Another week, another couple of players lost via call-up to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Tuesday, the latest Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to leave for Pittsburgh Nick Drazenovic and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who reported to the team Wednesday.
Drazenovic was the team’s last remaining center from the opening night roster and he was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s fifth-leading scorer with 20 points in 26 games. Drazenovic centered the team’s top line with wingers Harry Zolnierczyk and Tom Kostopoulos.
Leblond got his first call-up of the season and he was leading the Penguins with 137 penalty minutes in 31 games. He has 40 NHL games in his career with New Jersey and Calgary, and has been a staple on the Penguins’ fourth line.
During Tuesday’s practice, Denver Manderson filled Drazenovic’s spot on the top line. Manderson, who is a rookie, has no goals and three assists in 18 games with the Penguins this season, but he does have an offensive track record in juniors and the ECHL that shows he may be a good fit centering the top line.
Manderson, 24, scored 40 goals in his last season of juniors and posted 18 goals with Wheeling the year before last. So far with the Penguins, Manderson has played primarily on the third and fourth lines.
“In juniors and the ECHL, he’s been in more offensive situations,” head coach John Hynes said. “We feel he has some of that offensive skill and this is more of an opportunity to create some offense.”
Manderson said if he does play between Zolnierczyk and Kostopoulos, his approach won’t change much.
“Just try to win faceoffs and catch up to Z,” he said. “I’ve pretty much played with skilled guys all along, so it’s nothing new to me.”
Manderson was referring to his junior years in the British Columbia Hockey League, when his linemate was current Pittsburgh Penguin Beau Bennett. in the 2009-10 season, the duo combined for 81 goals and 233 points.
Even if the opportunity to center a team’s top offensive players isn’t new to Manderson, the fact that it is coming this season is something he appreciates even more.
Last year, an injury limited Manderson to just one game with Wheeling.
“I couldn’t even imagine a year as bad as that,” he said. “it was tough, but it also made me realize just how much I missed it. If I think I’m having a bad day now, I always reflect back on last year and it puts me back in place.”
• Manderson joins Brian Gibbons, Jayson Megna, Andrew Ebbett and Zach Sill as the other centers who have been called up to Pittsburgh this season. He believes the demand for centers is a result of versatility. “I think a lot of guys who can play center can also play wing,” Manderson said. “Maybe that has something to do with it.”
• Speaking of versatility, Hynes wasn’t sure where Pittsburgh would use Drazenovic, but he does know what the big club found appealing. “He’s done well for us in the middle and very well on faceoffs,” Hynes said. “That was intriguing to Dan (Bylsma) and those guys. I know he’s going to play, but I’m not sure where.”
• With Drazenovic gone, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is left with Manderson, Zack Torquato and Mike Carman as its centers. Hynes said RW Carter Rowney will move to center as well. While more players could return from Pittsburgh before Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hits the road this weekend, Hynes is preparing with the roster he has today.
“The way the year has gone, everytime you think someone’s going to come back there’s another injury,” he said. “We’re going to juts focus on the guys we have here right now.”
• The Penguins swapped defensemen this week, bringing Nick D’Agostino up from Wheeling and sending Barry Goers to the Nailers.