Injuries opening door for several Pittsburgh Penguins prospects

By Ian Altenbaugh
Derrick Pouliot - Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo: Defenseman Derrick Pouliot is one of several Pittsburgh Penguins prospects who have made their NHL debuts this season. Pouliot managed three points in seven NHL games. (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

 

The injury bug has bit the Pittsburgh Penguins roster hard and often this season. While the organization is well off pace from their 529 man games lost from last season, they have accumulated almost 200 by the mid-point of the season, and those numbers will continue to climb with Pascal Dupuis and Olli Maatta expected to remain on injured reserve for the rest of the year.

Fortunately, the Penguins have a minor league system that is well stocked, particularly on defense, and many of their young prospects are gaining valuable experience that should benefit their development.

Derrick Pouliot, D, 20

The Penguins top prospect was recalled to the NHL on December 20th and wasted no time making an impact, scoring a goal on the first shot of his NHL career. Having played for Penguins head coach Mike Johnston last year, when both were with the Portland Winterhawks, Pouliot has made a fairly seamless transition to the NHL. He has put his deft puck skills on display frequently and has played in a lot of situations for the Penguins, including extensive time on the powerplay.

Pouliot was recently re-assigned to the AHL, but based off his strong play and the recent injury news of Maatta, he will probably see more time in the NHL before the season is over.

Olli Maatta, D, 20

It has been a season Maatta would probably like to forget. Maatta started the season strong, despite finding a malignant tumor on his thyroid gland, and managed a goal and five assists in his first 10 games of the season. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor in mid-November, and returned to the Penguins lineup two weeks later. He then reportedly aggravated his surgically repaired shoulder in a December 6th game against the Ottawa Senators. Maatta was also one of several Penguin players infected by the mumps in mid-December.

Maatta will likely have to undergo shoulder surgery again in the near future, which will end his 2014-15 season.

Jayson Megna, W, 24

At this point in his career, Megna has firmly established that he has the skating ability to compete at the NHL level. He also has shown at the AHL level that he has the ability to score a lot of goals. Megna has shown flashes of that goal scoring ability at the NHL level but it has not been enough to merit extended minutes at the NHL level. In 12 NHL games this year, he managed an assist and 13 shots on net.

Beau Bennett, W, 23

Now in his third season of professional hockey, Beau Bennett has been limited in his NHL career by injury. He was placed on injured reserve on several occasions just this season, the most recent time being a combination of a knee sprain suffered on November 24th and the mumps, contracted at some point in December.

Bennett has since returned to the lineup and has been very effective. He flanked center Brandon Sutter for a while but has recently been promoted to one of the top lines next to center Evgeni Malkin. He has two goals and five assists through 13 games.

Scott Harrington, D, 21

When injuries and the mumps hit the Penguins lineup in mid-December, Scott Harrington finally saw his first game of NHL action. Harrington had been recalled to the NHL frequently by the Penguins, but had not managed to play a game until December 18th against the Colorado Avalanche. Harrington saw time up and down the lineup, and while he did have a few rough games, he mostly acquitted himself well at the NHL level.

Harrington was returned to the AHL in late December and, assuming the defense is able to stay healthy, he will spend the remainder of the 2014-15 season there.

Brian Dumoulin, D, 23

Dumoulin was recalled in early December to fill in for an injury and ravaged Penguins defense and looked strong in eight games. Dumoulin played primarily in a third-pairing role and averaged 15:40 in his eight NHL games. He also managed his first NHL goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the same game teammate Bryan Rust recorded the first goal of his career. He was returned to the AHL when the Penguins defense got healthy but will be among the first to be recalled to the NHL if injuries should strike again.

Bryan Rust, RW, 22

Rust has played in 14 NHL games for the Penguins and while his offense (a goal and an assist) could be better, the first-year forward has done a lot of good things for the Penguins. He has great speed and a good hockey IQ, so he is frequently around the puck and involved in the play. Rust needs to finish more of his opportunities, but long term, he looks like he could be a solid bottom six forward for the Penguins. He was recently returned to the AHL.

Bobby Farnham, W, 25

Farnham plays hockey with a sense of reckless abandon that is usually reserved for stunt men or dare devils. The third-year pro launches himself into the opposition and creates chaos all over the ice. Farnham has recorded three fights and 24 hits in 10 NHL appearances this season. He does not look like more than a career fourth-line forward, and his skill level is limited, but he plays his role very well and should be able to eventually carve out a role in the NHL.

2015 World Junior Tournament Update

The Penguins only had one player representing them at the 2015 World Junior Championships, Kasperi Kapanen who played for Team Finland. While Finland was not necessarily expected to repeat their gold medal winning performance from 2014, the team was expected to at the very least compete for a medal. Instead, the team finished seventh overall in the tournament, winning one of five games.

At the heart of the problem was Finland’s inability to score goals, and while the blame does not solely fall on Kapanen—the team scored eight goals in the entire tournament and went 0-20 on the powerplay—the former first round pick was expected to shoulder a fair amount of the offensive load for his team and came up with only one goal in five games.

Pittsburgh Penguins Prospect of the Month

Pittsburgh Penguins Prospect of the Month - Jake GuentzelJake Guentzel has been one of the hottest players in the nation over the last month. He has two goals and nine assists in his last nine games, including four multi-point games. On the season, Guentzel has seven goals and 15 assists in 19 games. He has been a key part of Nebraska-Omaha’s powerplay, and has figured into 10 of their 15 goals on the man advantage.

 Follow Ian Altenbaugh on Twitter via @IanAltenbaugh