Baby Pens notebook: Amateur tryout class small this season
From Ryan Malone and Ryan Whitney years ago to Kris Letang and Joe Vitale more recently, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have a history of bringing in future NHL players for their first taste of pro hockey when their amateur seasons are complete.
The players are signed to contracts called amateur tryouts, or ATOs, then practice or even play with the Baby Pens at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
“That's something that is real important for these younger guys, to come in and see how these guys compete and prepare, how they practice, what type of meetings we have and the focus your older veteran players have,” coach John Hynes said.
This year's ATO class is small and not particularly star-studded.
Top defensive prospects Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Olli Maatta are on stacked junior teams that figure to make long playoff runs, so they'd only sign ATOs if the Baby Pens play deep into the postseason.
Nick D'Agostino, a 2008 seventh-round pick who has been a standout puck-moving defenseman for Cornell the past four seasons, might have signed an ATO had he not suffered an upper-body injury in his last weekend of college hockey.
For now, the lone ATO in Wilkes-Barre is physical defenseman Harrison Ruopp, who was acquired from Phoenix in the Zbynek Michalek trade.
Stay-at-home defender Clark Seymour, a 2012 fourth-round pick, and goalie Matt Murray, a 2012 third-round pick, already have come and gone. They signed ATOs, practiced with the Baby Pens for a few weeks, then were sent home for the summer.
The next ATOs to hit Wilkes-Barre are expected to be wingers Anton Zlobin and Mattias Marcantuoni. Zlobin, a sixth-round pick in 2012, racked up 91 points in 61 games for Val-d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The speedy Marcantuoni slumped offensively after the Penguins picked him in the fourth round in June, posting 25 points in 64 games for Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League.
Over and out
The Penguins career of 6-foot-5, 224-pound winger Keven Veilleux, a second-round pick in the 2007 draft, appears to be over.
Veilleux posted 14 goals, 39 points and 141 penalty minutes with the Baby Pens between injuries over the past four seasons, but he ran into trouble while playing for the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers this season, earning a 10-game suspension for shouting a racial slur at an opposing player during a January game.
Hynes said Veilleux would not be called up to Wilkes-Barre now that Wheeling's season is over, calling it an “organizational decision” but elaborating no further. Veilleux will be a restricted free agent this summer.
The Baby Pens carried a five-game winning streak into this weekend and were poised to clinch a playoff spot for the 11th straight season.
The veteran top line of Riley Holzapfel, Trevor Smith and Chad Kolarik combined for 13 goals and 37 points in the team's past 11 games.
The Baby Pens are first in the 30-team AHL in defense (2.32 goals per game) but 28th in offense (2.42 goals per game), so they made a move at the trade deadline Wednesday. They acquired winger Derek Nesbitt from the Peoria Rivermen for future considerations in an AHL deal.
Nesbitt, 30, an eighth-year pro out of Ferris State, is one of 26 players to score at least 60 goals in the AHL over the past three seasons.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.