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Penguins' Return to Play Roster Has Heavy WBS Influence

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Penguins were permitted to bring a maximum of 31 players to Toronto (click here for the full roster). And in a tribute to the organization's development process, 19 of those players have all spent time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

They are forwards Anthony Angello, Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jake Guentzel, Adam Johnson, Sam Lafferty, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Phil Varone; defensemen Kevin Czuczman, Brian Dumoulin, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Kris Letang, Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel; and all four goalies: Casey DeSmith, Tristan Jarry, Emil Larmi and Matt Murray.

"It's awesome to see that," Aston-Reese said. "Just off the bat, it's nice to see familiar faces, and guys have that bond of playing in Wilkes. It's also easier for guys that are here Black Acing and guys that are called up. Not feeling out of place definitely helps."

For Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, it's a top-to-bottom effort that all starts with Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, who provide the necessary resources to make Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the development opportunity that it is.

From there, it's a testament to the hockey operations staff. Sullivan said they deserve a ton of credit for scouting and drafting many of those players, along with finding and signing highly sought-after college free agents.

Watching the success of players like Guentzel, Rust, Sheary, Dumoulin and Murray - who all spent a good chunk of time in WBS before becoming Stanley Cup champions - attracted those college free agents like Aston-Reese and Adam Johnson.

"I think you look at the core group of guys that started in Wilkes like Rusty, Shears, Guentz, Dumo, Muzz - those guys kind of led the way," Aston-Reese said. "That's why I chose Pittsburgh, I think that's why a lot of guys in this locker room chose Pittsburgh. It's just a good place to be for development."

And upon arriving in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Aston-Reese said he was blown away by the environment created by CEO Jeff Barrett and his staff.

"Just the way guys get treated there, it's unbelievable," Aston-Reese said. "You get treated like a pro. There's a lot expected from you, and you're expected to eventually get called up to Pittsburgh. That's why they have it set up that way. Like going to the rink and getting breakfast and lunch, there's not a lot of American League teams that do that."

And finally, WBS head coach Mike Vellucci and his staff do a terrific job in the day-to-day development of the players not only on the ice, but off the ice as well.

"This is an all-encompassing effort that that ultimately leads to the most competitive team that we think we can we can put on the ice at the NHL level," Sullivan said. "Certainly for me, it's a privilege to be part of that process. It's a deep-rooted belief that that the development process is so critical to staying competitive year in and year out. And I think our ownership and our management, particularly (general manager) Jim Rutherford, deserve a lot of credit for putting all the pieces in place there."

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