Pittsburgh Penguins are well stocked with NCAA talent

By Ian Altenbaugh

Bryan Rust - Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo: Forward Bryan Rust is having a strong senior year with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Through 39 games, Rust has 16 goals, 15 assists, and a plus-12 rating. (courtesy of Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

It is not as if they try to hide it. The Pittsburgh Penguins like to select college prospects in the NHL Draft, especially in the middle and later rounds. The organization has deep ties to USA Hockey and the NCAA and believes the college hockey developmental route offers several unique advantages.

The biggest advantage perhaps is the fact that NHL teams can retain the draft rights of a player drafted out of college until his graduation, whereas a player drafted out of the Canadian major juniors must be signed within two years of his selection. This allows a team to track a player’s development over a longer period of time before having to commit to them financially. The NCAA plays a lighter schedule than Canadian juniors and there is more time spent in the weight room, both of which benefit a player who may be physically smaller or weaker at the time of his selection.

Conversely, the Penguins have not drafted many players out of Europe since Ray Shero took over as GM. They have selected numerous European-born prospects, such as Olli Maatta or Dominik Uher, but they were playing in North America prior to their selection.

NCAA

Josh Archibald, RW/LW, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2011

Forward Josh Archibald was one of the top players in the nation this season and recently completed one of the best individual seasons in UNO history. He managed 29 goals in 37 games, which places him third in the nation behind only Johnny Gaudreau (CAL), and is among the ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, an award given annually to the top Division one college hockey player. Archibald was also recently recognized as the NCHC Player of the Year, and led the conference in both points (32) and goals (21).

Though he has been prolific at the college level, Archibald does not project as a big time scorer in the pros. He has good speed, vision, and work ethic however, which should allow him to carve out a role as a top-nine forward in the NHL, assuming of course he keeps getting stronger.

Archibald recently signed an amateur try-out contract with the Penguins and made his AHL debut on March 26th.

Jake Guentzel, C/LW, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (NCHC)
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2013

Forward Jake Guentzel was prolific in his freshman season, managing seven goals and 27 assists through 37 games. A playmaker by trade, Guentzel led all college freshman in assists as well as the NCHC conference. He seemed to find good chemistry with fellow prospect Josh Archibald, as the two teamed up on quite a few goals for the Mavericks.

Standing at 5’10 and around 160 pounds, Guentzel is a long-term project who will need to spend several more seasons at the NCAA level adding strength and size. He projects as a skilled, top-nine forward who can play in all situations.

Troy Josephs, C/W, Clarkson Golden Knights (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2013

A tenacious forward who is effective on the forecheck, Troy Josephs had a relatively successful freshman season with Clarkson, managing two goals, three assists, and 60 penalty minutes in 33 games. His season came to an end on March 16th after Clarkson lost two of three against Cornell in the ECAC Tournament.

Josephs will be relied on more heavily for Clarkson in his sophomore year, as the Golden Knights are graduating six forwards, including four of their top five scorers. Josephs projects as an energetic, bottom-six forward who can chip in offensively.

Sean Maguire, G, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 113th overlal, 2012

It was a year to forget for Sean Maguire and the Boston University Terriers. The team struggled to both score goals and prevent them, and finished with a record of 10-21-4. Maguire was expected to come into the 2013-14 season and push sophomore Matt O’Connor for starts, as the two had split starts the season prior, with Maguire getting the bulk down the stretch run. Things did not turn out that way however, and Maguire struggled mightily in the handful of starts he did see, finishing the season 3-12 with a goals against average of 2.90.

Though his stats were poor, they are not wholly a reflection on the quality of Maguire’s play, as he frequently saw a lot of shots, many of which were uncontested, and had little goal support. If there is any good news, it is that Maguire will have another two seasons at Boston University to refine his game.

Teddy Blueger, C/LW, Minnesota State Mavericks (WCHA)
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2012

Blueger began his sophomore season in a bit of a slump, producing only five points in his first 12 games, but seemed to find a groove mid-way through the season. He has been extremely productive during the month of March, putting up seven points in four WCHA tournament games. On the season he has four goals and 22 assists through 39 games.

The 19-year-old forward possesses the type of skillset the Penguins have in short supply right now. He is skilled, with good vision and playmaking ability, but is also sound defensively and plays with a nasty streak. He is on the smaller side, standing at about 5’11 and 170 pounds, but has a projectable frame that should fill out in time.

Blaine Byron, C/W, Maine Black Bears (Hockey East)
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2013

A skilled, playmaking forward, Blaine Byron had a relatively successful freshman season with the University of Maine. He started the season fairly productive, with 12 points in his first 17 games, but dried up offensively at the turn of the new year, with four points in his final 15 games.

Like Blueger and Guentzel, Byron is an undersized but very skilled forward. He is extremely disciplined, evidenced by the two minor penalties he took all season, and plays a fairly solid game at both ends of the ice. In order to maximize his offensive abilities he will not only have to get stronger, but also play more fearlessly in high traffic areas on the ice.

Ryan Segalla, D, Connecticut Huskies (AHA)
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2013

Ryan Segalla came as advertised in his freshman season with the University of Connecticut. The 6’0 defenseman was a physical presence along the Huskies blue line, frequently laying out big hits and racking up 47 penalty minutes in the process.

The Penguins organization projects Segalla as a physical, shutdown type of defenseman, similar to current Penguin Derek Engelland. Segalla will need a few more seasons of development in college and it would not be surprising for him to play out the final three years of his NCAA eligibility.

Scott Wilson, RW/LW, Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2011

It has been a disappointing junior season for forward Scott Wilson, who has struggled to put up points after posting consecutive 38 point seasons for UMass-Lowell. Wilson was snake-bit to start the season and did not record his first goal until November 1st. His struggles were only further exasperated when he went down with an injury on January 24th in a game against Providence. He returned from his injury on February 28th, just in time for the River Hawks run through the Hockey East Tournament. Wilson has found the scoresheet with a bit more regularity during the River Hawk’s playoff run, and has two goals and two assists in five playoff games. On the season, he has seven goals and 11 assists through 29 games.

Bryan Rust, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2009

Rust has been extremely productive in his senior year with Notre Dame. He has 16 goals this season, which is a career high for him, and has been a key part of a fairly potent Notre Dame offense. The 21-year-old has developed into a better two-way player over the past two years, and is now seen as someone who can be relied on to play in all situations and on both special teams.

He does not possess idea NHL size at 5’11 and 200 pounds, but he is strong and skates with a wide base. It remains to be seen what type of player Rust develops into, but he has the versatility and skill to play a variety of roles and chip in offensively.

Europe

Oskar Sundqvist, C/W, Skelleftea AIK (SHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 81st overall, 2012

The Penguins may only have one prospect currently developing in Europe, but he is a big one. Swedish forward Oskar Sundqvist stands at about 6’3 and 200 pounds and can never be accused of playing small. Sundqvist is capping off his first full season playing major league hockey in Sweden, and while he was not offensively prolific, his stat line of six goals and 10 assists is quite respectable for a rookie forward who saw mostly third and fourth line minutes.

Sundqvist is signed with Skelleftea through the 2015-16 season, so if he does come to North America to play hockey, it will likely be after then.

Follow Ian Altenbaugh on Twitter via @IanAltenbaugh

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