Pictured above: Ville Koivunen (photo credit: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League begins their postseason with a best-of-three opening-round series against Lehigh Valley. The schedule is as follows:

Game 1: Wednesday, Apr. 24 – Lehigh Valley @ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 7:05 PM, Mohegan Sun Arena
Game 2: Friday, Apr. 26 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton @ Lehigh Valley, 7:05 PM, PPL Center
Game 3 (if necessary): Sunday, Apr. 28 – Lehigh Valley @ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 5:05 PM, Mohegan Sun Arena

The future has gotten brighter when it comes to the pipeline, as younger guys started coming up and contributing in Pittsburgh this past season, while other prospects took big strides in their development with WBS. Here are a few players to watch in the foreseeable future, keeping in mind there's additional good, young talent in the mix right now.


Jack St. Ivany

After making his NHL debut on March 22 in Dallas, the defenseman remained in Pittsburgh’s lineup the rest of the way, appearing in 14 total games and making a terrific impression. “He’s just played with confidence and poise,” Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan said recently. “He’s a mobile guy, he defends really well, he’s got a good stick, he’s been helpful on the penalty kill. He processes the game really well.”

St. Ivany, who signed as a college free agent out of Boston College in 2022, had been in the midst of his second full season with WBS before getting the call-up. Penguins management is looking for a big playoff performance from the 6-foot-3 blueliner so that St. Ivany can begin his third pro campaign in Pittsburgh.

“The messaging to him was, ‘go down, dominate as you have through the playoffs, help Wilkes to win – and then, that will put you in a better spot to make it in camp next year.' So certainly, I expect him to be in that mix,” Penguins President of Hockey Operations and GM Kyle Dubas said.

St. Ivany makes up WBS' top defense pairing alongside Ryan Shea, who made Pittsburgh’s opening-night roster and appeared in 22 games with Pittsburgh – which included his NHL debut – in the first half of the season before heading to WBS. After getting called back up, the 27-year-old blueliner elevated his game.

“I think the second time around, he has a whole different confidence level,” Sullivan had said. “I don't think he's playing a cautious game. He's making the plays when they're there. He's making simple plays when they're not there. He's defending hard. I think him and Jack have played really well together as a pair. They're defending hard. They've been good on the penalty kill. They have pretty good chemistry. That's something that we've noticed in watching them in the time we've had him here, but I don't think there's any question Ryan's brought his game to another level this time around.”

Sam Poulin

St. Ivany and Shea stepped up during a time when the Penguins lost a few players due to illness, including 2021 first-round pick Sam Poulin. “That was going to be his run, because he's played very well for Wilkes,” Dubas said.

Instead, the 23-year-old forward will look to put an exclamation point on his strong season in the AHL. As Poulin put it, he’s come a long way since last year, and has put in so much work to be in a better place mentally. Read more about Sam’s journey.

Tristan Broz

Pittsburgh’s 2021 second-round pick has turned professional after playing a key role in helping Denver win the NCAA national title, scoring two overtime winners during the tournament.

“(The WBS coaches) told me to play my game and to be confident, to just kind of be myself,” Broz said. “It helps coming right from more playoff hockey, just go right back into playoff hockey. You know kind of how it’s going to be. It's going to be intense and a battle. Mostly just to play your game.” Read more about Broz’s championship season.

Joel Blomqvist

Pittsburgh’s 2020 second-round pick has excelled during his first professional season in North America following his time with Karpat in Finland’s Liiga.

The 22-year-old goaltender was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team and a Second Team All-Star after finishing the year with a 25-12-6 record. Blomqvist’s 2.16 goals-against average ranked third in the league, while his .921 save percentage and 25 wins ranked fifth.

“He’s mentally strong beyond his years,” WBS Head Coach J.D. Forrest said. “I feel like with his demeanor, he's so relaxed out there. But he's an explosive goaltender, and the way he moves in the net from side to side and comes out and attacks the puck – it’s pretty remarkable to see, especially on a nightly basis. For a younger guy coming over here from Europe, his first season has been amazingly consistent, and I think that just goes along with his demeanor.”

Blomqvist credits the organization’s goaltending staff for helping with the adjustment, saying they watch a lot of video from games, constantly take small steps to make the game easier, and constantly preach patience.

With Blomqvist pushing the way he is, Dubas said they are going to use this next stretch of weeks to determine the future of Pittsburgh’s goaltending.

“The playoffs with Wilkes, how does Joel play, can he assert himself at that level? And then we will have more information on how we want to go ahead,” Dubas said.

Ville Koivunen

This will be our first look at the Finnish forward in a Penguins uniform after being acquired from Carolina as part of the Jake Guentzel trade. He’ll be reunited with Blomqvist, his former teammate – and road roommate – in Karpat.

“I know him pretty well,” the netminder said. “He's a great guy and a good player, yeah. I think he will be a good fit here… I think he's really, really skilled player and reads the game well. He can make some pretty sick plays if we need, and just a reliable player.

Koivunen comes over after finishing second in goals (22) and points (56) for Karpat while leading in assists (34). The 20-year-old tied for the league lead in playoffs with 12 points (5G-7A) in 11 games. Dubas said earlier in the year the plan would be to give Koivunen a full playoff run with WBS, and expect him to contend for Pittsburgh’s roster next season.

“But, at the same time, if he needs time in the transition to North America, we’ll get it all ramped up in Wilkes-Barre for him,” Dubas said of the 2021 second-round pick. “He was a guy that when we got to the 2021 draft when I was in Toronto, we had highly touted in our process year going through this. He was one of their players we had targeted very highly, and he’s had a great year with Karpat.”

Owen Pickering

Pittsburgh’s 2023 first-round pick Brayden Yager currently has seven goals and 14 points in nine Western Hockey League playoff games for Moose Jaw. The Warriors eliminated Swift Current in the second round, which means 2022 first-round pick Owen Pickering is joining WBS.

“I expect those two younger kids, Yager and Pickering, to push, assert yourself,” Dubas said. “Have a huge summer, assert yourself. We've shown here in this last stretch, if you're a young player and you're willing to push through the summer, you have a massive opportunity, you can have a shot here with us. And that's what we need, desperately."

Read more on Pickering’s season, and what the 20-year-old defenseman learned from last year’s stint with WBS.