Pittsburgh Penguins remain stacked with collegiate talent

By Ian Altenbaugh
Jake Guentzel finished with 13 goals and 25 assists in his sophomore season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Courtesy of Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Jake Guentzel finished with 13 goals and 25 assists in his sophomore season with Nebraska-Omaha (Courtesy of Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

 

Under former general manager Ray Shero, the Pittsburgh Penguins emphasized college-bound talent in the middle to later parts of the draft, and they generally avoided drafting players from overseas. The result is a system deep on college talent and short on Europeans.

Two college prospects represented the Penguins in the NCAA tournament: Teddy Blueger and Jake Guentzel. Both of the Penguins’ European prospects, Oskar Sundqvist and Kasperi Kapanen, are competing in their respective league playoffs.

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

Although he had only eight points in his last 15 games, Blueger remained a key cog for Minnesota State, who was among the top ranked teams in the nation. He has set career highs with 10 goals and 27 points and has played in all situations and on both special teams for the Mavericks.

Given the Penguins’ relative lack of depth up front, there is a good chance they will try to sign Blueger to an NHL deal now that his college season is over. Blueger and Minnesota State’s season ended against RIT in the regional semi-series of the NCAA tournament.  

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

Byron did fairly well on a Maine team that struggled mightily to keep the puck out of their net. He ranked fourth in team scoring with 12 goals and 15 assists through 39 games—including three shorthanded markers. He was also among the least penalized players in the nation, registering only eight penalty minutes this year and 12 in his two-year college career.

The 20-year-old forward will likely stay in the NCAA for another year or two, as he needs to get stronger in order to be effective at the professional level. Though Maine struggled this year, Byron’s offensive game is developing very well.

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

Guentzel had a breakout year in 2014-15, managing 13 goals and 25 assists in 35 games. The sophomore was the model of offensive consistency, never going more than three games without a point, and was the primary offensive catalyst for the Mavericks. He is particularly effective on the powerplay, where his vision, speed, and hockey sense create a lot of room. The Mavericks will need him to produce if they expect to win the Frozen Four tournament, which they qualified for when they defeated RIT 4-0 in the NCAA Midwest Final.

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

Josephs was an effective, physical presence for Clarkson this season. He managed only three goals and 14 assists in 26 games, but still finished second in scoring for the offensively anemic Golden Knights. He plays a physical, two-way game which should translate well to the pro level.

Sam Lafferty, C/W, Brown Bears (ECAC)
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2014

Lafferty saw pretty good minutes for a freshman and performed well on a Brown team that finished bottom-10 in the nation in both offense and defense. He posted four goals and eight assists, and he also saw time on the second powerplay unit. Lafferty is not an overly creative player, but he has an NHL frame and the type of speed and strength that a viable NHL contributor needs. With many of Brown’s top offensive players graduating this year, Lafferty should have plenty of opportunity to hone his game next year.

Jeff Taylor, D, Union Dutchmen (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 203rd overall, 2014

Taylor and his Union College teammates will not be repeating their 2014 Frozen Four Championship this year, having been knocked off by Quinnipiac in the ECAC playoffs. The season was still a rousing success for Taylor, a puck-moving defenseman who managed four goals and 27 assists in his sophomore season. Taylor cooled off in the season’s second half, only scoring 11 points in the final 16 games after generating 20 in the first 18, but he was still a reliable defensive presence for the Dutchmen.

Part of Taylor’s offensive outburst was due to physical maturity, but it was mostly due to increased responsibilities on the powerplay, where he notched 15 of his 31 points. That should continue next year as he gets more comfortable with his teammates and his role as primary distributor on the powerplay.

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

As a defensive defenseman on a team that could neither score nor prevent goals, Segalla spent a lot of time in his own end this year. He plays a simple physical style of game, and at 6’1 and 197 pounds he is big and difficult to move. His physical play has gotten him into trouble at times, and he has occasionally taken reckless penalties and left his team shorthanded in crucial situations.

Dane Birks, D, Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2013

Birks was redshirted in his freshman season at Michigan Tech because of a technicality regarding his eligibility. He is expected to suit up for them in the 2015-16 season.

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

Maguire suffered a concussion in a March 3rd, 2014 playoff game against Notre Dame and due to post concussion symptoms, was a medical red shirt for the 2014-15 season. He has since been medically cleared and is expected to join the Terriers for the 2015-16 season.

Europe

Kasperi Kapanen, RW, KalPa Kuopio (Liiga)
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2014

The 2014-15 season has been a tale of extreme highs and lows for Kapanen, who had seven goals and seven assists in his first 14 games, but added just four goals and three assists in the remaining 27. Kapanen is a fast, talented player and is without a doubt the most skilled and talented forward in the Penguins system. His size and strength are going to be major issues he will have to overcome in order to succeed in the NHL, but he has the speed and puck-carrying ability to one day complement the Penguins two star centers. There is an outside chance that Kapanen will join the Penguins organization when his season with KalPa is over.

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

Possessing great size at 6’4 and 190 pounds, Sundqvist is among the most NHL-ready prospects in the Penguins system and could join the team as soon as his season in Sweden is over. Sundqvist has played a lot of wing for Skelleftea this season, but he is a natural center and the Penguins think his long reach and wide wingspan would be an asset down the middle. He has solid hockey sense, and while his game is probably better suited for a shutdown role, he has the offensive acumen to chip in a couple of goals and occasionally play on the powerplay. Sundqvist scored nine goals and 10 assists in 41 games this season and would have probably posted more had he not missed five games to injury. He also managed two goals in Skelleftea’s four-game sweep of Brynas in the opening round of the SHL playoffs.

Prospect of the Month – Matt Murray

Matt Murray - Pittsburgh PenguinsRookie goaltender Matt Murray has been spectacular for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, especially since the start of the 2015 calendar year. From January to March, Murray amassed a 16-3-1 record and allowed only 23 goals in 21 games.

Murray became part of AHL history on March 8th when he set a league record for minutes without a goal. His streak began near the end of a February 8th Bridgeport game and ended on March 8th against Springfield, when Dana Tyrell scored at the 18:49 mark of the third period. He played a total of 304 minutes and 11 seconds without allowing a goal, amassing four shutouts.

Murray set another record when he recorded his 10th shutout of the year against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on March 22nd. He is now the first goaltender in the AHL to record 10 shutouts as a rookie and only the fourth in league history to record 10 in a single season.

Murray currently leads the league in goals against average (1.54), shutouts (11), and save percentage (.941).

 

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