The Pittsburgh Penguins have a tremendous amount of talent to call up from the American Hockey League (AHL). They have created a system in Wilkes-Barre that has allowed them to develop players such as Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Brian Dumoulin, just to name a few. Recently, Samuel Poulin and Drew O’Connor have made their way into the Penguins’ lineup and both players played their previous seasons in Wilkes-Barre. Alexander Nylander, Filip Hållander, and Ty Smith should be next on the Penguins’ call-up list if they are looking for help from the minors.
Nylander leads the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins with four goals and three assists through eight games. He has been playing on the top line alongside forwards O’Connor and Lukas Svejkovsky, and the chemistry has been working for him as he is averaging just under a point per game.
Nylander was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks last winter and split his AHL season between the Blackhawks’ and Penguins’ affiliates. In 67 games played, he finished with 22 goals and 42 points. At 24 years old, he has been a part of three teams. Prior to joining the Blackhawks, he played for the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans throughout his three years with the franchise. The eighth overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft will have something to prove if he wants to stay with the Penguins long-term.
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Nylander’s hot start to the season should catch the attention of Penguins’ management. He plays a skilled game that can complement the NHL Penguins’ third and fourth lines. His creativity can result in offensive contributions, benefitting the bottom six, as he can slot in on the fourth line and make an immediate impact to ease the line’s recent struggles. He can also play in the middle or on the wing, providing coaches with flexibility. Re-signed to a one-year, two-way deal in the offseason, he should be considered a top call-up choice.
Hållander was a second-round selection for the Penguins in the 2018 NHL Draft. Prior to starting out in the AHL, he helped Lulea HF win the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) contributing 14 points in 27 games played.
After finding success in Sweden, he came over to the AHL. The 6-foot-1 forward is in his second year with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and finished last season with 14 goals and 14 assists in 61 games played.
The left-winger plays on the Penguins’ affiliate’s second line and has started the season with six points. Wilkes-Barre’s last win came against the Hershey Bears and was won with an overtime goal scored by Hållander. The 22-year-old is in the last year of a three-year contract and should receive a call-up to the NHL club if the team wants to see him compete at a higher level. Head coach Mike Sullivan showed his praise for Hållander last season when he made his NHL debut against the New York Rangers, saying, “everyone feels we can put him in our lineup and he can be impactful in a number of ways.” Unfortunately, he was then sent down shortly after due to an injury.
The Swedish forward is a two-way player that can compete at both ends of the ice. He can forecheck aggressively to cause turnovers and backcheck to prevent scoring chances. His team-first mentality allows him to get the puck to his linemates to generate offense. He has a tall frame that can make it difficult for opposing players to play against and his long reach can be beneficial to the Penguins’ offense. They could use his playing style throughout the season, as he can slot in any part of the lineup to contribute to the team.
This past offseason the Penguins traded John Marino for Smith and a third-round pick in the 2023 Entry Draft. He has appeared in 114 NHL games and has recorded 43 points in his young career. He also led the Spokane Chiefs’ defensemen in points in all four seasons that he played with the Western Hockey League (WHL) club. The first-round selection in the 2018 Draft made the jump from the WHL straight to the NHL. After being acquired from the Devils, he started the 2022-23 season in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre.
Smith has been a large part of Wilkes-Barre’s early season success. He has played on the left side of the team’s top defense pairing and has the most points amongst the back end.
Smith has recorded five points in eight games and can easily get the call-up if he continues at this pace. The 22-year-old has produced everywhere he has played. In addition to his success in Spokane, he contributed to a gold medal win for Team Canada in the 2020 World Juniors and has shown he can compete in the NHL with the Devils. It won’t be long until he receives the call to play behind the NHL Penguins’ forwards.
While the Penguins gave up Marino for Smith, the acquisition will pay the team dividends. He is a tremendous skater and has the ability to make plays at both ends of the ice. He can carry the puck out of his own end and make accurate outlet passes, or skate it into the offensive zone to make a play. He has been able to do this with every team he’s played with so far in his career.
Smith was a first-round selection for a reason and his play style is well in line with the top defenders in the league. He can contribute to the Penguins’ defense and relieve minutes on the left side to help out players such as Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson. Penguins’ management is aware of the asset they traded for and he could be a great piece to the team’s lineup. As such, he should see NHL playing time before the new year.
The Penguins can benefit by calling up players such as Nylander, Hållander, and Smith. Nylander is a skilled player and his game is still growing. If given an opportunity with the team, his offensive skill can contribute to the Penguins’ forward group. Hållander is a two-way player that they can also use, as his work ethic can strengthen their bottom six and reward skilled players with his forechecking ability. On the back end, Smith is a talented young player who can make an immediate impact if called up and has already proven that he can compete at the next level. They have options in Wilkes-Barre and it won’t be long until we see these players make their season debuts.