Baby Penguins notebook: Goaltenders find their places in system
WILKES-BARRE — For a little while in the early part of this season, it looked like the Penguins were one twisted ankle away from a goaltending crisis.
A blood clot sidelined Tomas Vokoun in late September. Jeff Zatkoff struggled through his first two NHL starts. The only other goalie under NHL contract was Eric Hartzell, and he started his rookie season not with the AHL's Baby Pens but a step below that with the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers.
The situation no longer seems dire for two reasons.
First, Zatkoff looks to have found his footing as a reliable backup to Marc-Andre Fleury. Second, Hartzell has looked like the top prospect the Penguins thought he was when they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Quinnipiac last spring.
Hartzell was good in five starts with the Nailers, posting a .922 save percentage, and great in his first two starts with the Baby Pens, stopping 54 of 56 shots in a pair of victories.
Hartzell, 24, is still in the early stages of his development, and his long-term place in the organization's goaltending picture remains to be seen. But his ceiling is high. After all, quick, 6-foot-4 goalies don't come around often.
“He's big, he's athletic and he's got a high intensity level in net,” Penguins goalie development coach Mike Buckley said. “That's his strength, and it also can be one of his weaknesses. He gets a little bit out of control. We're taming that down a little bit.”
Second-year pro Adam Payerl, a power-forward prospect the organization is high on, will miss three to four months with an upper-body injury. Payerl had two goals, six points and four fighting majors in 19 games.
His replacement in the Baby Pens lineup will be Beaver native C.J. Severyn, a third-year pro out of Ohio State signed to a 25-game tryout contract Monday. Severyn, a 6-1, 185-pound center, was leading the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears with 17 points in 19 games and was second on the team with 66 penalty minutes.
“He's a big, strong kid who's a good skater and is strong on the puck,” coach John Hynes said.
Second-year pro Dominik Uher, another power-forward prospect the organization likes, is also out with an injury. He will miss two to three weeks after taking a puck in the face on Nov. 27.
Two Penguins prospects have a legitimate beef about being left off Team Canada's roster for the World Junior Championships.
Statistically speaking, Edmonton's Tristan Jarry, a second-round pick in 2013, and Sault Ste. Marie's Matt Murray, a third-rounder in 2012, have been the top goalies in their respective junior leagues this season.
Instead, Team Canada chose two goalies with more big-game experience. Saginaw's Jake Paterson was on the WJC team last year, and Halifax's Zach Fucale led his team to a Memorial Cup last spring.
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 email@example.com.