A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
*programmer’s note – this ranking was updated to reflect the trade of Adam Clendening to the organization. He slots in second in the list as a smooth all-around defender,with some NHL experience under his belt. Although he has produced far better AHL numbers in past seasons, the totality of the Boston U alum’s game should allow him to grow into a second pairing defender in time.
When you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on your roster, it goes without saying that you are in win now mode. In taking that approach, the Penguins have been rather liberal over the years when it comes to trading prospects and high draft picks. That was on display this summer when they pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire Phil Kessel, that sent prospects Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington, along with a 2016 first round draft choice to Toronto. This win now approach, combined with poor drafting in the latter rounds, has left Pittsburgh with a low ranking system. That said, there are some bright spots and players who the Penguins feel will be able to contribute in the NHL.
- Derrick Pouliot, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 6’0”, 208. 8th overall, 2012
- Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown (QMJHL) 6’0”, 180. 46th overall, 2015
- Matt Murray, G, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 6’4”, 178. 83rd overall, 2012
- Brian Dumoulin, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 6’4”, 207. Trade June 22, 2012 (Originally: 51st overall, 2012 by Carolina)
- Tristan Jarry, G, Edmonton (WHL) 6’2”, 194. 44th overall, 2013
- Oskar Sundqvist, C, Skelleftea (Swe) 6’3”, 209. 81st overall, 2012
- Scott Wilson, LW, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 5’11”, 183. 209th overall, 2011
- Bryan Rust, RW, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 5’11”, 192. 80th overall, 2010
- Frederik Tiffels, LW, Western Michigan (NCAA) 6’0”, 192. 167th overall, 2015
- Jean-Sebastien Dea, C, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 5’11”, 175. Signed by Pittsburgh 2013
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Adam Clendening, D, Utica (AHL) 5’11”, 187. Trade July 28, 2015 (Originally 36th overall, 2011 by Chicago)
- Theodor Blueger, C, Minnesota State (NCAA) 6’0”, 185. 52nd overall, 2012
- Dominik Simon, LW, Plzen (Cze) 5’11”, 176. 137th overall, 2015
When you are talking about Penguins prospects it all starts with Derrick Pouliot, one of the top blueline prospects in the game. The mobile defenceman was nearly ineligible for this list, suiting up in 34 games for the big club last season. Not only is he all but a lock to play permanently with the Penguins this season, but there is a very real possibility he could end up in their top four. That is largely thanks to his excellent skating ability and aggressive style of play, he is never one to shy away from a chance to rush the puck up ice. Like most young, offensive defencemen he showed last season that there is still some work to be done on the defensive side of the game. Nonetheless, Pouliot has good upside and combined with Olli Maatta, gives the Pens an exciting young duo on the backend.
It does not stop there on the blueline for Pittsburgh, as they have also have Brian Dumoulin waiting in the wings. He got a taste of NHL action as well last season, appearing in eight regular season games and all five playoff contests. He showed strong puck moving ability and provides an effective first pass out of the zone. He also possesses good mobility and size, although does not necessarily use that size to its full potential in a physical sense. Overall, Dumoulin is a player that does not particularly excel in one area of the game, but instead just does everything pretty well.
Adam Clendening was an underrated acquisition in the Brandon Sutter trade in terms of adding depth. He saw action in 21 games with Vancouver last season and can expect to have a similar role with Pittsburgh this season. Like Pouliot, he is more of an offensive defenceman who moves the puck very well and can play on the power play. There is not a ton of upside here, but if Clendening can add some strength he can be a solid depth defenceman right now and potentially up to a second pairing blueliner in time.
There are two quality goaltenders in the Pittsburgh system, with the highest ranked being Matt Murray. He is coming off an incredible first pro season in the AHL, where he led the league with a 1.58 goals against average, 12 shutouts and .941 save percentage. He also collected several awards as the AHL Rookie of the Year and Goaltender of the Year. Murray is an athletic goaltender and his attributes include a quick glove hand and stick. With the Penguins deciding to promote from within for the back-up role this season, Murray will battle with Jeff Zatkoff for that position. In all likelihood, Murray will head back to the minors to get as many starts as possible.
Joining Murray in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will be first year pro and former Memorial Cup champion, Tristan Jarry. He is coming off a bit of down season both for himself and the Edmonton Oil Kings, following their Memorial Cup title run the previous campaign. He is also an athletic goalie who covers the net well thanks to his mobility and good anticipation. Throughout his junior career he often showed the ability to shake off a bad goal and maintain a calm demeanour. Pittsburgh will certainly be keeping a close eye on how he handles his first season as a pro.
The Penguins believe they got an absolute steal in the second round of this year’s draft, selecting forward Daniel Sprong. They may very well be correct in that presumption. Sprong is loaded with skill that is comparable to almost anyone who was available in this summer’s draft. An electrifying skater, he has all kinds of creativity when carrying the puck and setting up teammates. He also has the ability to put the puck in the net himself, potting 39 last season. Sprong will need to get stronger for when he gets to the pros and he can also be guilty of not being fully involved in the game at times. The latter is likely a big reason for his fall into the middle of the second round. For now he will return to the QMJHL this season and lead a potential championship contender in Charlottetown.
Pittsburgh has one other young forward with some promise and that is Oskar Sundqvist. The Swede has spent the past two seasons playing in the pro league at home with Skelleftea and is coming off a good season with 19 points in 41 games. The big, physical center has accounted well for himself playing against older competition and will now make the move to North America for the upcoming season. He plays a smart defensive game and for now projects more as a bottom six forward. That could change if he starts to show more offence, but that portion of his game remains in question. With Eric Fehr starting the season on the shelf, there is a chance Sundqvist could start the season in Pittsburgh. Whether or not that happens, conventional wisdom is that he will spend the majority of the season in the AHL.
The Penguins forward prospects are rounded out by a group who project as mainly depth players which speaks to Pittsburgh’s inability to draft well in the later rounds.
Scott Wilson got a small taste of action with the Penguins last season in a very limited role. He has some playmaking skill and grit, but size could be a problem with bigger NHL defenders. Bryan Rust is another guy who got a taste of the NHL last season and showed some good speed and work rate. His upside is limited though and the projection is very much that of a role player.
Recent draft pick Frederik Tiffels garnered some attention with a solid freshman season at Western Michigan. A good skater who likes to shoot the puck, he had four points in six games for Germany at the past World Junior Championship. It will be worth following to see if he can continue to progress at the NCAA level this season.
Signed as a free agent by Pittsburgh in 2013, Jean-Sebastien Dea was a prolific goal scorer in his last two seasons of junior with 45 and 49 goals, respectively. He brought some of that ability over to the AHL last season with 10 goals in 43 games. Dea showed good offensive vision and creativity in his first pro season and could start to become a more talked about prospect in the system if he continues to progress.
Latvian Teddy Blueger is another potential sleeper in the system, playing at Minnesota State. He has skill and a strong slap shot, but ultimately looks like more of a bottom six player in the NHL. The same can be said for Dominik Simon, who impressed for the Czech Republic with some playmaking ability at the recent World Championships and will get his first taste of North American hockey this season.
The reality is that beyond Pouliot and Sprong there is not a whole lot to be excited about in the Penguins prospect system. In fact, were it not for the fortuitous drafting of Sprong, the Pens overall ranking would be a lot lower. Murray and Jarry are both intriguing goaltending prospects and Dumoulin could become a solid NHL defenceman, but the overall depth of the system is quite poor. Such is life when you are a team doing everything possible to win now.