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Penguins' undrafted forward hits the rookie wall hard in AHL

A month into this season, the Penguins looked like they might have found an undrafted college free-agent steal — their own version of Toronto's Tyler Bozak or Philadelphia's Matt Read — in Brian Gibbons. The speedy, undersized forward from Boston College was playing in all situations and had five goals and 13 points in 16 AHL games.

Then, he hit the rookie wall and hit it hard.

Coming into this weekend, Gibbons was mired in a 19-game goal drought.

He already has played two more games than he did during his entire senior season with BC, but he said it's not the games that gave him problems.

"I think that's something I kind of struggled with, not being ready to practice every day," Gibbons said. "That's something coach (John) Hynes talked to me about a lot."

Hynes said he has seen improvement in Gibbons and had him skating on a scoring line with top-line center Bryan Lerg and veteran winger Jason Williams this week.

"He bottomed out a little bit, and now you're starting to see him with that slow, steady climb," Hynes said. "He's got his speed back. His overall demeanor and play is on the rise."

Injured defenseman

The Penguins career of 6-foot-7 defenseman Boris Valabik might be over before it really started.

Valabik signed with the Penguins in July and missed the first two and half months of the season recovering from knee surgery. In his third game with the Baby Pens on Dec. 27, he took a puck to the hand and is out long-term.

"He's not close to returning, but it doesn't mean he's not going to play the rest of the year," Hynes said. "It's just a thing where we've got to wait and see. He's going to see some doctors, a few more, and see how he feels and see if we can bring him back. It's completely undecided either way right now."

Stars promoted

Baby Pens representative Colin McDonald had an assist, as the West beat the East, 8-7, in a shootout in the AHL all-star game last Monday night in Atlantic City, N.J.

Within 72 hours after the end of the game, seven all-stars, including McDonald, were called up to the NHL. Krys Kolanos (Calgary), Zack Kassian (Buffalo), Philippe Cornet (Oklahoma City), Kyle Palmieri (Anaheim), Tyson Sexsmith (San Jose) and Keith Aucoin (Washington) were the others.

Concussion point

At his annual state of the league address, AHL president Dave Andrews made an interesting point about pro hockey's concussion problem.

Andrews said eliminating head shots and eliminating concussions are not the same thing.

"We actually have had more concussions happen in practice than we have from head shots," he said.

Valuable Czech

The scouting report on Penguins 2011 third-rounder Dominik Uher says he's a gritty center who can complement top-end offensive players. That might be wrong. He might be the top-end offensive player himself.

Since returning from representing the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championships, Uher has erupted for 10 goals and 24 points in his past 15 games for the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs. That's a marked improvement on his 10 goals and 24 points in the first 25 games of the season.

On Tuesday, Uher had a four-goal game as Spokane beat Seattle, 5-3.

Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at jbombulie@aol.com

ONE TO WATCH

Kenny Agostino

Yale (NCAA), Left wing — 5-foot-11, 195 pounds

How acquired: Fifth-round pick, 140th overall, in the 2010 NHL draft

How he's doing: Agostino netted one of the biggest goals of his college career Jan. 28, scoring with 34 seconds left to lead Yale to 5-4 win over Dartmouth. Yale, which was on a four-game losing streak, trailed, 4-1, after the first period. Since being one of the last cuts from the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships, Agostino had five goals and nine points in his past 10 games coming into this weekend. The sophomore from New Jersey is third on the team with 18 points in 19 games. He made an impression on Penguins brass with a strong development camp last summer.

Why he might make it to the NHL: He has good hockey sense and can finish.

Why he might not: His skating is a concern.

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