Penguins land Mikkelson, bring in Hartzell

Over the weekend, the Penguins announced deals with Brendan Mikkelson and Eric Hartzell.

Mikkelson, who spent last season in Syracuse with the Crunch, was a second round draft pick of the Anahiem Ducks in 2005. Though he did get a brief shot in the NHL with the Lightning last season — he suited up for four games — he was primarily in the Crunch lineup, suiting up for 13 regular season games, and 13 playoff contests in 2012-13.

At just 26 years old, Mikkelson will be suiting up with his fifth club, previously playing games in the Anaheim, Toronto, Calgary, and Tampa Bay organizations.

Jason Iacona of Chirps From Center Ice had this to say about the signing:

Bombulie suggests he fills the role of Dylan Reese. He figures that Wilkes-Barre could do well to get another defenseman to fill the role Joey Mormina played.

Mikkelson was #35 on the Bombulie / Cignoli Big Board. Described as a “capable depth defenseman, solid in the AHL and can fill in at the NHL level.”

That certainly helps, as eluded to yesterday by Mike O’Brien, the Wilkes-Barre blue line is very young.

Hartzell, 24, has spent the last four seasons with Quinnipiac of the NCAA, and has been re-signed by the Penguins after signing his initial deal with the Penguins at the culmination of Quinnipiac’s season.

Last year, while with the Bobcats, Hartzell backstopped the team in 42 games and posted a 1.57 GAA and .933 SV%.

A Hobey Baker finalist, ECAC Goaltender and Player of the Year, and First All-Star, Hartzell will suit up in Wilkes-Barre next season to begin his professional career.


Thiessen to backstop SM-Liiga’s HIFK

Once free agency opened on July 5, it was thought that former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen would be highly sought after.

Nearly ten days later — and still without a job in North America — Thiessen has signed to play in Finland.

Jason at Chirps From Center Ice was on top of this as soon as news came down:

After an illustrious four year career with the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins compiling a regular season record of 88-49-12-6, 2.47 GAA and a .906 SV% and a playoff record of 18-16, 2.31 GAA and a .924 SV% Thiessen is heading to HIFK in the Sm-liiga, which is the highest level of professional hockey in Finland. HIFK is a team located in Helsinki, which is the largest city and the capital of Finland.

While not surprising, the writing was on the wall from the start of the season for Thiessen with the arrival and play of Jeff Zatkoff.

Thiessen undoubtedly will go down as one of the best goaltenders to come through Wilkes-Barre and will be never forgotten for his historic Game 6 performance vs. the Providence Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this year.

Spending four years in one place is quite an extended stay for a goaltender who was in the habit of inking one-year deals. It had become evident that Thiessen’s spot wasn’t going to be with the big club — no matter his efforts in the ‘A’, Thiessen’s only seen action in five NHL games — but the signing and subsequent extension of Tomas Vokoun all but made his full-time jump to the NHL impossible.

The contract appears to be for one season, so Thiessen could realistically end back in North America come the 2014-15 season.

Zolnierczyk signs extension with Pens

Harry Zolniercyzk has inked a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Zolnierczyk, who most will recognize from his stint with the state rival Philadelphia Flyers, comes to the Penguins after his rights were acquired from the Anaheim shortly after the end of the NHL season. At 25, Zolnierczyk made his way to the NHL out of the NCAA’s Brown University, where he captained the team in his final year of NCAA eligibility.

In his fourth and final season with Brown, Zolnierczyk was named the Ivy League Player of the Year, and earned himself a deal with the Adirondack Phantoms. In 16 games with the Phantoms in 2010-11, the Toronto, Ont., native tallied three goals and two assists and added 37 PIM.

The 5’11” winger has only appeared in 44 NHL games over his career, and will have a difficult time cracking what is — on paper — one of the deepest lineups in the big leagues. Zolnierczyk will likely continue his AHL career and start his season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 116 AHL games, Zolnierczyk has tallied 22 goals and 23 assists.

(Cover image by Bridget Samuels)

Penguins bring back pair for Wilkes-Barre

Zach Sill and Paul Thompson aren’t going anywhere.

The duo, who played last season with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, are back with the club after signing one-year, two-way deals with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Combined, the two forwards contributed 38 points (24-14) to the Pens, as well as adding a bit of toughness up front. Sill, who appeared in 58 games last season, had 84 PIM, while Thompson, who suited up in 57, posted 108 PIM.

Sill, who has spent four season in the AHL with the Pens, came to the AHL after finishing his career in the QMJHL. In 259 career AHL games, Sill has scored 30 gaols and added 37 assists. While he won’t ‘wow’ anyone with his skill, Sill is still able to make things happen on the ice with his size and grit. At six-feet and 201 lbs., the Maritimer has the frame of a prototypical power forward, and while his contributions might be slight, his presence on the ice helps create space for those around him/

Thompson, a 24-year-old from Methuen, Mass., came to the Pens as an undrafted free agent from the University of New Hampshire. While at UNH, Thompson showed a flare for finding the net, tallying 57 goals and 55 assists in 140 games, a points per game pace of .80. While it’s no surprise that Thompson hasn’t sustained that in the AHL, his 31 goals and 26 assists in 131 games in the ‘A’ makes him a threat to score. Thompson showed his ability to find the back of the net last season, when he set a career high with 20 goals in 58 games.

During the WBS Penguins run in the playoffs, Thompson suited up in 15 games, and contributed to the tune of three goals and three assists.

Financial terms of the deals have not been released.

Pens lose one, add four on two-way deals

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost a part of their farm club’s top-six, but made up for it by signing four forwards to contracts.

Trevor Smith, a 28-year-old from Ottawa, Ont., had spent the last year as an alternate captain on the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, took advantage of his free agency and signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Smith, who made his pro-debut in 2006-07 as an undrafted free agent out of the NCAA’s University of New Hampshire, has spent parts of the last six seasons in the AHL. While never an elite AHL talent, Smith has parlayed his opportunities with AHL clubs into a full-time spot in 2008-09, when he played 76 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and posted 30 goals and 32 assists. Though he’s moved around quite a bit — Smith has played for Bridgeport, Syracuse, Springfield, Norfolk, and Wilkes-Barre — he’s been effective in every setting, and was given the alternate captaincy in Wilkes-Barre last season.

With the loss of Smith, the Penguins looked to fill some spots in their lineup, and did so by inking Nick Drazenovic, Bobby Farnham, and Chris Conner, all to one-year, two-way deals, and Andrew Ebbett to a two-year, two-way deal.

The biggest name of the four, Ebbett, has spent the last two seasons with the Canucks organization, but has seen his career settle into the role of transition player between the AHL and NHL. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Senators in 2006, Ebbett has since moved organizations on nearly a year-to-years basis. Since signing with Ottawa in ’06, Ebbett has played for Anaheim, Chicago, Minnesota, Phoenix, and Vancouver. In 191 NHL games, Ebbett has put up 64 points (25-39), but he’s been effective at an incredible level in the AHL. Ebbett’s 236 points (76-160) over 247 games puts him in elite AHL territory, and he is a game breaker at the minor level.

Conner, who spent time in the Penguins organization from 2009-2011, but left to sign on with the Detroit Red Wings in the offseason of 2011. In his first stint with the Pens, Conner caught on with the big club, spending 60 games in the NHL in 2010-11, where he put up 16 points in a bottom six role. Conner will likely split time between the farm and the big club.