The Pittsburgh Penguins went into the 2010 NHL Draft looking to increase their offensive depth and came away using four of their six picks that year on forwards. While they have yet to meet their projected potential, several look like they could develop into solid NHL players.
There were many forwards former GM Ray Shero was eyeing, though the team eventually settled on BCHL forward Beau Bennett, who was scheduled to join Denver University for the 2010-11 NHL season. The Penguins traded their second round pick that year to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Jordan Leopold.
It is hard to say whether the draft class was a success or not, but early returns are not particularly promising. The 2015-16 season will be telling, as several members of the draft class will be pushing for regular spots in the NHL.
Beau Bennett, RW, Penticton Vees (BCHL), 1st round, 20th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 96
A skilled, playmaking winger who led the BCHL in points during the 2009-10 season, the Penguins made Bennett the highest drafted California-born player in NHL history when they selected him 20th overall. Despite having what was thought to be some of the better hands in the draft that year, many teams passed over Bennett because of his wiry build, and the fact he was putting up big numbers against weaker competition than many of his peers. Slated to join the University of Denver for the 2010-11 season, the Penguins felt Bennett was going into an environment conducive for his development, as there is a lighter schedule in the NCAA and greater emphasis on off-ice training.
Unfortunately for Bennett, he was unable to stay healthy in his two years at DU and appeared in only 47 of a possible 85 NCAA games. The injury bug followed him through the first three years of his professional career too, and it appears to have taken a toll on his development. Wrist injuries in particular seem to have affected his shot, as he had neither the accuracy nor velocity this past season that he had in years prior.
Bennett will get a chance for a roster spot with the Penguins next year, though expectations have to be tempered at this point. If he can manage to stay healthy, he has the hockey IQ and puck skills to develop into a complementary scoring winger.
Bryan Rust, RW, U.S. National Development Team (USHL), 3rd round, 80th overall
NHL Games Played: 14
Rust was drafted for his strong skating and ability to finish offensive plays, and while he has not yet done that regularly at the NHL level, it seems like only a matter of time before he will get a chance. A product of the US National Development Program and a graduate of Notre Dame, Rust had a strong college career where he managed 97 points in 161 games and helped Notre Dame to three NCAA tournament appearances. The fleet forward recently finished his first professional season, registering 13 goals and 14 assists in 45 AHL games, and a goal and an assist in 14 NHL games.
Rust does not look like he will be a highly productive offensive player in the NHL. He appears to lack playmaking instincts with the puck, but he does have good hands and skating ability. He could develop into a productive depth player.
The 2015-16 season will be a telling one for Rust’s development. The Penguins want to have several young players on their roster next season to provide flexibility and inject some youth and energy into the lineup. Given Rust’s NHL experience, and the lack of experience among the Penguins forward prospects, he seems to have an inside track.
Watch this 2010 NHL Draft Look Back video featuring Penguins’ draft picks Beau Bennett and Bryan Rust.
Tom Kuhnhackl, RW, Landshut Cannibals (DEL2), 4th round, 110th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The German-born Kuhnhackl was another forward the Penguins targeted for his goal-scoring ability, and while he has yet to realize his potential at the professional level, there remains a glimmer of hope. Drafted out of second-tier German pro hockey, it was believed Kuhnhackl would have gone higher in the draft if he had played in Canadian juniors. That belief was reinforced when Kuhnhackl joined the Windsor Spitfires for the 2010-11 season and scored 39 goals in 63 games.
Injuries and suspension forced Kuhnhackl to miss all but 34 OHL games in 2011-12, and injuries would rob him of the bulk of his rookie professional season in 2012-13. He was healthy for the majority of the 2013-14 season, but it was clear he was struggling to adjust to the size and speed of the AHL.
The young forward appeared to make some significant developmental progress in 2014-15. He managed 30 points in 72 AHL games last season. While that is far from the level of production he demonstrated in the OHL, it is still more points than he scored in his previous two pro seasons combined.
Kuhnhackl is poised for a big season in 2015-16. He appears to have put his injury history behind him, and will be expected to take the next step in his development. If he starts strong, he could be in line for an NHL call-up.
Kenny Agostino, LW, Delbarton (New Jersey High School), 5th round, 140th overall
NHL Games Played: 8
The Penguins continued adding to their forward depth when they drafted Agostino, who was scheduled to join Yale in 2010-11. The two-way forward made a big impact for Yale in his four seasons, managing 132 points in 134 games, not to mention helping the Bulldogs secure their first NCAA championship in school history.
Agostino might be best known for being part of the package that brought the Calgary Flames all-time leading scorer Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2013 trade deadline. The native of New Jersey will probably never go down as one of the greats in Flames history, but he should develop into a solid NHL forward. He saw eight NHL games in 2014 after finishing his season with Yale, but was assigned to the AHL out of training camp in September. He remained there for the length of the season.
It will be a challenge for Agostino to break onto a Flames roster that is loaded with young forwards, but his work ethic, two-way ability and penchant for winning should assure he gets a chance sooner than later.
Joe Rogalski, D, Sarnia Sting (OHL), 6th round, 15nd overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Rogalski has the distinction of being the only player in the Penguins 2010 draft class who did not sign an NHL contract.
Selected for his raw talent, Rogalski could move the puck, skate fairly well, and had solid size at 6’2 and about 200 pounds. He was the top scoring defenseman for Sarnia during his draft year, and managed six goals and 23 assists. He struggled in his own end however, and was a minus-38 rating— tied for the team’s worst. His play did not improve much the following season, as he posted 32 points and a minus-14 in 62 games. His totals dipped even further following a trade in 2011 to the Soo Greyhounds, where he finished 19 points and a minus-20 rating.
The Penguins opted not to sign Rogalski to a contract in 2012, and the defenseman instead signed an ECHL deal with the Bakersfield Condors. He played for the Condors for only seven games in the 2012-13 season before he left to join the University of Windsor for a couple of games.
Rogalski has since left hockey.
Reid McNeill, D, London Knights (OHL), 6th round, 170th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
McNeill was a little-known commodity heading into the 2010 NHL Draft. He was undrafted in the OHL, and had less than a full season of experience at the major junior level before the Penguins selected him in the sixth round. Part of the reason he went undrafted was due to his lack of size. However, between the ages of 16 and 17, McNeill grew eight inches, going from roughly 5’6 to 6’2. The Penguins felt that if he learned to utilize his size, he could develop into a capable shutdown defenseman in the NHL.
The defensive defenseman played the year following his draft with the London Knights, then joined the Barrie Colts for the 2011-12 season. He signed an entry-level deal with Pittsburgh in May, 2012 and joined their ECHL affiliate the following year.
McNeill has developed into a mainstay for Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate over the past two seasons, and looks like he could eventually develop into a capable bottom-pairing guy in the NHL. He has the size and toughness to succeed at the highest level of hockey and should push for a spot in another year or two.
Notable Playoff Performances
The Penguins as an organization did not go very far into the playoffs, but there were several individual performances that should provide some assurance for the future.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin played in all five of the team’s first round games with the New York Rangers, and looked like he will be ready to play a regular role on the blue line next fall. On a defensive unit that was missing four of its six regular defensemen, Dumoulin did not exactly force his way into the lineup, but he seized the opportunity and provided a steady puck-moving presence on defense. He did not manage any points in his five playoff games, but posted mostly positive possession numbers and was one of the few players who seemed to get better as the series against the Rangers went on.
With the top goaltender in the AHL and a couple high-end European prospects coming just in time for the playoffs, the Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, looked poised for a deep run into the post season. The team walloped the Syracuse Crunch in the first round, going 3-0 and outscoring them 14-3. The Penguins went on to lose in the second round to the Manchester Monarchs in five games, but there were several notable individual performances that provide some optimism for the future.
The most notable of those performances was probably Kasperi Kapanen, who joined the Penguins AHL affiliate after completing his season in Finland. The former 2014 first round pick was an offensive dynamo in seven playoff games for the Penguins, managing three goals, two assists, and 12 shots. He definitely needs to work on his defensive play, but he showed he has the tools to be an impact forward for the Penguins.
Prospect of the Month: Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson did not see significant minutes in the NHL this past year, but he was the only rookie forward to see any time on the Penguins NHL playoff roster and was a major offensive threat for their AHL roster all season.
He finished the AHL season strong, with six goals and six assists in 18 games through March and April, and was recalled in late April to be part of the team’s playoff roster. Hoping to inject some energy into his lineup, head coach Mike Johnston put Wilson on the fourth line for the final three playoff games, and while the rookie forward failed to register a point, he did bring a lot of energy to the ice.
Wilson was returned to the AHL following the Penguins’ elimination by the Rangers and managed two goals and two assists in three playoff games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The 23-year-old is one of several forwards, including Oskar Sundqvist and Kapanen, who are competing for an NHL roster spot next year out of training camp.
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