Penguins prediction rewind: Garrett Wilson came out of nowhere to secure spot on fourth line
Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2018-19 season. Some were OK. Some were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.
Which Wilkes-Barre/Scranton call-up will play the most NHL games for the Penguins this season?
A. Zach Aston-Reese
B. Jimmy Hayes
C. Juuso Riikola
D. Tristan Jarry
E. Teddy Blueger
F. None of the above
THE RIGHT ANSWER
F. None of the above
• The only reason Aston-Reese started the season in the AHL was that he was the only candidate for demotion who didn’t need to clear waivers to be sent down after the late signing of Derek Grant caused a logjam of bottom-six forwards. Aston-Reese showed some promise before Tom Wilson’s illegal hit ended his season in the playoffs the year before.
• Riikola was an intriguing prospect, but he figured to be no better than eighth on the defenseman depth chart. … Jarry had already essentially lost the back-up battle to Casey DeSmith. … Blueger had too many players to leapfrog on the center depth chart.
A sample of Facebook comments:
• “I’m going to go with Blueger. While Zach has more of an ‘all-around game,’ Blueger would be a guy that could provide a Guentzel-like spark.”
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
• Called up by the first week of November, winger Garrett Wilson gave coach Mike Sullivan a physical option on the fourth line that he turned to more often than not. Wilson recorded two goals, eight points and two fighting majors in 50 games. He appeared in all four playoff games as well.
• Aston-Reese made some contributions, adding eight goals and 17 points in 43 games, but he didn’t stay healthy enough to play more games than Wilson. … Riikola ended up starting the season in the NHL, so he wasn’t technically a call-up at all. … DeSmith got a contract extension and Jarry played only two games. … Blueger might have made the biggest impact of any of the call-ups, but he didn’t make his NHL debut until the end of November.
THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC
• Being named the successor to Tom Kostopoulos as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s captain didn’t sentence Wilson to a full season in the AHL. It was a mistake to think it would. It was also a mistake to underestimate the appeal of a physical presence on the fourth line. Even the most modern coaches tend to want to have a player like Wilson around.
• Predicting which call-up will play the most games in a season isn’t just about ability. It’s also about durability. That’s something Aston-Reese has yet to display in his NHL career.
NHL teams that consider themselves championship contenders don’t make call-up decisions based on ceiling. They make them by pondering who they think will help them win a game tonight. If a coach trusts a veteran player to not make a mistake in limited duty, he has a better chance at a promotion than a talented 20-year-old.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .