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Penguins minor league report: Thompson gets fresh start in Columbus system

- Pens Paul Thompson and Hersheys Steven Okleksy move to the puck. cv28thompson DAVE SCHERBENCO/CITIZENS VOICE
Pens Paul Thompson and Hersheys  Steven Okleksy move to the puck. cv28thompson DAVE SCHERBENCO/CITIZENS VOICE
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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 10:30 p.m.
 

WILKES-BARRE — From Brian Gibbons to Jayson Megna to Zach Sill, the Penguins have had their share of undrafted-prospect-makes-good stories this season.

Paul Thompson was not one of them. After struggling through the first four months of his third pro season, Thompson was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Spencer Machacek in a swap of 25-year-old right wingers earlier this month.

The first two years of Thompson's pro career went according to form. After a 28-goal senior season at New Hampshire, he signed an NHL deal with the Penguins in 2011. In the AHL, he improved from 10 goals as a rookie to 20 goals last year and started to look like he had potential as a sturdy, 6-foot, 200-pound NHL third liner.

Then his game fell off a cliff. He had four goals and a team-worst minus-8 rating in 39 games before being traded. Coach John Hynes was nothing but complimentary in his comments about Thompson, but it's no secret the Penguins weren't pleased with his lack of competitiveness on the puck, and it showed no signs of improving.

“Sometimes guys get in a situation where a change of scenery helps or a different voice helps,” Hynes said.

In return, the Penguins got Machacek, who is no longer a high-ceiling prospect in his sixth pro season, but he can play in all situations for the Baby Pens and be a call-up option.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Machacek is a three-time 20-goal scorer in the AHL with a physical element to his game.

He has played 25 career NHL games, putting up nine points in a 13-game stint with Winnipeg in 2011-12.

“He wins his one-on-one battles,” Hynes said. “He's good in the hard areas of the ice.”

All-Star oddity

The AHL changed its all-star format, having a team of the league's best players face Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in an exhibition Wednesday night.

Gibbons had two assists in a 7-2 win, but the interesting part is how he got them. Because the game resembled an actual hockey game, rather than the no-defense scrimmages all-star games often become, Gibbons was active on the forecheck. Twice, he forced turnovers to set up Ryan Strome, a New York Islanders prospect, for goals.

Hall of fame

The Baby Pens are inducting the inaugural class into the team's hall of fame Saturday. Popular enforcer Dennis Bonvie and captain-turned-assistant-coach Alain Nasreddine will be the first two players enshrined.

Night to remember

Notre Dame right wing Bryan Rust, the Penguins' third-round pick in the 2010 draft, had a game to remember against Maine on Feb. 8. He scored the tying goal with 1:08 left, then netted the game winner 24 seconds later to lead the Irish to a 3-2 victory.

The 5-11, 198-pound Rust projects as a checker as a pro, but he has 11 goals and 24 points through the first 29 games of his senior year.

Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999.

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