Years of drafting defensemen and trading early picks has left the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect pool in a stagnant state, with more talent leaving than arriving. The system still has some quality defensive talent, led by Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington, but there are few prospects at forward who look like they are ready to contribute at the NHL level at any point in the near future.
Currently, most of the Penguins top prospects are playing professional hockey, either in North America or Europe. Several, such as goaltender Matt Murray and forward Scott Wilson, have surpassed early expectations and have been key contributors to the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. Others, such as former first round pick Kasperi Kapanen, have shown promise, but still need work before they are ready for the NHL.
1. (1) Derrick Pouliot, D, 8.0 B
Drafted 1st round, 8th overall, 2012
Pouliot has quickly ascended Pittsburgh’s depth chart this season and has shown he belongs in the NHL for the long haul. Whether he can remain among the glut of veteran Penguins defensemen remains to be seen, but he fit into the team’s possession-oriented style of play nicely.
The 21-year-old defenseman has only three points through 19 games, but much of that is due to the fact he is trying to play a relatively safe game in his own zone. He could stand to make more high percentage plays offensively, but that should come as he matures.
2. (3) Scott Harrington, D, 7.0 B
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2011
Although the stats might not suggest it, Scott Harrington has taken great strides in his development this season. The blueliner has emerged as Pittsburgh’s 8th defenseman, and saw 10 games in the NHL earlier this season. He went pointless in 10 games but posted mostly positive possession numbers.
Harrington has been among the Penguins top defensive prospects in the AHL, where he has frequently been deployed in a shutdown role alongside Reid McNeill.
3. (8) Oskar Sundqvist, C/W, 7.0 B
Drafted 3rd round, 81st overall, 2012
Until he took a puck to the face on January 31st, Sundqvist was having a breakout season in his second full year of SHL play. Prior to his injury, Sundqvist had eight goals and eight assists through 35 games and was earning increased time on the powerplay. He returned to Skelleftea after missing five games and did not take long to make his impact felt, scoring a goal and registering 10 penalty minutes in a little over 13 minutes of play.
The big, physical Swede is currently playing out the first year of his contract with the Penguins, despite playing in Sweden, and is expected to come to North America as soon as his SHL season is over. Sundqvist still needs to get stronger and adjust to the North American style of game, but he appears to be one of the few forwards in the Penguins system who is ready for regular NHL duties in the near future.
4. (2) Kasperi Kapanen, RW, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2014
After a hot start where he managed six points in his first six games, Kapanen cooled off considerably, to the tune of 12 points in his following 27 games. His streaky play continued, and he has points in only 11 of his 33 games. Some of that is due to him being a young player in a prominent offensive role, but he has been ice cold since his one-goal performance at the 2015 WJC—and has just two points in 14 games since returning.
5. (6) Matt Murray, G, 7.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2012
Murray has been a revelation in net for Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton this season, and is among the top ranked goalies in the league in almost every meaningful statistic. The big, athletic netminder has had a steady group of defensemen in front of him, but he has stolen games for the Penguins as well, and has seven shutouts in 27 games.
The 20-year-old goaltender is going to need a few more years of seasoning in the minors, but he has shown an incredible amount of promise in his rookie season.
Now in his third year of professional hockey, Dumoulin has established himself as one of the top defensemen on the Penguins’ AHL affiliate and now must make the next step in establishing himself as a fulltime NHL player. He has good size at 6’4 and over 200 pounds, and can move the puck well, but has yet to establish an identity at the NHL level. He has played in all situations in the AHL and through 44 games has two goals and 20 assists. Dumoulin also appeared in eight NHL games, and while he managed a goal, he also posted negative possession numbers and was frequently a defensive liability when on the ice.
7. (11) Teddy Blueger, C/W, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2012
Forward Teddy Blueger has continued to steadily progress in his third season of college hockey with Minnesota State. Through 30 games he has 10 goals and 14 assists, including four goals on the powerplay and one shorthanded.
Blueger has filled out physically since the Penguins drafted him in 2012 and projects as a two-way forward at the pro level. Given the positive strides he has made developmentally, it would not be surprising if he signed an NHL deal at the conclusion of his junior season.
8. (5) Tristan Jarry, G, 7.5 D
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2013
Jarry has struggled in his fourth and final season of junior hockey. His team, the Edmonton Oil Kings, graduated a lot of talent over the past year and Jarry’s numbers have plunged as a result. He has allowed 120 goals in 47 games, which is almost half a goal more per game than last year. He has also failed to steal games for the Oil Kings and has only three shutouts.
Not turning 20 until late April, Jarry will be a long term project for the Penguins when he eventually joins their pro ranks. He could join the Penguins as early as the Spring, depending on whether or not the Oil Kings can sneak into a wild card playoff spot.
9. (14) Scott Wilson, W, 7.0 C
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2011
It is still early but Wilson is starting to look like a potential late-round steal for the Penguins. One of the last picks in the 2011 draft, Wilson has been very solid start to his rookie pro season and was even called up to the NHL for a December 2nd match versus the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately for Wilson, he went down with an injury just over four minutes into his NHL debut and spent the subsequent month on the Penguins IR. He has since returned to health and is currently playing in the minors. On the season, Wilson has 13 goals and 16 assists in 36 games.
10. (12) Jean-Sebastien Dea, C/W, 7.0 C
Signed as a free agent, September 17th, 2013
Dea had a solid start to the 2014-15 season, with 18 points in his first 25 AHL games, but went cold in the middle of December, and was eventually assigned to the ECHL to regain his scoring touch. The 21-year-old has nine goals and 10 assists in 37 AHL games this year, including six powerplay goals. He has two goals and an assist in eight ECHL games.
11. (17) Bryan Rust, W, 6.0 B
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2010
Rust started strong with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, managing 10 goals in his first 24 games—and he was rewarded with an extended NHL call-up from December 13th to January 13th. The 22-year-old forward has since returned to the AHL where he has managed 10 points in his last 12 games. On the season, Rust has 13 goals and 11 assists in 37 AHL games and a goal and an assist in 14 NHL games.
12. (16) Dominik Uher, C/W, 6.0 B
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2011
Uher is one of several prospects who make their NHL debut this season, albeit in the form of a two-game injury replacement. Uher is not a high-upside player, but he looks like a safe bet to eventually settle into a regular role at the NHL level. He is a versatile who plays with a lot of tenacity. Though he does not score a lot of goals, he is a great pressure-player who excels at keeping the play inside his opponent’s blueline and putting the puck on goal. He has seven goals and six assists through 50 AHL games this season.
13. (9) Josh Archibald, W, 6.5 C
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2011
Archibald never really found his footing offensively after starting the season on the IR. After managing just two goals and four assists in 31 AHL games, he was assigned to the ECHL. He seems to have found his offensive touch playing for the Wheeling Nailers, where he has six goals and four assists through eight games.
14. (7) Jake Guentzel, C/W, 7.0 D
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2013
Guentzel is having another very productive season in the NCAA, with 10 goals and 19 assists through 27 games. He would have even more points if not for an upper-body injury suffered in late October, but he has nonetheless progressed offensively and taken on a leadership role for Nebraska-Omaha. The 20-year-old forward remains a promising offensive prospect in the system, but has to get stronger before he can contribute at the NHL level.
15. (19) Blaine Byron, C/W, 7.0 D
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2013
Byron is one of the few really talented players on a struggling Maine Black Bears squad, and as a result he has seen ice time in every situation. He has 11 goals and 12 assists this season and has been fairly consistent with his production. Like Guentzel, Byron needs to get stronger and fill out physically. However, given the Black Bears’ struggles, the Penguins might be interested in bringing him into the fold sooner than later—if only to minimize bad habits that can develop playing on a struggling team.
16. (NR) Troy Josephs, C/W, 6.0 C
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2013
Josephs is the second leading scorer on a Clarkson squad that has struggled to put the puck in the net. He has two goals and 11 assists through 31 games, and has done most of his offensive damage at even strength. Josephs will probably play another season in college, but he plays a very straight-line style of game that seems conducive to the NHL.
17. (18) Reid McNeill, D, 6.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 170th overall, 2010
McNeill has gradually carved out a role as a shutdown defenseman with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate. He has mostly played with Scott Harrington this season, and appears to have progressed steadily in his overall development. McNeill has a goal, five assists, and 112 penalty minutes through 51 games.
18. (NR) Matia Marcantuoni, C/W, 6.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 92nd overall, 2012
Marcantuoni has been fairly solid in his first season of professional hockey. Possessing blazing speed, Marcantuoni has been a bottom-six forward at the AHL level, which is the type of role the Penguins hope he can carve out at the NHL level. He has not been overly productive offensively, with eight points in 37 AHL games, but he has used his speed to create plays and win battles on the forecheck. He also spent most of November in the ECHL, where he managed 10 points through 11 games.
19. (NR) Jaden Lindo, LW, 6.5 D
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2014
Lindo has been solid since returning from his knee injury in early November. Though he has only managed six goals and two assists in 38 games with the Owen Sound Attack, he brings a blend of size, speed, and skill that is at a premium in the NHL.
20. (NR) Anthony Angello, C/W, 6.5 D
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2014
Another big, physical player in the system, Angello remains a long way from playing in the NHL, but he has still made positive progress in his development this season. Angello has 15 goals and 10 assists through 40 games this season, and he has done a good job of exerting his will physically on the opposition and getting pucks on net.
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