Analysis: Where do the Penguins, Wilkes-Barre club go from here?
WILKES-BARRE — Back-to-back games and three in four nights during the American Hockey League Eastern Conference semifinals provided an opportunity for a contingent from the Penguins hockey operations department to do some scouting in Wilkes-Barre.
What did they see Saturday, Monday and Tuesday?
A lot. And those observations could shape what the Penguins do at the NHL Draft from June 26-28, in free agency starting July 1 and when the club convenes for training camp in mid-September.
Here are five questions being batted around by those who make such decisions:
1. What to do with Bobby Farnham?
He will play in the NHL next season. How frequently? That’s to be determined.
Management loves the intensity he brought during the 11 NHL games he played in 2014-15.
“He moved way up in everybody’s eyes when he came in and played at the NHL level and did a good job,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “He gave our team a lot of energy when he was there.
“What we’re really watching for now and trying to project is how many games can he play at the NHL level with that kind of energy. Certainly, he’s a guy who will get a great opportunity to make the big club next year.”
Farnham has no concern about the workload. Including playoffs, he has averaged 79 games during the past three seasons.
“It’s something that you learn every year: how to deal with that style of play and how you can be effective in that style of play for a long time,” Farnham said. “Three seasons in now, almost 80 games every season, I think it’s something I’m more than willing to do and more than capable of doing.”
2. Kasperi Kapanen can score, but can he defend?
Kapanen displayed a wicked shot in scoring three goals in seven playoff games. That was somewhat expected.
Playing within John Hynes’ defense-heavy system, though, was more of a test. Too often Kapanen, a standout with Kalpa of the Finnish Elite League, was a casual observer on defense.
The hope is tenacity will mirror Kapanen’s comfort playing the North American game.
“Some things are habits for me,” Kapanen said. “I have to change them for me to do small things here. I’m working on them. Once I get those done, I think I’ll be a really good player defensively and offensively.”
3. Goaltender Matt Murray had a spectacular season. Now what?
Twelve shutouts, a lengthy shutout streak, a slew of awards. Murray’s rookie year didn’t lack for accolades.
It’s unlikely Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup, Thomas Greiss, will return. Do the Penguins promote Murray and risk not playing him as much? Or do they keep him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and rely on Jeff Zatkoff as Fleury’s backup?
It’s likely the latter.
“It’s a position that you have to be careful as to how they’re developed,” Rutherford said. “(Murray) will be given an opportunity to get one of the spots in Pittsburgh next year but with some caution on our part … where it’s important for a young goalie to keep playing a lot and developing.”
4. Will Hynes be back?
Several around the NHL are aware of Hynes’ reputation as an excellent defensive coach and a solid teacher.
One of those happens to be former Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who’s in the market for a coach in his new role as New Jersey Devils GM.
Calling an old friend — or former employee — isn’t a crazy thought.
No request to interview Hynes has occurred yet, but it certainly will be worth monitoring after Shero returns from the IIHF World Championships in the Czech Republic.
5. What to make of the other forwards besides Kapanen?
An undisclosed injury limited Swedish prospect Oskar Sundqvist to one playoff games, and limited his chance to make an impression.
Scott Wilson was hurt, too, but what management saw during the NHL playoffs trumped any reasonable thing he would have done with Wilkes-Barre.
Conor Sheary led the Baby Penguins in playoff scoring and gave management every reason to approach him about an NHL contract.
And Bryan Rust could be a sleeper in the derby for an NHL spot, scoring goals Saturday and Monday in his first two games back from an injury suffered April 12.
“Obviously that’s something that’s in the back of my mind,” Rust said of adding to his career total of 14 NHL games, all achieved this past season. “Over the past month or so, I’ve just been focusing on getting healthy, getting my conditioning back and playing at a level that I know I can (play at).
“I know that if I perform and play the way that I’m capable of that I’ll be able to show what I’ve got and battle for a roster spot.”