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Hollidaysburg’s Lafferty making strides

One team swept in the first round of the playoffs, the other two eliminated in the regular season.

That’s not the standard for one of the premier organizations in professional hockey.

Pittsburgh Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin, the architect of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and the rest of Pittsburgh upper management will kick their work into high gear over the next few days. Development camp begins today in Cranberry and the free agency signing period opens Monday.

While the WBS Penguins missed the postseason for the first time since 2002, a full-scale rebuild isn’t needed to see improvement this fall, Guerin said.

“We feel like we’re pretty solid in all areas,” Guerin said. “The results of the season were unfortunate, but players all made steps.”

Perhaps none more than Hollidaysburg native Sam Lafferty and Adam Johnson.

Lafferty, a former fourth-round draft pick, emerged as one of the Penguins’ best players by the end of his rookie season, finishing with 49 points (13G-36A) after he was paired with Sam Miletic and Ryan Haggerty.

Meanwhile, Johnson improved his consistency as in his second season and showed a greater understanding of the pro game, Guerin said. He was rewarded with a six-game stint in Pittsburgh.

The Minnesota native was one of five players to receive a qualifying offer before Tuesday’s deadline, allowing Pittsburgh to retain his negotiating rights. The others were Teddy Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese, Joseph Blandisi and Marcus Pettersson.

Guerin expects big things from forwards Thomas Di Pauli and Joseph Cramarossa, who were re-signed to NHL contracts this offseason. Di Pauli’s promising 2018-19 season ended after 29 games due to a lower body injury.

“I expect Thomas to pick up where he left off,” Guerin said. “He was playing his best hockey when he had the injury. He’ll get his fair share.

“Joe provides a certain grit level, and we need that. But, we can’t forget about his skill level as well. He played in 60 NHL games just a couple years ago. He was someone we brought in to get himself back on track to the NHL.”

A hot topic surrounding last weekend’s NHL draft was the status of goaltender Tristan Jarry, who will be on a one-way contract this season and seemed like an obvious candidate for the trade block. The organization is happy with its five netminders, Guerin said, after the addition of Finland’s Emil Larmi.

One element the organization could look to bolster in free agency is its puck movement on defense, Guerin said.

Even after Wilkes-Barre/Scranton spent the majority of the last two seasons without a true captain on the ice, finding a veteran player to fill that role next season isn’t a priority. With Garrett Wilson in the NHL, the team relied on a leadership group last year that included Cramarossa, Chris Summers and Kevin Czuczman. The latter two will be unrestricted free agents.

“Right now, we’re focused on putting the best team together,” Guerin said. “Captaincy is so important and something you need to look long and hard at.”

No matter what moves are made in the coming days, the organization is determined to be more competitive.

“It’s unacceptable to us the way things went down,” he said. “We all take responsibility and are motivated to get the teams back on track.”

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