Pittsburgh Penguins show preference for NCAA talent

By Ian Altenbaugh

Oskar Sundqvist - Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo: Forward Oskar Sundqvist is the only European trained prospect currently in the Penguins system. Sundqvist was selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With a front office and coaching staff made up almost entirely of former NCAA hockey players, it should come as no surprise that the Pittsburgh Penguins love to draft and develop collegiate level talent. However, there are also pragmatic reasons as to why Penguins draft collegiate bound players. The biggest reason is because NHL teams are afforded two more years with NCAA players before they have to make a decision regarding whether or not they will sign the player to an entry-level contract. That extra development time is crucial for a team like the Penguins, who rely heavily on mid-to-late round draft picks to keep their cupboard stocked.

By contrast, the Penguins have a single prospect playing in Europe, forward Oskar Sundqvist. The organization does have several players in the system who were born overseas, such as Olli Maatta or Anton Zlobin, but they were drafted out of Canadian major juniors. 

NCAA

Josh Archibald, LW/RW, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (WCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, in 2011

Archibald exploded offensively in his sophomore season, posting 19 goals and 17 assists in 39 games. He finished in among the top 20 goal-scorers in the nation and was a key component to the Mavericks' high-octane offense. Having spent his draft year playing Minnesota High School hockey, Archibald was considered a long-term project, as he was very raw and physically undersized. He has since added considerable strength to his frame, and while he still is light at 170 pounds, he is capable of playing a power forward's style of game down low and in the corners.

Though he has progressed considerably since his freshman season, Archibald will almost assuredly spend at least one more year playing college hockey, if not play out his full four years of eligibility. The Penguins have shown considerable patience with their college prospects and are typically comfortable letting them play as long as they need to at that level.

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

Blueger began his freshman season with a lot of intrigue. A Latvian-born forward who has spent most of his teen years playing in North America, there was a lot of interest in seeing how quickly we would adjust to the NCAA level. It would not take long, as Blueger figured into the Mavericks' offense early and often this season, finishing with six goals, 13 assists, and 40 penalty minutes through 37 games.

In addition to a solid freshman season of college hockey, Blueger has considerable international experience. He has been one of the top players for Latvia's last two entries in the U20 World Junior Championships and prior to that, was quite impressive in the various International U18 tournaments he participated in.

Blueger's game is equal parts skill and grit and he is extremely good in the faceoff circle. He plays with a mean streak, and is not afraid to engage opponents physically. Ultimately he projects as a player similar in style and approach to current Penguin Brandon Sutter, though he has a way to go before he gets there. Expect Blueger to develop at the NCAA level for at least one more season.

Nick D'Agostino, D, Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 210th overall, in 2008

Defenseman Nick D'Agostino recently completed his senior year at Cornell University, where through four seasons and 132 games he managed 25 goals and 47 assists. He established himself as a smart, two-way defenseman in his time in the NCAA, and has, at the very least, the potential to be a decent depth defenseman at the pro level.

D'Agostino has good size and skating, and while he is not very physical, he is willing to sacrifice his body to make a play. He was the focus of Cornell's powerplay for much of his stay in the NCAA, and playing point is one of the major strengths in his game.

The Penguins will more than likely sign D'Agostino to a contract, though given the amount of players they already have under contract, particularly on defense, it is not a guarantee.

Scott Wilson, RW/LW, UMass-Lowell Riverhawks (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, in 2011

The last two years have been a whirlwind for Wilson, who in 2011, was an undrafted forward playing for the Georgetown Raiders of the OJHL. Along with Head Coach Norm Bazin, Wilson has been an invigorating force for the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, who went from upstart team in 2012, to potential national champion in 2013.

Wilson has been the most productive player on the Riverhawks roster over the last two seasons, managing 75 points in 77 games. He has always possessed good skill, and his skating and defensive game continue to improve. He still needs to add more strength to be an effective player at the pro level, however that should improve as he physically mature.

Wilson will be representing UMass-Lowell at the 2013 Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Bryan Rust, RW/LW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, in 2010

Forward Bryan Rust is a reliable, all-situation type of player, who is equally capable of shutting down an opposing player as he is chipping in offensively. Aside from being able to play a smart two-way game, Rust possesses many other traits the Penguins find desirable in their prospects. He is very strong and uses that strength well to battle along the boards and in the corners for pucks.

Rust is the type of player who, while he may not be overly flashy, plays a game that should allow him to adjust well to the professional level. Having just completed his junior season, there is a chance that Rust will sign with the Penguins in the 2013 off-season, though it is more likely he plays out his final year of NCAA eligibility.

Alex Velischek, D, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, in 2009

Velischek has slowly carved out a role for himself in the four years he has been with Providence College. The 22-year-old defenseman has developed into a tough, mobile, two-way defenseman, who is also capable of moving the puck up ice. He is not going to put up great offensive totals at the professional level, but moves the puck quickly and with great poise.

Velischek recently signed an amateur try-out contract with the Penguins ECHL affiliate, the Wheeling Nailers. Through three games he has an assist and a plus-one rating. There is a good chance the Penguins will exploring inking him to an entry-level contract, though given their current defensive depth, and the large amount of contracts they already have on the books, it is possible he will sign a minor-league deal, or sign an entry-level deal with another team.

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

Drafted as a long-term project, Maguire's was expected to split starts this season with fellow rookie Matt O'Connor. However, after Connor went down with a punctured lung in early March, the starter job solely became Maguire's. He embraced the job too, as he went 6-2 in March, and posted back-to-back shutouts.

On the season Maguire posted a 13-8 record, a 2.54 goals against average, a .926 save percentage, and four shutouts. He will return to Boston University for his sophomore season, where he will likely once again split starts with O'Connor.

Europe

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

When drafted, Sundqvist talked about needing to cut down his penalties, as he took far too many in his draft year. The numbers did not lie either, as a member of Skelleftea's J18 Elite and J18 Allsvenskan teams, Sundqvist managed a combined 129 penalty minutes in 39 games. With his 2012-13 season finished, it appears as though he accomplished what he set out to do. Playing at the next higher level of competition, J20 SuperElit, Sundqvist posted managing only 48 penalty minutes in 38 games.

Sundqvist is a big, rangy forward with a long reach and a fair amount of offensive skill. He managed 33 points in 38 games this season with the J20 team and even played 14 games in the SEL. He is still a long way to go before he can be an NHL player however. He needs to mature physically, get stronger, and improve his skating, but he also needs to learn how to play on the smaller North American ice surface.

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