynch to Wheeling for future considerations.

• Jeff Taylor and Cam Brown were recalled to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

• Siebenaler joined the team.

THE INJURIES

• Defenseman Aaron Titcomb was injured on Feb. 5 and has not played since.

• Forward Mike Fazio was injured on Dec. 31 and returned to the lineup on Feb. 26.

THE NEWS

• Mike LangeTyler Kennedy, and Ken Wregget made an appearance at Saturday's game:

THE GAMES

• Feb. 26: at Brampton, 6-2 win
Goals from Alex ButcherYushiroh Hirano, and Brad Drobot gave the Nailers an early 3-0 lead on Tuesday. The Beast got on the board with 3:44 remaining in the first period, and the Nailers carried the two-goal lead into the first intermission.

Cedric Lacroix and Winston Day Chief scored 16 seconds apart in the second period to extend the lead to 5-1. Kevin Spinozzi tacked on a power play goal midway through the third period. The Beast added a power play goal of their own, but there would be no rally.

Matt O'Connor took the win in net with 27 saves on 29 shots.

The Nailers' power play went 1-for-2, and the penalty kill went 2-for-3.

• March 1: at Toledo, 5-2 win
Day Chief scored the lone goal of the first period, his 10th goal of the year.

The Walleye tied the game 1:50 into the second period with a power play goal. Spinozzi regained the lead with a power play of his own midway through the period, and Day Chief added to the lead just over a minute later. The Walleye cut the Nailers' lead to one with 1:38 remaining in the period.

The Walleye were earning a lot of chances in the third period, but couldn't find the back of the net. With Nailers defenseman Dane Birks in the box for high-sticking at 17:38, the Walleye pulled their goaltender early. Day Chief completed the hat trick with an empty net goal. The Walleye again pulled their goaltender, and Spinozzi scored another empty net goal, his second goal of the game.

Jordan Ruby earned the win with 33 saves on 35 shots.

The Nailers' power play went 2-for-7, and the penalty kill went 4-for-5.

• March 2: vs. Cincinnati, 3-2 overtime loss
Day Chief again opened the scoring, recording his 13th goal of the year 14:49 into the first period. The Cyclones tied the game late in the first.

The Cyclones scored a power play goal in the second period to take the lead. Mark Petaccio scored his fourth goal of the year in the third period to send the game to overtime.

The Cyclones' Brady Vail scored 1:45 into overtime to win the game.

O'Connor took the loss with 29 saves on 32 shots.

The Nailers went 0-for-1 on the power play, and 2-for-4 on the penalty kill.

• March 3: vs. Fort Wayne, 3-2 win
Renars Krastenbergs scored the only goal of the first period, his 15th goal of the year.

The Komets tied the game with an early goal in the second period, but Danny Fick's fifth of the year and Trevor Yates' fourth regained the lead.

The Komets were dialed in for the third period, and outshot the Nailers' 14-4. They cut the Nailers' lead to one, but were unable to tie the game.

Ruby's 30 saves on 32 shots earned him the win.

The Nailers' power play went 0-for-2, and the penalty kill went 3-for-3.

THE LEADERS

• Goals: Troy Josephs, 21 in 32 games.

• Assists: Lynch, 37 in 53 games.

• Points: Lynch, 52 in 53 games.

THE COMBINATIONS

Alec Butcher - Michael Phillips - Mike Fazio
Renars Krastenbergs - Cedric Lacroix - Winston Day Chief
Mark Petaccio - Trevor Yates -Yushiorh Hirano
Brad Drobot

Kevin Spinozzi - Danny Fick
Craig Skudalski - Blake Siebenaler
Jake Schultz - Johnny Austin

THE STANDINGS

• After this week, the Nailers sit fifth in the six-team Central Division with a record of 27-24-6-1. Only six points separate the third-place Kalamazoo Wings and sixth-place Indy Fuel.

• The Nailers’ power play sits in fourth in the league at 21.7 percent, and the penalty kill is 22nd in the league at 80.5 percent. The Nailers have the second-most power play goals (52) and the most shorthanded goals (17) in the league this season.

THE SCHEDULE

• The Nailers’ will visit the Fort Wayne Komets (26-20-3-6) on Wednesday. The Komets and Nailers each have 61 points in the Central Division race, although the Komets have three games in hand. The Nailers will then visit the third-place Kalamazoo Wings (30-24-1-2) on Sunday. Two huge games.

GOALS OF THE WEEK

Day Chief had a huge week:

Spinozzi has a massive shot:

Petaccio's backhand goal earned the Nailers a huge overtime point:

SAVE OF THE WEEK

Ruby was quick with the glove:

WHEELING FUN THING

Ruby was pumped after the win over Fort Wayne:

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