For the second instalment of this series, we’re turning our attention to the center position. I’m going to include JS Dea in this, even though he hasn’t technically been re-signed yet. He has been qualified as an RFA and has no arbitration rights, so he will either be signed or face a year of not playing any hockey whatsoever. We also encounter our first players on AHL only contracts.
Greg McKegg, AHL Experience : 4 Years
A free agent signing from Tampa Bay who had picked him up on waivers from Florida around the 2017 trade deadline, Greg McKegg, brings a good amount of AHL experience to the Baby Penguins as well as an understanding of what it entails to be a call-up option for the big club. Following the path of many AHL players, McKegg plays a bottom-6 role in the NHL, but when it comes to the AHL, he plays in a scoring role more often than not. He also has some untapped offensive potential, as shown by his junior scoring totals and that he has only just turned 25. Surrounded by the offensive talent in the WBS top-6, McKegg is my pick to surprise a lot of people with his AHL play and may genuinely bring some competition to the 4th line C spot in the NHL. If he spends the entire year in the AHL, I expect him to pot 20 goals, with 25-30 assists.
Teddy Blueger, AHL Experience : 1 Year
We have previously discussed my expectations for Teddy Blueger here, and I cannot state how much of a solid prospect I believe he is. His offensive production was a significant sign of a player who is growing rapidly, and I wouldn’t get too comfortable seeing Blueger in WBS long term. I predict Bluger will pot 10 goals with 35-40 assists while playing as the 2nd line center for much of the year when he is in the AHL.
JS Dea, AHL Experience: 3 Years
Currently an unsigned RFA, Jean-Sébastien Dea has no arbitration rights so he will return to the Penguins. Although he is waiver eligible, I do not expect teams to be queueing up to try and pluck Dea off waivers. While age is on his side at the age of 23, Dea has shown little progress on his offense and has been molded by the Penguins into more of a defensively conscious player than he was coming in from juniors. What Dea does have to his advantage is that he has experience playing on the right wing, so expect to see him get plenty of time out there throughout the season. I expect 20 goals, 20 assists for a full year of AHL play from Dea, but he may see some spot call-up duty depending on how injured the NHL Penguins get up front.
Colin Smith, AHL Experience : 4 Years
A small but speedy center, Colin Smith is the first of the AHL only signings that we have come across. Previously playing for San Antonio, Toronto, and Lake Erie, Smith has a massive amount of AHL experience for having only just turned 24. His role on WBS is yet to be decided, with McKegg, Blugers, and Dea likely to be ahead of him on the depth chart. While Smith is likely more suited to a scoring role based on his passing ability and his size, he also has a strong enough two-way game in order to play in a bottom-six role. With call-ups, rotations, and form taken into account, I expect to see Smith appear in about 60 games, potting about 15 goals and 30 assists.
Jarrett Burton, AHL Experience: 2 Years
Jarrett Burton split his time between Wheeling and WBS last season after signing his first AHL pro contract. I’d expect more of the same this year. A bottom-6 guy in the AHL, Burton will likely start the year in Wheeling again until call-ups hit Wilkes-Barre and then he’ll slot into the bottom-6 at either wing or center, depending on the need of the team. I expect not a tremendous amount out of Burton this year, hitting 10 goals and 10 assists if he spends about 60 games in the AHL.
Troy Josephs, AHL Experience: Rookie
A 7th round pick of the Penguins back in 2013, Troy Josephs signed to an AHL contract at the conclusion of Clarkson University’s season and his senior season. A pretty averagely sized center at 6 foot and 194 pounds, Josephs fits a similar mold to most of the players in WBS in that they skate like the wind and they play a solid 200 foot game. He managed to appear in 13 regular season games and 1 playoff game playing on the 4th line; and given his potential development, he’ll likely start in the AHL and remain there. I expect 10 goals and 15 assists from a full season in the AHL for Josephs.
Riley Bourbonnais, AHL Experience: Rookie
Just signed as I’m writing this article (good timing Riley), Riley Bourbonnais is a center who was playing for Wheeling after the end of RPI’s college season where he was the captain. He then put up 8 points through 10 ECHL games for Wheeling and made an appearance at the NHL Penguins development camp, earning himself an AHL contract. A smaller but skilled forward, Bourbonnais was one of the few bright spots on a pretty abysmal RPI and while he is likely to start in the ECHL, expect to see Bourbonnais make a solid impression in the AHL by the end of the year, probably approaching 0.5 points per game when he does play up for Wilkes-Barre.