Wilkes-Barre Watch: Nyberg adds stability


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John Nyberg interferes with former Texas teammate Brad McClure. -- TEXAS STARS

On the morning Jan. 17, Swedish defenseman John Nyberg was preparing for the morning skate ahead of his Texas Stars' game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins that evening at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park, Texas.

Nyberg, the Stars' sixth-round pick in 2014, had just played in 19 games for Texas up until that point, seeing infrequent playing time as a result of the Stars' defensive prospect depth. He wasn't in the lineup when Texas hosted Wilkes-Barre two days earlier in the first game of the two-game series.

Nyberg would play that night ... for Wilkes-Barre. Before the morning skate, the Penguins acquired 23-year-old Nyberg from the Stars in exchange for 27-year-old Finnish forward Oula Palve, who had been relegated to a healthy scratch in recent games.

"It was a weird situation," Nyberg told me this week with a laugh. "I just walked a couple of feet to the new locker room to meet the team. I have never been traded before, so it was new for me to just be traded. Then to move locker rooms just in the same rink, you don't even know what to do. Your clothes are in the other room. It was a little bit of a mess."

The trade was a win for all involved. The Stars were loaded on defense and needed help at center. The Penguins got a young prospect in an area where they didn't have much depth, and they could afford to move Palve, who had fallen to fifth on the center depth chart.

"(Nyberg) gives us some stability back there," Penguins head coach Mike Vellucci said of the trade. "We needed some depth with the injuries up top and down here with our guys. It gives us some experience."

The trade was also a win for both players involved for the change of scenery. Nyberg was not just expecting the trade, he was hoping for it.

"I was expecting it," he said. "I wanted a trade, we had too many D and I didn't get that ice time that I want to have. I liked being in Texas a lot, but we just had too many D and I needed to move and try something new. ... I'm super excited, all the guys have taken real good care of me from the start that I met them."

Nyberg won't get to see his new home for another week or so. The Penguins acquired him on the second game of a six-game, 10-day road trip that ends on Jan. 25 in Charlotte. After the road trip, the AHL goes on its All-Star break, which Nyberg will use to fly back to Texas, pack up all of his things, and make the move. Wilkes-Barre's next home game isn't until Jan. 31.

With the trade happening on a road trip, Nyberg's been able to get to know his new teammates pretty quickly.

"You jump on the road right away, and you see the guys pretty much all day every day on the road," Nyberg laughed. "It's good."

There aren't any other Swedish players on Wilkes-Barre, but Nyberg is fitting right in with the other European players. The two Finns -- Niclas Almari and Emil Larmi -- know a little bit of Swedish. Norwegian forward Andreas Martinsen speaks "really good" Swedish according to Nyberg, something he said was a good surprise. Slovenian Jan Drozg played two years of junior hockey in Sweden, so he picked up some of the language, and the two have some mutual friends from that connection.

Nyberg, 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds with a left-handed shot, describes himself as a "two-way defenseman, always going to take the D zone first and play good defense. I can also jump in the rush, but I'm more of a two-way defenseman."

In his 19 games with Texas this season, Nyberg recorded two goals and four assists. Last season, his first year in North America, he skated in 44 games and scored one goal and five assists. Before moving to North America, he played two full seasons in the Swedish Hockey League, scoring seven goals and eight assists in 49 games in 2016-17 and two goals and 11 assists in 52 games in 2017-18.

"He's a smooth-skating guy," Vellucci added. "He had great numbers in Sweden, and last year had a decent year. This year, I would say he's off to a little bit of a slow start."

Nyberg said his goal is to improve at "everything" this season, but namely his shot from the blue line and making better breakout passes from the defensive zone.

Nyberg has now played in two games with Wilkes-Barre, skating on the team's second pairing. He was scoreless and a combined plus-1 rating in those games. He said there are still some differences in the systems that he's adjusting to, but he felt "much better" in the second game and is growing more confident with the increased ice time since the trade.

"It's easier to get in the game if you get the chance to play more," he said. "It's a good thing for me."



• The Penguins acquired Nyberg for Palve on Jan. 17.

• Forward Joseph Blandisi was recalled by Pittsburgh on Jan. 20. It's his seventh recall of the season.


• Forward Ben Sexton has been dealing with an upper-body injury since camp.

• Forward Kasper Bjorkqvist is out until May after undergoing knee surgery, effectively ending his season. He last played on Oct. 19.

• Defenseman Zach Trotman left the game early on Dec. 13 after being hit up high. He has a head injury.


• The Penguins will be hosting a cornhole tournament between fans and players on March 3. My money is on the Finns.


• Jan. 15: at Texas, 5-2 loss
Kevin Roy opened the scoring at 4:39 with a power play goal, and the Stars answered two minutes later with a power play goal of their own.

Adam Johnson gave the Penguins the lead midway through the second period with his sixth goal of the year, and the Stars answered just under three minutes later to tie the game again.

The Stars took their first lead of the game 38 seconds into the third period, and extended that lead at 12:26. They sealed the win with an empty net goal with 2:02 remaining.

David Warsofsky led the Penguins with five shots on goal as they were outshot, 37-20.

Casey DeSmith took the loss with 32 saves on 36 shots.

The Penguins went 1-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill.

• Jan. 17: at Texas, 4-3 shootout loss
The Stars took the lead with two goals in the first 5:41 of the first period, on their first four shots of the game. Starting goaltender Dustin Tokarski was yanked, and Larmi entered the game in relief. Johnson scored his second goal in as many games and his seventh of the season to cut the Stars' lead to one goal.

Roy tied the game and extended his goal-scoring streak to three games with a power play goal in the second period, but the Stars regained the lead five minutes later.

Warsofsky scored a power play goal at 1:44 of the third period to force overtime. After a scoreless overtime period, the game went to a shootout.

Warsofksy shot first in the shootout and was stopped, then the Stars scored on their first shootout attempt. Jordy Bellerive evened the score in the second round of the shootout, and Larmi stopped the Stars' second shooter. Drozg and the third Texas shooter both failed to score in the third round. Roy failed to score in the fourth round, and the Stars scored on their attempt to win the game.

Johnson led the Penguins with seven shots on goal as the Penguins outshot the Stars 30-29 through the first 65 minutes.

Tokarski made two saves on four shots in his start, and Larmi took the loss in relief with 24 saves on 25 shots.

The Penguins went 2-for-6 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill.

• Jan. 18: at San Antonio, 4-3 shootout win
Blandisi scored the lone goal of the first period, his fourth AHL goal of the year, to give the Penguins the lead.

The Rampage scored a shorthanded goal in the second period to tie the game and another goal six minutes later to take the lead. Bellerive answered 1:11 later with his fourth goal of the year to tie the game.

Bellerive scored his second goal of the game and fifth of the year midway through the third period to regain the lead. The Rampage answered 1:20 later to force overtime. After a scoreless overtime period, the Penguins went to a shootout for a second straight game.

The Rampage shot first and Casey DeSmith made the save. Bellerive shot first for the Penguins and scored. DeSmith stopped the second Rampage shooter, and Chase Berger was stopped on his attempt. DeSmith stopped the third Rampage shooter to seal the win.

Bellerive led the Penguins with five shots on goal as they outshot the Rampage 35-25 through the first 65 minutes.

DeSmith earned the win with 22 saves on 25 shots.

The Penguins went 0-for-5 on the power play and 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.


• Goals: Anthony Angello, 15 in 42 games

• Assists: Sam Miletic, 19 in 41 games

• Points: Andrew Agozzino, 31 in 35 games

• Save percentage: Tokarski, .932 in 13 games

• Goals-against average: Tokarski, 1.76 in 13 games


Sam Miletic — Cole Cassels — Anthony Angello
Adam Johnson — Chase Berger — Kevin Roy

Thomas Di Pauli — Joseph Blandisi — Jan Drozg
Jamie Devane — Jordy Bellerive — Jake Lucchini

Pierre-Olivier Joseph — Jon Lizotte
John Nyberg — David Warsofsky
Niclas Almari — Macoy Erkamps


• After this week, the Penguins’ record is 19-16-3-4, sixth in the eight-team Atlantic Division.

• The power play sits at 17.9 percent, 16th in the 31-team league. The penalty kill is operating at 79.5 percent overall, 27th in the league.


• The Penguins will finish their six-game road trip this week with a game against the San Antonio Rampage (14-17-5-5) on Tuesday and games against the Charlotte Checkers (24-14-3) on Friday and Saturday.


Johnson had a quick release:

Roy shot this one-timer:

Bellerive scored two goals and the shootout-winning goal against San Antonio:


The Penguins lost in a shootout in the second game against Texas, but Larmi's play in relief was a huge reason they got to that point:


• Pierre-Olivier Joseph joined Nick Hart on the show in what is probably the best episode of the season so far. Joseph has a great energy about him, and has some good stories and observations:

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