The Pittsburgh Penguins have one prospect playing at the Canadian major junior level, forward Jaden Lindo. A sixth-round pick in 2014, Lindo is playing in his fourth season in the OHL. The organization also has one player at the junior-A level, the 6-foot-7 behemoth Nikita Pavylchev, who is playing in the USHL for the Des Moines Buccaneers.
The shortage of talent at the junior level is a result of asset management and drafting philosophy. The Penguins have traded many of their top picks, so much so that over the past three drafts, the team has made just three selections in the first and second rounds.
Under former General Manager Ray Shero, the organization leaned towards the NCAA, especially in the middle and later rounds of the draft, and that has not changed under current GM Jim Rutherford. Over the previous three drafts, the last two of which were overseen by Rutherford, the Penguins used only three of their 15 total selections on prospects from one of the three Canadian major junior leagues. By contrast, 10 of the picks made in those same three drafts were players bound for the NCAA. The organization has viewed the college route as a beneficial developmental path for later picks as there are fewer games on the schedule, which allows for a greater focus on conditioning and off-ice training.
On the rare occasions the team has made a selection out of the junior league, they have done well. Daniel Sprong, the Penguins first pick in the 2015 Draft, was a second-round pick out of the QMJHL, and is currently honing his craft at the NHL level. The Penguins also unearthed two promising goalies from the CHL in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, both of whom are playing in the minors and possess NHL upside.
Jaden Lindo, RW, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 6th round (173rd overall), 2014
Lindo started the 2015-16 season healthy and has been one of the top offensive players on the Owen Sound early on, with 9 goals and 5 assists through 22 games.
The 19-year-old power forward suffered a knee injury in February of 2014 and missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season and the first two months of 2014-15 as a result. When he did finally return, he looked out of sorts and never really found his footing offensively, finishing with 7 goals and 2 assists through 49 games.
It has been an entirely different story for Lindo this season, as he surpassed his previous season’s offensive totals in 16 games and has been a physical force for the Attack.
Nikita Pavlychev, C, Des Moines Buccaneers
Acquired: 7th round (197th overall), 2015
Size isn’t the only quality Pavlychev brings to the rink, but at 6-foot-7 and over 200 pounds it is the most noticeable. Possessing a pterodactyl-like wingspan, Pavlychev does a good job of protecting the puck, and in general he understands the expectations that come with a player who possesses his unique physical dimensions. In his second season with the Des Moines Buccaneers, Pavlychev has 2 goals, 4 assists, and 43 penalty minutes in 18 games. He has already had several multi-game pointless streaks, but at this stage in his development, the most important thing is he learns to better use his size and strength.
The 18-year-old center plays a solid game at both ends of the ice and should become a solid two-way center one day. He has a good hockey IQ, and while his overall game is raw, he generally makes smart plays with the puck. He is scheduled to join the Penn State Nittany Lions for the 2016-17 season.
Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects
The Penguins have a handful of rookies playing in the NHL this season, headlined by 2015 second-round pick Daniel Sprong, who has 2 goals through 14 NHL games. Sprong has played alongside centers Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen, typically on the third or fourth line, and has been effective in the limited ice time he has seen thus far.
Along the blue line, rookie defenseman Brian Dumoulin has had little problem carving out a role on the Penguins’ NHL roster. Dumoulin has been very solid in a shutdown role for the Penguins, paired primarily with veteran Ben Lovejoy. Dumoulin has appeared in 20 games this far, where he has 2 assists and has logged just over 16 minutes per game. Of all of the rookie players on the Penguins NHL roster, Dumoulin seems to have really won over the Pittsburgh coaching staff and has gained more responsibility as the season has gone on.
At the minor league level, forwards Scott Wilson and Conor Sheary picked up where they left off last year and sit among the AHL’s top point producers two months into the season. They are also among the main reasons the Penguins are leading the league with a 12-1 record. Wilson has 10 goals and 7 assists through 15 games. He has six multi-point games so far this season, compared to nine through 55 games last year.
Sheary meanwhile has 3 goals and 13 assists through 15 games. Sheary recently had multiple four-point games, one on November 13th and another on the 15th. He was named CCM/AHL Player of the Week for his efforts.
Prospect of the Month: Jake Guentzel
Forward Jake Guentzel is having a fantastic start to the 2015-16 season. Through 12 NCAA games this season, Guentzel has 6 goals and 11 assists. He ranks first among his Nebraska-Omaha teammates in points and fifth in the nation. Guentzel is also among the leaders in the nation in assists.
The junior at Nebraska-Omaha has points in 10 of his 12 games, including five multi-point outings. He was instrumental in a sweep against Minnesota-Duluth in back-to-back games November 6th and 7th, where he managed 2 goals and 3 assists. Guentzel has also been very effective on the penalty kill, where he has 2 goals and an assist.
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