The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are going to have a new look next season.
Let's review all of the new players who will be joining Wilkes-Barre next season, and all of the players who have moved on to new teams.
Arrivals: Jan Drozg (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL), Justin Almeida (Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL), Kasper Bjorkqvist (Providence College, NCAA), Jake Lucchini (Michigan Tech, NCAA), Oula Palve (TPS, Liiga), Jordy Bellerive (Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL), Chase Berger (Penn State, NCAA), Chris Brown (Boston College, NCAA), Andrew Agozzino (Colorado Eagles, AHL; Colorado Avalanche, NHL), Myles Powell (Cincinnati Cyclones, ECHL; Rochester Americans, AHL), Renars Krastenbergs (Wheeling Nailers, ECHL), Brandon Hawkins (Northeastern, NCAA)
Bottom line: This is an upgrade. There's a huge influx of talent at forward joining Wilkes-Barre next season. Lucchini, Bellerive and Berger looked strong in their limited AHL action as Black Aces last season and are expected to do well in their first full seasons next year. Drozg and Almeida are also skilled forwards with high upsides.
Olund, who is still under contract but on loan to Brynas for next season, played a fourth-line role last season and isn't much of a loss. Burton had been in the organization since 2014 and was a valuable veteran presence, but Agozzino and Palve are able to fill that veteran role.
With the large number of forwards joining the team, several will have to start the season in Wheeling.
Arrivals: Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders/Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL), Niclas Almari (HPK, Liiga), Jon Lizotte (St. Cloud State, NCAA), Michael Kim (Boston College, NCAA), David Warsofsky (Colorado Eagles, AHL)
Departures: Chris Summers (Nurnberg Ice Tigers, DEL), Tim Erixon (Vaxjo Lakers, SHL), Ethan Prow (Florida Panthers, NHL), Chris Wideman (San Diego Gulls, AHL), Kevin Spinozzi (HC Bolzano, EBEL), Dane Birks (Arizona Coyotes, NHL)
Unsigned: Jeff Taylor
Bottom line: This one is another upgrade. Of the defensemen who won't be returning, only Summers and Prow were regulars in Wilkes-Barre's lineup throughout the entire season. Summers was a leader in the locker room and the oldest guy on the team at 31. Warsofky can fill that leadership role on the blue line, is two years younger, and saw NHL action more recently, in 2017-18.
Prow was one of Wilkes-Barre's best defensemen last season and is a significant loss. However, Joseph is definitively more talented, and arguably the new No. 1 defense prospect in the organization. Almari is a good, young puck-moving defenseman and has played professionally for the past three years. Kim was a standout during the Penguins' development camp this summer.
Departures: Anthony Peters (Iserlohn Roosters, DEL)
Unsigned: John Muse
Bottom line: It's still not clear what happens with Tristan Jarry next season, but the goaltending situation looks to be in good shape either way. I'd expect Jarry to be moved, either by a trade or waivers. That would leave Larmi in Wilkes-Barre — he'a seasoned professional who has played three seasons in Finland and won the Liiga championship last season. He'd share the net with two-time Calder Cup champion Tokarski, who could then be given an NHL contract and would be the third goaltender in the event of an injury in Pittsburgh. That would leave D'Orio to start the season in Wheeling, sharing the net with veteran goaltender Jordan Ruby, who is already under contract for next season.
Wilkes-Barre didn't have much of a tandem for most of last season after Peters began to struggle in net. That put a lot of pressure on Jarry, who appeared in 47 games, the fourth-most of any goaltender in the AHL. Tokarski and Larmi should be able to share the net more equally next season.
Arrivals: Mike Vellucci (Charlotte Checkers, AHL)
Departures: Clark Donatelli
Bottom line: I don't think that Donatelli was a problem in Wilkes-Barre. Wilkes-Barre never won a Calder Cup in Donatelli's four seasons, but the primary goal of the minor leagues is player development and Donatelli was capable in that regard. Wilkes-Barre didn't make the playoffs last season, but that's mainly a result of trading away so many prospects and high draft picks.
When Donatelli stepped down for personal reasons, Vellucci was without a doubt the best man for the job. It's rare to see a head coach who is coming off of a championship season become available the way he did. He's a winner, and he's worked in player development for over two decades. He's immensely qualified. This might end up being the biggest upgrade of all.
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