For the purpose of this series of articles, I am presuming that both Zach Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong begin the season in the minors, and that all players on one-way contracts who played for WBS last year (Chad Ruhwedel, Derrick Pouliot and Josh Archibald) are with the NHL Penguins full time. Due to the size of the roster WBS has acquired this year, I’m going to break it down by position for each article.
Zach Aston-Reese, AHL Experience : Rookie
We have previously covered the potential that Aston-Reese has, with his relentless, gritty game providing immediate production for WBS in the 10 games he played on an ATO. Aston-Reese will be relied upon by WBS to play in a scoring role to begin the year, likely providing a net-front presence on the first PP and playing top-6 ice time. Don’t be surprised to see his AHL production disrupted by a call-up to the NHL, whether that’s as a result of injury or a result of his play warranting a permanent promotion. Expect Aston-Reese to contribute a rate of 20-25 goals and 50-60 points if he were to remain in the AHL the entire year.
Dominik Simon, AHL Experience : 2 Years
Dominik Simon, a 2015 draft pick of the Penguins, has spent the past 2 seasons playing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He started his career off to a hot start, before tailing off towards the end of the 2015-2016 season, with another inconsistent year following in 2016-2017. While his overall production of both years was good, Simon’s consistency is what needs to develop, with 3 separate instances in the 2016-2017 seasons where he went 4 or more games without registering a point. Simon has a high level of skill, and plays a solid 200 foot game, so expect to see him skating in the top-6 and seeing some PK time, where the Penguins will hope to see him develop into a more consistent offensive threat. Expect to see a slightly improved third year from Simon with a similar projection to Aston-Reese’s 20-25 goals and 60 points.
Tom Sestito, AHL Experience: 8 Years
Face punching extraordinaire Tom Sestito returns for his third year in the Penguins organisation. While the role of an enforcer may be all but extinct in the NHL (unless you ask Jim Rutherford), in the AHL, games have a higher likelihood of getting a little out of control. Many teams retain a primary face puncher in their organisation, and the Penguins have one of the better nuclear options to keep stored in your minors. Sestito possess a surprising amount of skill and produces at a reasonable rate when given the opportunity to do so, with a career AHL scoring rate of 0.43 points per game. This unexpected production, plus his ability to skate a regular shift in the AHL makes him a valuable asset for an AHL team that somewhat lacks in size (Elite Prospects has the WBS current roster at the 24th tallest). Sestito may get as high as 15 goals this year if he remains in the AHL the entire year, and don’t be shocked if you catch him out as a net front presence on the powerplay.
Thomas DiPauli, AHL Experience : 1 year
A disappointing year for Thomas DiPauli, who was derailed by multiple injuries and only managed to appear in 12 games, scoring 2 assists. Touted as a speedy, defensive minded forward coming out of college, the former Washington Capitals forward was signed to an ELC by the Penguins when his draft rights expired. It is difficult to put a number projection on what to expect of DiPauli given his lack of experience in pro hockey and coming off injuries. A year of 10-15 goals, 30-40 points and staying healthy will be a move in the right direction for DiPauli. He’ll be used in a bottom-6 role to make use of his speed and defensive ability, and may see some time at centre depending on what happens to WBS’ centre depth throughout the year.
Frederik Tiffels, AHL Experience: Rookie
A 6th round overager drafted in 2015, Frederik Tiffels just signed an ELC after finishing his junior year at Western Michigan University. Never quite producing offensively or developing the way the Penguins hoped, the Penguins likely moved to turn Tiffels turn pro as a result of this and the belief they can reset his development course as he was stuck in a bottom 6 role in college. Tiffels will likely start the year in Wheeling due to the amount of forwards in WBS this year, but will inevitably make some appearances. Look for him to play top-6 minutes in Wheeling but slot into a more defensive role for WBS when he is playing in the AHL.
Adam Johnson, AHL Experience: Rookie
A NCAA free agent signed by the Penguins after impressing at the recent development camp, Adam Johnson has a history of good production in the USHL and in college through his two years at Minnesota-Duluth. A creative, offensive minded player, Johnson has a tough crack to make it onto the opening WBS roster due to the number of forwards, so much like Tiffels above, expect to see him playing down in Wheeling for much of the year, adjusting the pro game. As such, I won’t make any projections on his points for the year.