The Penguins have drafted heavily from the NCAA over the past several years, particularly in the mid-to-late rounds. The strategy makes sense, as it gives players who likely have glaring holes in their game more time to develop before the organization has to make a decision as to whether to sign them or not. The lighter NCAA schedule is also conducive to players who may take longer to physically mature.
While most of these prospects are still several years away from being considered viable options at the NHL level, the group on the whole shows a great deal of promise, particularly at forward, where the organization has struggled to produce homegrown top-nine players.
Ken Agostino, RW, Yale Bulldogs (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2010
Agostino in many regards epitomizes what NHL teams hope for when they select a college forward in the later rounds of the draft. Following his freshman season in 2010-11, where as an 18-year-old he managed 25 points in 31 games, Agostino exploded as a sophomore, posting 14 goals and 20 assists in 33 games.
It is still early in his development, but Agostino plays a style that should mesh well with the Penguins, as he gets a lot of work done on the forecheck, protects the puck well, and is a strong skater who can capitalize on opportunities of the rush. Expect him to stay at least another year with Yale if not for the full four.
Beau Bennett, RW, Denver Pioneers (WCHA)
Drafted 1st round 20th overall, 2010
Given the injuries he dealt with over the past two seasons, it was mildly surprising to see Bennett sign an entry-level deal at the conclusion of his sophomore season with DU. The forward has been committed to signing after two years since he was drafted in 2010 though, so it really shouldn't be of too much surprise he wanted to get his professional career started. Besides, he accomplished in college the main things he set for himself in college which was improve his conditioning and add weight to his lanky frame.
Bennett is at the top of the list of Penguins prospects who could develop into a homegrown top-six winger, something that has seemingly eluded the organization over the past five years. He will have to stay off the IR first.
Scott Wilson, RW/LW, Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2011
Among the top freshman in college hockey,
Scott Wilson surprised many with his 16 goal, 22 assist, plus-12 season. Equally as surprising as his production is the overall quality of his performance. Wilson plays hard at both ends of the ice and has shown both skill and solid play at both ends of the ice. His performance was also a key reason for the River Hawks success this season as UML was 19-4-1 in games where he scored at least one point.
Wilson was the recipient of many awards over the past season, including Hockey East Rookie of the Year, the George C. Carens Award as the top rookie in New England, and the NCAA All-Conference All-Rookie Team. He was also a runner up for the Hockey Commissioners Association's national rookie of the year honor and the INCH Freshman of the Year award.
Josh Archibald, RW/LW, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (WCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2011
Yet another high profile freshman in the Penguins prospect pool, Archibald may not have had as offensively productive of a freshman year as Wilson, but he did get to represent the United States in the 2012 WJCs, where he managed two assists in six games.
Archibald is a classic example of a very talented player who needs to physically mature before he can truly realize his full hockey potential. Standing at 5'10 and 170 pounds Archibald already plays a physically robust game and is not afraid to mix it up with bigger, stronger opponents.
It's obviously still very early in his development but Archibald projects as a top-nine forward who plays with a good enough combination of defense and sandpaper that he could become an effective shutdown guy.
Bryan Rust, RW/LW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2010
In his sophomore year with the Fighting Irish, Rust managed five goals and six assists through 40 games; a significant step back from the six goals and 13 assists he managed as a freshman. The drop in production is at least partially due to an overall down year for Notre Dame, who managed 50 fewer goals in 2011-12 than in 2010-11.
Like most of the other Penguins collegiate prospects, Rust can play a variety of positions and his combination of skill, two-way play, and versatility gives him great appeal as a prospect. Expect him to play at least one more season with Notre Dame, if not the full four.
Ben Hanowski, C/W, St. Cloud Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2009
Hanowski exploded in his junior season, managing 43 points in 39 games, more than his prior two seasons totals combined. A cursory glance at the 6'2 forward suggests one of the biggest reasons for his offensive outburst is physical maturation, as he appears to have added substantial muscle over the past year. He also played with a great deal more confidence than in prior years which was obvious in the chances he took and his ability to convert them.
The captain of St. Cloud State University, Hanowski appears to have the tools to be a top-six offensive forward for the Penguins. He is equally proficient at distributing the puck as he is putting it in the back of the net and does some of his best work on the powerplay. Hanowski will likely return to St. Cloud for his senior season.
Nick D'Agostino, D, Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 210th overall, 2008
The greybeard among the Penguins NCAA prospects, D'Agostino is coming off his third year with Cornell where he was a key cog in one of the stingiest defenses in the nation. D'Agostino does it all for Cornell, from killing penalties to manning the point on their powerplay. This year he was particularly effective on the man-advantage, leading the Big Red with six powerplay goals.
Expect D'Agostino to return to Cornell for his senior year. When he does however go pro, he projects as a player with a similar steady style of play as former Penguin Mark Eaton, though with a much bigger shot from the point.
Alex Velischek, D, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2009
There was hope Velischek's college hockey career would return to normal following a tumultuous 2010-11 season in which he left the Providence Friars over a disagreement in how he was being used. The theory was with a new coach in Nathan Leaman and by default a new philosophy, Velischek's game would take off. Instead the Friars defense struggled even more, letting up 122 goals in only 38 games. Velischek faired no better on an individual level, managing just seven assists in 32 games while for the most part looking ineffective in many of his assigned roles.
Fortunately for the young defenseman he still has another year of NCAA eligibility, which can be more than enough for him to turn things around.
Alexander Pechurskiy, G, Titan Klin (VHL)
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2008
Pechurskiy has played for five different teams in five different leagues over the past two seasons. After spending most of 2010-11 with the Mississippi Riverkings of the CHL, Pechurskiy decided to return home for the 2011-12 season and play for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL.
In quickly what is becoming the narrative of his career, Pechurskiy combined for 35 starts between three leagues; Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL, Stalnie Lisi Magnitogorsk of the MHL, and Titan Klin of the VHL.
Pechurskiy had a strong playoff performance with Stalnie Lisi, posting a 2.55 goals against average and a .919 save percentage in 11 starts.
The goalie's future in North American hockey remains murky.