October 14, 2011; Boston MA, USA; Denver Pioneers winger Beau Bennett (9) prior to scoring against the Boston College Eagles in the second period at Conte Forum. Mandatory Credit: Andrew B. Fielding-US PRESSWIRE

Penguins minor-league report: Tangradi, Bennett power Baby Pens


The point isn’t fresh, but it remains relevant: this year’s American Hockey League is significantly enhanced. With top-level talent currently compressed into the AHL fold during the ongoing labor stoppage, North America’s best minor league resembles NHL Lite, lending more legitimate “projectability” to player performance.

If we can accept the above statement as true, Pittsburgh Penguins fans should be greatly encouraged by the impressive output to date from forward prospects Eric Tangradi and Beau Bennett. We look at their exploits with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, as well as the latest from the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, in this week’s minor-league report.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (8-7-0, 16 points – 3rd in AHL’s East Division)

The Baby Penguins wrapped a 4-1-0 homestand with a pair of wins over Springfield and Bridgeport. Last Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Columbus affiliate Springfield (10-2-1) was powered by Bennett’s two goals, giving the 21-year-old Californian three tallies in his first year out of the University of Denver. The 6-foot-1 Bennett finished the week with 11 points in 15 games, the most on the team.

Tangradi trails Bennett by just one point, a position boosted by his hat trick last Friday against Bridgeport. Tangradi’s second career three-goal AHL game provided all the offense in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 3-1 decision over Bridgeport, affiliate of the New York Islanders. The fourth-year Penguin has nine goals, already halfway to his single-season professional high.

In goal, Jeff Zatkoff earned victories against Springfield and Bridgeport while stopping 44 of 46 shots. After a middling October, Zatkoff has a .959 save percentage in November, giving him a .932 season mark in that category. Brad Thiessen started in the Pens’ 4-1 loss at Hershey last Saturday; the 26-year-old allowed three goals on 20 shots and has stopped just 87 percent of the shots he’s seen this season. Last year’s No. 1 goalie has played in four of 15 games so far.

The Penguins will try to earn their first win in four games against the Hershey Bears on Wednesday before hosting the Toronto Marlies on Saturday.

Wheeling Nailers (3-7-3, 12 points – 4th in ECHL’s Atlantic Division)

Considering the way the Nailers have been playing lately, it was probably beneficial that they took the ice in anger only once last week. Nonetheless, Wheeling’s winless streak reached six (0-4-2) with a no-doubt 6-1 defeat in Toledo last Saturday night.

Former Quinnipiac University sniper Scott Zurevinski netted the Nailers’ lone goal of the week to give the first-year pro three in 12 games. Among Nailers who have played more than four games, he is one of two with a plus rating; Phillipe Lefebrve is the other.

Wheeling begins a three-game homestand Wednesday against Evansville. The Nailers, who are three behind Trenton for third in the four-team Atlantic Division, battle Cincinnati on Saturday. The team will be taking donations at both games to benefit former Nailer Chris Kushneriuk, who has cancer.

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