Penguins minor league notebook: Wilkes-Barre still fields pair of NHL veterans
WILKES-BARRE — It seems impossible, given the frequent call-ups of the past month, but there are at least two players in Wilkes-Barre with NHL experience who have yet to make their Penguins debut.
Defenseman Brendan Mikkelson has played 131 games with Anaheim, Calgary and Tampa Bay. Center Nick Drazenovic has played 11 games with St. Louis and Columbus. Both are 26-year-old, seventh-year pros who signed two-way NHL deals with the Penguins in July.
Lately, their No. 1 job has been to keep the Baby Pens afloat while nine of the team's top 19 scorers have been in the NHL. Ultimately, though, both have skills that might make them effective call-ups.
Mikkelson is a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder who leads AHL defensemen with 11 power-play assists. He isn't a dynamic talent, but he's solid in all areas of the game.
“I feel like I can play any style you want to play,” Mikkelson said. “I have the size to play a rough-and-tumble game. I can play in my own end, and I can play in the offensive zone.”
Drazenovic, meanwhile, has 14 points in 15 games and has become the Baby Pens' first-line center. He plays on the perimeter a bit too much, but he has the skill to be a short-term top-six fix.
“I just want to win and whatever happens, happens,” Drazenovic said. “Help the young guys develop and if they need me in Pitt, I'll play.”
The promotion of Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson opened prime AHL ice time for some young defensemen. Rookie Scott Harrington has moved to the top pair, but he was effectively playing plenty of minutes in all situations anyway.
The biggest step up might be the one rookie Nick D'Agostino is making. A 2008 seventh-round draft pick out of Cornell, he's gone from being the sixth or seventh defenseman to playing on the second pair and on the power play.
A 6-2, 197-pounder with good puck skills, D'Agostino struggled with turnovers in November before rallying as his ice time increased.
“He's got it back,” coach John Hynes said. “Maybe his confidence dipped a little bit.”
Czech winger Dominik Uher was scheduled to return to the lineup this weekend for the first time since taking a puck to the face in a Nov. 27 game.
Uher, a 2011 fifth-round pick, is in the midst of a breakout season. He has more points (nine) in 19 games this year than he had in 53 games as a rookie last year (seven).
Notre Dame center Bryan Rust, a 2010 third-round pick, slips off the prospect radar at times, largely because there's nothing sexy about a defensively responsible forward. He'll soon play in a spotlight game, however, as the No. 13 Irish will face No. 7 Boston College on Jan. 4 at Fenway Park.
Rust, a 5-11, 198-pound alternate captain, is having a solid senior year. He has 12 points in 18 games, including a goal and four assists in his past five.
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.