Wilkes-Barre additions holding own
Ask Dan Bylsma about the players his team has recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he smiles.
Specifically at the forward position — all six of the recalled players have come from that pool — the Penguins aren't blessed with any blue-chip prospects, the reality of never possessing high draft picks.
Rather, those six forwards who have been recalled — Brian Gibbons, Harry Zolnierczyk, Zach Sill, Andrew Ebbett, Jayson Megna and Chris Conner — are known more for their tenacity than talent.
And that's OK with Bylsma, who is grateful for their contributions.
“It's been a strength for a number of years,” Bylsma said. “In particular, the guys coming up, they step right in. They're almost an extension of our team.”
The Penguins have some blue-chip talent playing in Wilkes-Barre, namely defensemen Simon Despres, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin.
Other than Beau Bennett's presence there last season, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hasn't been blessed with overwhelming skill. Still, the Penguins don't require much help with their top two lines, which boast $31.7 million in annual salary and some of hockey's greatest players.
Instead, the forwards playing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will be asked to play a rugged style on the third or fourth lines when their names are called. Bylsma is satisfied with the job those players have done.
“I think so much of it just has to do with the system in Wilkes-Barre,” Gibbons said. “We have a good team there. It's a mix of guys who have been in the NHL and guys who are pushing for a spot. Put that together with the fact that coach (John) Hynes has done such a great job. He's so good with the young guys in terms of player development.”
Hynes' name is quickly mentioned by those who have played in Wilkes-Barre, and his players are quick to credit him with teaching Bylsma's system perfectly.
Many believe Hynes' future is that of an NHL head coach.
“He knows what he wants his team to play like,” Sill said. “It comes across very clearly with him, and we play the game exactly how he tells us to play it.”
The Penguins are known for their offensive flair, while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton relies on its defensive precision. But the system never wavers.
Players frequently compliment Hynes for how easily he helps them adapt to the Penguins' methods.
“I think it's really something that the whole organization does a great job with,” Sill said. “We're always, always on the same page. The way we play the game, the system, the mentality, is all the same way the Penguins play the game. I think it shows.”
Megna and Gibbons each have scored crucial goals for the Penguins this season and have generally impressed with their overall play.
Zolnierczyk, whose speed and physical play once landed him NHL work in Philadelphia, impressed many in the organization with his work during a cameo appearance earlier this season.
Although none of the forwards at the AHL level possess what could be considered as exceptional NHL skill, they all play a role that the Penguins require. They're defensively responsible, physical and scrappy.
“There are no days off down there in Wilkes-Barre,” Gibbons said. “We battle and battle down there.”
And when they come to Pittsburgh, that battle has been evident.
Bylsma appreciates having a reliable group of forwards in the farm system who can help his team win on any given night. He doesn't need elite players on his third and fourth lines. Rather, the coach needs reliability.
And that's what he has received.
“You can only have 23 on your NHL roster,” Bylsma said. “But these guys coming up, they're stepping right in, and they're capable. They've been ready.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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