Penguins Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

Penguins Top 20 at a Glance

Links are within-article jumps

1. Marc-Andre Fleury
2. Evgeni Malkin
3. Ryan Whitney
4. Noah Welch
5. Sergei Anshakov
6. Colby Armstrong
7. Maxime Talbot
8. Andy Chiodo
9. Matt Murley
10. Ben Eaves
11. Michael Sivek
12. Johannes Salmonsson
13. Michel Ouellet
14. Paul Bissonnette
15. Ross Lupaschuk
16. Daniel Fernholm
17. Matt Moulson
18. Patrick Bartschi
19. Erik Christensen
20. Alex Goligoski

Current Rank. Name (Position)
How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight, Hockey’s Future Rating

1. Marc-Andre Fleury (G)
1st Round, 1st 2003, 19, 6’2”, 172, 9B

Due to the recently updated Hockey’s Future prospect criteria, phenom goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury returns to lead Penguins prospects. Fleury is one of the top goalie prospects in all of hockey, despite the tumultuous 2003-04 season.

After being selected first overall in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, Fleury won a spot with the Penguins NHL roster straight out of training camp. He would carry that momentum through the month of October, posting his first of what will certainly be many career shutouts in a 1-0 win over Chicago on October 30. But just as easily as it came, it would go as Fleury struggled the remainder of his time in the NHL and wound up on the losing end of the World Junior Championship gold medal game on three third period goals.

It became apparent that it was doing the young netminder no good to be the lone duck in the shooting gallery that was Pittsburgh hockey. Often facing nearly 50 shots on goal in a single night, Fleury struggled to keep his goals against average below 4.00 and would be sent back to Cape Breton of the QMJHL. He would play in only ten games for Cape Breton, but those ten games were nearly perfect. Posting an 8-1-1 record, with a 1.98 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the offense-oriented QMJHL, Fleury would show the brilliance that warranted the first overall selection. There is little doubt that this 19-year-old has all the tools to be the star goaltender for the Penguins for the next decade. It is now only a matter of patience with his development.

2. Evgeni Malkin (C)
1st Round, 2nd 2004, 18, 6’3”, 185, 8.5B

Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin are more of a 1A and 1B in these rankings than a clear-cut no. 1 and no. 2. This seems to be a common theme with Malkin as he would go second overall in the 2004 draft behind only Alexander Ovechkin. However, some believed that in any other draft, Malkin would have gone first overall and quite possibly is as good of a prospect as Ovechkin.

Already with a full season in the Russian Super League under his belt, this large-framed center has offensive ability galore. Possessing strong skating and shooting skills as well as defensive awareness, Malkin is exceptionally well-rounded and mature for an 18-year-old. Malkin is a veteran of the international tournament circuit while posting better than a point a game in his WJC career.

Malkin debuts at the no. 2 spot in the Pittsburgh prospect ranking, but would be a clear no. 1 on almost any other organization’s depth chart. With the future goaltender and first line center positions occupied with two of the best prospects in all of hockey, Pittsburgh is set down the middle for many years to come.

3. Ryan Whitney (D)
1st Round, 5th 2002, 21, 6’4”, 205, 8B

Not many defensemen lead their team in points in any given season. Ryan Whitney did just that for Boston University during the 2003-04 season, but left BU after just his junior season to sign a contract with Pittsburgh.

The large defenseman did not lead BU in goals (9) or assists (16), but he tallied the right combination to lead the team in points with 25. When BU failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament and Whitney left early to join the professional ranks. He would find his way on the Wilkes–Barre/Scranton roster just in time for their ride to the Calder Cup finals. Whitney would not skip a beat as he contributed 10 points on 9 assists in the 20 games he appeared in.

Whitney is one of the best offensive defensive prospects in hockey. He has scored at every stop of his development and has grown into a 6’4 body that will allow him to handle even the most physical NHL forwards.

4. Noah Welch (D)
2nd Round, 54th 2001, 20, 6’3”, 212, 7A

Noah Welch remains high on the Pittsburgh ranking despite an average year with Harvard. After a break-through season in 2002-03, Welch entered 2003-04 with his eye on a double-digit goals and assists as he hoped to assert himself as the best defensive prospect in college hockey. Welch fell short in his aspirations with only six goals and 13 assists, a reduction of nine points from the previous season.

But Welch’s contributions are felt far beyond just the ice. An outspoken leader for Harvard, Welch was awarded with the captaincy of the team for his senior campaign. Expectations remain high for this second round choice. He is already one of the more well-rounded defensemen in college hockey and is a solid future second defensive pairing for the Penguins.

5. Sergei Anshakov (RW)
Acquired by trade with Los Angeles, 20, 6’1”, 185, 7B

Sergei Anshakov was acquired in an early season trade with Los Angeles with Martin Strbak for skilled forward Martin Straka in 2003. Anshakov has played the last two seasons in Russian Super League, tallying only four goals and four assists in 58 games of sporadic ice time. However, Anshakov has displayed his offensive upside with his recent international tournament performances. He led all Russian players with nine points in five games during the 2004 U20 WJC, besting Ovechkin’s performance by two points in one less game.

It is with these types of performances that fans drool over Anshakov as a prospect. For Anshakov, it is now a matter of harnessing his raw skills and putting it all together against the better competition of the RSL. It has always been a question of “when” and not “whether” he would come into his own. This coming season should be a real test for Anshakov as he has the experience but he must now turn it into performance.

6. Colby Armstrong (RW)
1st Round, 21st 2001, 22, 6’1”, 180, 6.5A

Colby Armstrong maintains his spot between Anshakov and Talbot in the rankings. He spent last season with WBS of the AHL, finishing the season ninth on the team in scoring with 27 points. Coming from Red Deer of the WHL where he proved to be a bit of an agitator, Armstrong added 71 PIMs and plays with grit and determination.

Armstrong fends off the fast-charging Talbot in these rankings largely due to his experience at the AHL level and his physical, NHL-style of game. As Pittsburgh continues to move towards a younger team in hopes of developing a homegrown division winner, expect to see Armstrong get his feet wet in the NHL before the 2004-05 season is complete.

7. Maxime Talbot (C)
8th Round, 234th 2002, 20, 5’11”, 185, 6.5A

While Sidney Crosby stole all the headlines, Maxime Talbot quietly had one of best seasons of any prospect in the QMJHL. Finishing third in the league in points (98) and second in assists (73), Talbot continued the high scoring ways that has made him so successful as an unlikely eighth round choice despite an early shoulder injury. How unlikely? To put it in perspective, since 1979 only 34 percent of all QMJHL players selected in the eighth round ever make it to the NHL. Talbot appears to be fast on his way to beating those odds.

Talbot is also recognized for his leadership qualities, having been named assistant captain of Canada’s 2004 U20 WJC team. In a March interview with Hockey’s Future, Talbot acknowledged the importance of this aspect of his game, “As a leader it’s really important to be a good example for younger players and that’s how I made my way in the Q, as a good leader.”

8. Andy Chiodo (G)
7th Round, 199th 2003, 21, 5’11”, 200, 7B

As Marc-Andre Fluery was sent back to juniors and the Penguins struggled to find a successful combination of pieces, Andy Chiodo found himself in the crease of an NHL game. Called up for a brief eight-game stint late in the season, the results were fixed. While stopping 38 of 40 shots and 26 of 27 shots for wins against the Islanders and Anaheim, Chiodo displayed the quick athleticism that made him a solid goaltending prospect. However, at the same time, Chiodo was over-matched in conceding nine goals to Nashville and finishing the season with a 3.46 goals against average.

He spent the bulk of the season with WBS, leading the team to a playoff birth and appearing in 18 playoff games. Chiodo might never develop into the star goaltender that many believe Fleury will become, but he does provide much needed depth at a crucial position. He moves up several spots in the rankings as a result of the tremendous strides he’s taken in his first season out of juniors.

9. Matt Murley (LW)
2nd Round, 51st 1999, 24, 6’1”, 192, 7C

Murley is a high scoring forward who has already amassed 94 points in 136 games with WBS. His 18-game stint with Pittsburgh was not as offensive as his prior record would have indicated. Scoring only two points in various short stints with the Penguins, including his first career goal at home against Columbus.

Murley slides down a few spots, not through any fault of his own. Chiodo had a surprising season and Talbot continued his scoring ways to leap-frog Murley. This will be Murley’s last season as a prospect and he will have the opportunity to show he is more than just an AHL scorer.

10. Ben Eaves (C)
4th Round, 131st 2001, 22, 5’8”, 181, 7C

With another injury shortening his season, Ben Eaves finished up his college eligibility with the Boston College Eagles. Playing in only 26 games, he posted career lows in goals (9), assists (25) and points (34). But those lows are not a result of poor play but of the injury bug which has seemed to follow him around during his college career. Eaves was the heart and soul of a dominant BC program that fell one game short of the NCAA Finals.

Eaves will most likely be skating with WBS next season. The frequency of injuries that are occurring to his diminutive 5’8 frame is a cause for concern. There is always a question of whether his frame can hold up against the larger and more physical forwards of the AHL and NHL. The college game is more geared towards skill and speed, allowing Eaves to excel in the absence of physical play. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in heart.

11. Michal Sivek (C)
2nd Round, 29th 1999, 23, 6’4”, 203, 7C

As with Eaves, Sivek’s 2003-04 season was shortened by injury. Moving over to North America from the Czech Republic in 2001, he has spent the last couple of seasons in the AHL, totally 50 points in 84 games. He earned himself a call-up with Pittsburgh in 2002-03 and scored six points in 38 games.

Sivek remains in the middle of the Penguins’ rankings has he approaches his final season of prospect status. He has a great mix of size and skill that any organization would be ecstatic to see in their centers. But he has had several chances to stick with the NHL club and has yet to make a long-lasting impression. Time might be running out for Sivek. However, if he manages to put things all together, there is no limit to impact he can have in the NHL.

12. Johannes Salmonsson (C)
2nd Round, 31st 2004, 18, 6’2”, 178, 8D

Recent draftee Johannes Salmonsson debuts in the Pittsburgh ranking at the no. 12 position. Afgter 13 points in six games for Djurgården’s junior team, Salmonsson proved that the lower levels of Swedish hockey is no match for him. He moved up to Djurgården’s Elite League team during the 2003-04 season at the tender age of 17. In the 25 games he appeared in, Salmonsson tallied three assists in limited playing time.

Salmonsson was a member of Team Sweden’s U20 WJC team in 2004 and recorded an assist in six games. He was forced to miss the U18 WJC because of a shoulder injury sustained during the season. Completely recovered from the injury and with a season of experience in the SEL under his belt, Salmonsson is poised to have a break-out season in 2004-05 despite already being recognized as one of the top ten NHL prospects in Sweden. If his development continues and he receives substantial playing time, something the SEL is not known for giving young players, Salmonsson will climb the rankings fast and will be a top 5 prospect for Pittsburgh before long.

13. Michel Ouellet (RW)
4th Round, 124th 2000, 22, 6’1”, 182, 7C

After scoring over 40 goals in a little over 60 games twice for hometown Rimouski of the QMJHL, Ouellet moved on to Wheeling in the ECHL and scored 20 goals and 46 points in 55 games. No longer a challenge, he moved on to WBS for the entire 2003-04 season and netted 30 goals in 79 games. The common theme at every stop along the way – scoring goals. Ouellet is one of the best pure goal scorers around.

However, the history pages are littered with explosive offensive talents that never get a chance to shine in the NHL because of shortcomings in other aspects of the game. Ouellet will need to round out his game before he becomes the top prospect that the Penguins believe he can be as he enters his second season with WBS and gains more experienced at the higher levels of hockey.

14. Paul Bissonnette (D)
4th Round, 121st 2003, 19, 6’2”, 211, 6.5D

A stay at home defenseman who is known for his strong character, Bissonnette almost made the NHL roster straight out of camp in 2003, a remarkable feat for any 18-year-old. He spent this past season toiling away with a terrible Saginaw team that finished tied for last in the OHL and 43 points behind the Western Division leader. But Bissonnette was one of the few bright spots for the Spirit, recording 19 points in 67 games. His plus/minus of –23, which placed him 554th out of 568 OHL players, is more indicative of the team he played with than of his ability.

Bissonnette remains in the Pittsburgh Top 20 because of his strong defensive play and maturity. He will never be mistaken for Rob Blake, but understands his style and plays within himself. At this point in his career, Bissonnette is just waiting to showcase his skills on a better team and against better competition.

15. Ross Lupaschuk (D)
Acquired from Washington, 23, 6’2”, 212, 6.5B

Lupaschuk is a defenseman who can score with regularity. His 18 goals with WBS during the 2002-03 season led all other defenseman for the WBS Penguins. The 2003-04 season saw improvements in other parts of his game. He set a career AHL high for plus/minus with a +7 and a renewed effort in the defensive zone.

Lupaschuk has always been described as a power play leader with a nice shot. As with most prospects that have a world of offensive talent, the defensive play will often be the make or break issue. The steady increase over the last two seasons in plus/minus speaks volumes for Lupaschuk’s development. He might be someone to keep an eye on during Pittsburgh’s training camp as someone ready to make the jump.

16. Daniel Fernholm (D)
4th Round, 101st 2002, 20, 6’4” 220, 6B

This giant of a defenseman has the rare combination of size and skill that are immediately recognizable in NHL-caliber players. He recorded 11 points in 37 games during his first full season in the Swedish Elite League at the age of 20. Fernholm is arguably a top 10 defensive prospect in the SEL and, with a lot of potential still in his body, has room to improve.

He remains in the bottom half of Pittsburgh’s rankings due to the depth of the system and the lack of competition he has faced to date. The vast majority of his experience has been in the lower levels of hockey in Sweden and just needs time to prove himself as he works his way up the ladder.

17. Matt Moulson (LW)
9th Round, 263rd 2003, 20, 6’1” 205, 6.5C

In only his sophomore season, Moulson has already led Cornell is points with a better than a point a game pace. His 18 goals include a hat trick against Harvard and his 35 points include an 11 point, four-game streak to start the 2003-04 season.

Moulson is a well-rounded package of tremendous offensive skill, defensive awareness and solid skating ability. As a college player, he will have plenty of time to develop on his own schedule and will be a nice piece of prospect depth for Pittsburgh in the future.

18. Patrick Bartschi (C)
7th Round, 202nd 2002, 20, 5’10”, 190, 6C

Bartschi is one of the best scoring forwards in Switzerland. His 21 goals in 2002-03 led his team and his 35 points in 2003-04 placed him fourth on his team in scoring. The downside, however, is that he is competing in the second-tier Swiss League where he has not been challenged by NHL-caliber players. This young sniper must further hone his skills and prove himself against better competition before the NHL can be a real expectation.

19. Erik Christensen (C)
3rd Round, 69th 2002, 20, 6’1”, 185, 6C

After being drafted in the third round by Pittsburgh in the 2002 draft, Christensen went out and had one of the best offensive performances in all of WHL hockey during the 2002-03 season, scoring 108 points in 67 games. Unfortunately, he followed up that season with a rather lackluster 2003-04 season of 62 points in 63 games and was involved in a mid-season trade. These two seasons are indicative of lone knock that has been following him around his hockey career –- consistency. Which Christensen will show up for each shift? This is often a question that professional coaches do not have the patience to answer and can be a hindrance to development as more and more is expected out of him.

Christensen remains low in the Pittsburgh ranking because of his consistency issues but remains on the list because of the glimpses of awesome offensive talent that he teases fans with on a nightly basis.

20. Alex Goligoski (D)
2nd Round, 61st 2004, 19, 5’11”, 180, 7D

Rounding out the Pittsburgh Top 20 ranking is this offensive defenseman. A product of USHS and the USHL, Goligoski will be attending the University of Minnesota in the fall. He possesses raw offensive skills that project him to a solid second pair defenseman and valuable contributor on the power play. He will be one of nine defensemen on the Golden Gophers’ roster, including two other freshmen who will all be hungry for playing time. His offensive upside might put Goligoski ahead of the others, but it might still be a couple of years before fans begin to see results with the young defenseman.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.