The Pittsburgh Penguins have a solid group of homegrown prospects, especially at forward. However, it wasn’t always that way. For years, the Penguins relied on the free agent bargain bin to fill out the bottom six portion of their forward roster, often overpaying for players past their prime. That is not the case anymore, as seven different forward prospects played for the Penguins this year.
Several of the prospects, such as Derrick Pouliot and Matt Murray, have shown enough potential to suggest they could be impact players for the Penguins organization. Others, such as Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary have also shown promise.
Although the Penguins do have a strong group of prospects right now, there is little left for the future. The organization has traded a host of picks and prospects since 2013, in hopes of winning a cup, leaving the cupboards bare. For example, they do not have any top-four defensive prospects behind Pouliot.
20. (18) Jeff Taylor, D, 6.0 C
Drafted 7th round, 203rd overall, 2014
An offensive defenseman by trade, the points have been hard to come by for Taylor, who has only 11 points in 31 games after posting 31 points in 34 games last season. In fairness, it’s been a difficult season for Union College on the whole, who currently sit near the bottom of the ECAC standings with an 11-11-8 record. It’s hard to predict the Penguins plans for Taylor, but given the dearth of puck-moving defensemen in their system, he probably join the organization when he completes his college eligibility in 2017.
19. (16) Frederik Tiffels, RW, 6.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 167th overall, 2015
Tiffels hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in his sophomore season with Western Michigan, though in fairness the entire team has struggled offensively. A fast, solidly-built forward with a nose for the net, Tiffels plays a two-way style of game that should translate fairly well to the pros. Through 28 games he has 6 goals and 7 assists, including three goals on the powerplay. Expect Tiffels to play at least one more year in college, if not play out his eligibility before joining the Penguins.
18. (NR) Sean Maguire, G, 6.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2012
A feel good story for Boston University, Maguire missed all of the 2014-15 season because of concussion symptoms. He returned for the 2015-16 season and has been solid for BU, posting a 10-5-1 record, a .925 save percentage, and a 2.24 goals against average. The athletic goalie will probably sign with the Penguins after completing his NCAA career.
17. (13) Josh Archibald, W, 6.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2011
Archibald has had some difficulty transitioning to the pro game, but he’s made progress since going pro two years ago. An exceptional goal-scorer in the NCAA, Archibald is developing into a more defensive-minded, two-way player at the professional level. He has played wing on the Penguins top line for a large chunk of the 2015-16 season, and has 8 goals and 6 assists through 45 games. His production has been inconsistent, as all 8 of his goals game during a 14-game stretch in January, but he provides energy and a strong net-front presence when he is on the ice.
16. (NR) Anthony Angello, C/W, 6.0 C
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2014
One of the biggest prospects in the Penguins system, Angello is having a strong freshman season at Cornell. Through 25 games, the big, physical forward has managed 9 goals and 8 assists, and only 18 penalty minutes. Angello is a long-term project for the Penguins, but one who plays a pro-style of game. His skating will be a point of emphasis in his development, as it needs an all-around upgrade. Expect the 19-year-old forward to finish out his college eligibility before going pro.
15. (15) Blaine Byron, W/C, 7.0 D
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2013
Byron is a skilled, smallish forward who is in his third year with the University of Maine. The 21-year-old forward is one of the more skilled players in the Penguins prospect pool, but he’s still very raw and it is unclear what type of player he projects as in the pros. Byron currently has 8 goals and 13 assists through 32 games, with 9 of his points coming on the powerplay. He will likely finish out his college eligibility before going pro.
14. (12) Jean-Sebastien Dea, C/W, 7.0 D
Signed as a free agent, September 16th, 2013
The second-year pro has been productive for the Penguins AHL affiliate, generating 12 goals and 13 assists through 49 games while playing mostly as the team’s third-line center. Dea was a talented goal-scorer in the QMJHL, and while he has been productive in the minors, the Penguins are grooming him to play more of a two-way role in the NHL.
13. (9) Sergei Plotnikov, W, 5.5 B
Signed as a free agent, July 2nd, 2015
Plotnikov does not appear to be in the Penguins long-term plans. He was a solid possession player in the games he played but fell out of favor with Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, and appeared in only 10 games since Sullivan took over in mid-December. There are several reasons why he fell out of favor, but it’s mostly because he has been neither productive enough offensively nor responsible enough defensively to maintain a spot in the lineup. He has 2 assists through 32 NHL games.
12. (10) Jake Guentzel, LW/C, 7.5 D
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2013
Now a junior for Nebraska-Omaha, Guentzel has been exceptional at the NCAA level. He finished at or near a point-per-game over the past two seasons and is among the top point-getters in the nation this year, with 14 goals and 24 assists through 27 games. Guentzel is a skilled, speedy forward who projects to be a top-nine forward in the NHL. His upside is very high compared to most of the Penguins forward prospects, but his slight size (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) will be a concern until he can prove it isn’t. There is a good chance Guenzel will sign with the Penguins following the end of his NCAA season.
11. (NR) Tom Kuhnhackl, W, 6.0 B
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2010
Kuhnhackl has finally made it to the NHL following three years of battling injury and paying his dues in the minors. The German-born forward made his debut on January 9th and while he has not produced a lot offensively, he has been a regular in the penalty kill rotation and has been a fairly strong possession player. Like many of the team’s current batch of prospects at the pro level, he is probably not going to be offensively productive in the NHL, but he’s shown he can fill a third or fourth line role if called upon.