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August 17, 2011
Top 10 Prospects
Pittsburgh Penguins

by Corey Pronman

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Full list of NHL Organizational Rankings

Pittsburgh Penguins Top 10 Prospects

1. Joe Morrow, Defense
2. Simon Despres, Defense
3. Tom Kuhnhackl, Right Wing
4. Eric Tangradi, Left Wing
5. Roberto Bortuzzo, Defense
6. Beau Bennett, Right Wing
7. Brian Strait, Defense
8. Scott Harrington, Defense
9. Kenneth Agostino, Left Wing
10. Philip Samuelsson, Defense

Organizational Ranking: 25th

System Overview: While the Penguins system isn't particularly poor in depth, its lack of top-end prospects is the main reason why they are ranked so low in our organizational rankings. Joe Morrow, Simon Despres, Tom Kuhnhackl and Beau Bennett all have some desirable upside, but there are either question marks labeled across those projections or the upside isn't at a desirable enough level to produce true top quality value.

There are a lot of fine lower-tier players in this system though who can project to play on a bottom-half of a roster.

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1. Joe Morrow, Defense
Date of birth: 12/09/1992
Age: 18
Height: 6'0''
Weight: 197
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 60 GP, 9 G, 49 P (Portland-WHL)
Acquired: First round, 23rd overall in 2011 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Joe Morrow entered his third WHL season expected to produce for the powerhouse Winterhawks and he delivered. He's a fine skater with good mechanics. Morrow regularly rushes the puck up the ice and shows nice agility in how he's able to weave through defenders. His puck skills are above-average to plus, but he's definitely a plus passer. Morrow makes above-average passes with ridiculous ease and he's multi-dimensional in his puck-moving ability. He can stretch the ice on the breakout, bring the puck up very well (and often mind you), and he controls the power play effectively. His offensive hockey sense is above-average as he is calm with the puck, senses pressure well and reacts well to the play while it's unfolding. While he does like to get involved in the offense a lot, it's rare that he would do so and make a bad play that would give up an odd-man rush.

The Bad: Morrow's physical game right now is fringe, but he can likely hit a below-average grade when he's done filling out, which is a ways away as he has a twig-like frame currently. For a smaller defender, he does protect the puck moderately well, but when he engages he's not that effective. His defensive awareness is below-average, though. It's not horrid, but for a player with his physical game, it still needs to come a ways for coaches at the highest level to trust him with significant minutes.

Projection: An above-average second pairing defender with great counting numbers, with a below-average second pairing defender floor projection.

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2. Simon Despres, Defense
Date of birth: 06/27/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'4''
Weight: 225
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 47 GP, 13 G, 41 P (Saint John-QMJHL)
Acquired: First round, 30th overall in 2009 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Despres is an above-average skater, and well above-average for a 6'4" defenseman. He moves pretty fluidly, extends well on his straight-line movements, and shows decent lateral agility. He has tremendous skills with the puck for a big defenseman, with the ability to make a flashy move or pass that can raise eyebrows across the rink. Despres is pretty coordinated for a big defender and has the dexterity of a sub-6'0" player. He has a good wingspan that allows him to be an effective stick-checker. When Despres engages, his frame and impressive strength level allows him to be quite effective in the physical game.

The Bad: Despres' decision-making and defensive game have always been his major issues, and while those areas have shown progression, they still are below-average. He can be too risky at times, turns the puck over too much and has some positional play adjustments to make. He's also not the nastiest player when it comes to the physical game.

Projection: He has above-average second pairing defender upside, but could end up a below-average second to above-average third pairing defender.

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3. Tom Kuhnhackl, Right Wing
Date of birth: 02/21/1992
Age: 19
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 183
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 63 GP, 39 G, 68 P (Windsor-OHL)
Acquired: Fourth round, 110th overall in 2010 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Kuhnhackl has above-average puck skills and is very coordinated with the puck. He's not an overly flashy player, but has the ability to make impressive moves. He's pretty good in front of the net in terms of getting his stick on loose pucks and being able to create chances from in tight. Tom thinks the game at an above-average level, displaying great vision from the sideboards, good decisions all-around with and without the puck, on top of an overall impressive feel for the game. His physical play is solid, with one NHL scout saying Kuhnhackl's physical game got progressively better as the OHL season went on as he made an effort to become a grittier player. He shows a fine work ethic at both ends of the rink when he drives to the net for offense or comes back hard to support his defense. His speed is solid and he can definitely help push the pace.

The Bad: Kuhnhackl still has a lot of growing left to do as he is quite physically undeveloped. His first few steps could use a little work as he seems a little awkward out of the gate.

Projection: An average second line forward who safely projects as a below-average second to above-average third line forward.

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4. Eric Tangradi, Left Wing
Date of birth: 02/10/1989
Age: 22
Height: 6'4''
Weight: 225
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 42 GP, 18 G, 33 P (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-AHL)
Acquired: Trade from Anaheim; drafted second round, 42nd overall in 2007 by Anaheim

The Good: Tangradi is a plus physical player. He's a power forward with a big frame who wins a ton of puck battles, goes to the net regularly and can be a threat on the forecheck, with the ability to land bone-crunching hits. He's a pain to deal with in the cycle game due to his frame and the strength that he has on the puck. He's pretty coordinated for a big player and can be a fine player with the puck. Tangradi also shows the ability to see the ice at a notable level and he can be a good distributor. He shoots the puck at an above-average level and can score from beyond the blue paint.

The Bad: Tangradi's skating continues to hamper him and while he's brought his straight-line skating to below-average, his first few steps are fringe. His decision-making can be poor at times and he coughs the puck up at an alarming rate. His defensive value leaves a little to be desired as well.

Projection: A below-average second line forward with zone start protection upside, but he likely ends up as an average to below-average third line forward.

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5. Roberto Bortuzzo, Defense
Date of birth: 03/18/1989
Age: 22
Height: 6'4''
Weight: 211
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 79 GP, 4 G, 26 P (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-AHL)
Acquired: Third round, 78th overall in 2007 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Bortuzzo plays an above-average defensive game. He has a great wingspan that allows him to be a very effective stick-checker, and he plays an above-average to plus physical game due to his big frame and willingness to get his nose dirty. His frame has filled out nicely, and his strength is at an NHL level. Bortuzzo has an above-average shot from the point, with a really hard slapper and one-timer that he gets on net well. His decision-making in his own end is pretty good, as he doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes defensively.

The Bad: Bortuzzo's skating is below-average and while he doesn't look heavy in terms of his mobility, there really isn't a pro-level jump in his feet. He has the ability to be a fair puck-mover from the back-end, although Bortuzzo at times does try to go beyond his means from an offensive standpoint.

Projection: A below-average second to above-average third pairing defender who safely projects onto a third pairing.

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6. Beau Bennett, Right Wing
Date of birth: 11/27/1991
Age: 19
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 180
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 37 GP, 9 G, 25 P (University of Denver-WCHA)
Acquired: First round, 20th overall in 2010 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Bennett is a slick forward with above-average puck skills who on occasion can show plus in that regard. He is a talented playmaker who can make impressive dishes and even make a highlight reel distribution here and there. He's a solid skater who won't burn by defenders, but is pretty agile and elusive from a standstill. Bennett is an above-average shooter with the ability to pick corners from a distance. He works pretty hard, and despite an underwhelming physical game, he doesn't shy from going to the physical areas an exerting himself along the boards.

The Bad: Bennett has a pretty skinny frame and has a lot of physical development left ahead of him although he has bulked up somewhat since being drafted. The level jump to the WCHA from Jr. A showed, as he was behind the play this year and still has the look of a raw player. His defensive game could use some work as well.

Projection: He could be an average second line forward, he may end up a below-average second line forward with zone start protection and there's a chance that he doesn't end up a league regular at all.

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7. Brian Strait, Defense
Date of birth: 01/04/1988
Age: 23
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 200
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 75 GP, 2 G, 10 P (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-AHL)
Acquired: Third round, 65th overall in 2006 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Strait is a hard-working shutdown defender who plays an above-average game in his own end. He plays his assignments well, reads the play effectively and closes his gaps well. Strait works pretty hard and when it comes to the battles along the boards, he does whatever it takes to make sure his man doesn't come out of the corner with the puck. He's not an overly physical player, but he has decent strength and can more than hold his own during one-on-one battles. Strait is an average skater, with strong legs that push off well, but his top speed doesn't really threaten.

The Bad: There's not a whole bunch of offensive upside to Strait's game. He's a basic puck-mover whose hands aren't rocks, but he's not a player you want attempting anything with the puck. His passing can be decent at times, but that's the most you'll get from him in terms of offensive abilities.

Projection: An above-average third pairing defender who should at least find some role in the league.

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8. Scott Harrington, Defense
Date of birth: 01/01/1993
Age: 18
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 200
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 67 GP, 6 G, 22 P (London-OHL)
Acquired: Second round, 54th overall in 2011 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Scott Harrington had high expectations coming into the year, and while he didn't bring the offense, if you like solid defensive back-end guys, then Harrington can fit that bill. He's a pro-level skater with good all-around mobility and a good first step that helps pinch up from the offensive blue line to keep pucks in. Though his frame doesn't look that big yet, he measures in at 6'1", 200 lbs. and is able to hold his own in the physical game. At the Junior level, he was able to win his fair share of puck battles and did well in front of the net, but at the highest level, he will likely top out as average at best. Harrington is a notably smart player whose hockey sense wavered between average to solid-average. With the puck in his own end, he showed good vision bringing it out and a decent panic threshold while defensively, he is above-average. Harrington's production potential is more in the Corsi numbers than in the counting numbers, but I think he could definitely be decent in the latter and be a fine even-strength defensive asset.

The Bad: His puck skills are fair, but in terms of being able to execute the basics, he is more than capable with breakout passes. Harrington was used in an offensive role this year with London, and while he showed decent distribution skills on the power play, it became obvious that his future wasn't as a puck rusher.

Projection: A below-average second to above-average third pairing defender who likely projects into the league in some role.

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9. Kenneth Agostino, Left Wing
Date of birth: 04/30/1992
Age: 19
Height: 5'11''
Weight: 195
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 31 GP, 11 G, 25 P (Yale University-ECAC)
Acquired: Fifth round, 140th overall in 2010 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Agostino has solid hands, with the ability to make quick, rapid movements with the puck and he shows good coordination in tight along the boards and in front of the net. He has a very impressive physical game for a sub-6'0" player as he is quite strong on his skates and isn't easy to dislodge from the front of the net. He likes to get involved in the cycle game and consistently goes to the net for scoring chances. He has an above-average shot and is able to score from outside the blue paint, but gets a lot of his goals around the crease area.

The Bad: Agostino is a poor skater with a wide, awkward stance that doesn't generate much speed. His leg strength also seems somewhat underdeveloped. Some of his reads could still use some work as well.

Projection: An above-average third line forward who safely projects onto a bottom six in some role.

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10. Philip Samuelsson, Defense
Date of birth: 07/26/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 198
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 39 GP, 4 G, 16 P (Boston College-Hockey East)
Acquired: Second round, 61st overall in 2009 by Pittsburgh

The Good: Samuelsson thinks the game at a solid level and is effective in his own end. He's pretty calm on the ice as he just steadily will stay with his checks, make the right plays with the puck and exhibit a good panic threshold. He has a good stick-check, and can kill penalties pretty effectively. Samuelsson has decent puck-moving abilities, and while he won't make mid-distance feeds, he can move the puck well and has fine overall sense with the puck.

The Bad: Samuelsson's physical game is below-average as his frame needs work, he doesn't engage much and when he does, he doesn't appear all that effective. He's a bit of an awkward skater who has trouble staying with faster forwards and has a fringe top speed. His hands aren't great, and he's more of a first pass type of puck-mover as opposed to a true creator.

Projection: An above-average third pairing defender who may end up as a replacement player.

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The Sleeper: Ben Hanowski got a lot of people intrigued during the 2009 Draft after he scored 57 goals and 110 points in 25 games coming out of High School. While he hasn't carried that success to the last two collegiate seasons, there is still enough talent there to potentially have a breakout campaign.

Extra Notes: Defenseman Carl Sneep is a huge defender with limited puck skills and below-fringe skating ability. He may simply end up a depth player, but I think there's enough hockey sense to his game that he has a shot to push for a lower-pairing role.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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