August 20, 2010

Month to go, and Pirates taking shape

Well before camp starts, Portland looks set in goal and on defense, and promising at forward.

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

One week after signing a two-year contract to continue as coach of the Portland Pirates, Kevin Dineen said he's on schedule in putting the team together.

With more than a month to go before training camp, Dineen said the team still has some holes but expects to fill them in the next three weeks.

"There's a lot of real quality players out there," said Dineen, who is entering his sixth season as the Pirates' coach. "We're narrowing our search for players right now."

The Pirates could sign as many as three veterans before the Buffalo Sabres, their parent team, open training Sept. 13.

Dineen said the Pirates are in good shape defensively.

"Our goaltending spots are filled and we have six defensemen, with the kids coming in and the recent signing of (Marc-Andre) Gragnani."

Last week, the Sabres signed David Leggio, a former Clarkson University goalie, to back up Jhonas Enroth, who is expected to return for a third season.

Leggio, who has played in just two AHL games, helped TPS Turku capture the Finnish League championship last season. In seven playoff games he compiled a 1.58 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.

Gragnani, who led Portland defensemen in scoring the past two seasons, and Mike Weber, another three-year veteran with a team-best plus-18 rating while playing all 84 games last season, provide a solid defensive nucleus.

Defensemen T.J. Brennan, Dennis Persson and Drew Schiestel will be returning for their second full American Hockey league seasons.

Tim Conboy, a veteran left winger who signed in July, also can play defense.

Alex Biega, a former Harvard defenseman, and Nick Crawford, who spent the past four seasons in the junior Western Hockey League, are expected to start their pro careers in Portland.

Up front, it's a different story.

"I would say that up front there are two or three open spots which have yet to be filled," Dineen said.

"We haven't made contractual obligations to guys, and the picture is not completely clear for our team."

The Pirates usually carry a minimum of 12 forwards. At the moment, nine are signed.

Mark Mancari, the Pirates' leading scorer the past two seasons, was re-signed by the Sabres earlier this month. Other forwards under contract who have spent at least one season with Portland include Paul Byron, Felix Schutz, Travis Turnbull and Derek Whitmore.

Dennis McAuley, a former Northeastern forward who spent last season with the Worcester Sharks, and rookies Luke Adam, Jacob Lagace and Corey Tropp are also signed.

"Part of the thinking is to fill those (forward) spots with real quality American League hockey players," Dineen said.

He said he won't have difficulty finding quality players to fill those vacancies.

"Last year at this time I had not signed Cody McCormick or Brad Larsen or Jeff Cowan," Dineen said. "We're not in a very different situation. We're looking at players who can provide a level of depth and experience, and step up immediately and help in Buffalo, and also play high-end roles for us."

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

 

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