When a team has two of the best players in the world and makes the postseason for 13 consecutive seasons, they usually aren’t too concerned with the future of the franchise. That’s where the Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit. The Penguins have spent the last decade selling picks and prospects to bolster their roster for postseason runs. It’s paid off in the form of three Stanley Cups during the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era, but it’s left the prospect pool in shambles.
With little depth in the system, the players on this list shouldn’t be expected to make much of an NHL impact anytime soon. Despite the low expectations, each of these skaters owns a skill set that should allow them to be successful at the AHL level and potentially see some scattered NHL playing time.
15. Defenseman John Marino
Acquired in a relatively minor trade with the Edmonton Oilers in July 2019, John Marino will give the Penguins some much-needed organizational depth on the blue line. The 22-year-old defenseman is coming off a three-year career at Harvard where he scored 42 points and registered a plus-38 rating in 101 games. Prior to that, he had a successful 30-point campaign in the USHL.
After his rights were sent to Pittsburgh, Marino inked a two-year, entry-level deal with the team; he’ll join AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rather than suit up at Harvard for a fourth season. There, he’ll hone in on his already-strong defensive and puck-moving skills. Marino likely won’t suddenly develop into an impact player in the offensive end but his 6-foot-2 frame and defensive instincts will make him a fringe NHL replacement similar to what Zach Trotman has done over the past couple seasons.
14. Forward Judd Caulfield
Selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Judd Caulfield will head to the University of North Dakota to start his collegiate career. The Fighting Hawks have produced plenty of NHL talent over the years, including Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, and T.J. Oshie. The 18-year-old will most likely spend at least two or three seasons there before the Penguins look to ink him to an entry-level deal. Fortunately, at such a highly-respected program, Caulfield will still have access to great coaching and development.
Physically, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound winger looks like he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL already. His size pairs well with his above-average hockey IQ and passing abilities. Caulfield should get some work on both special teams units at the collegiate level, adding to his value as a prospect down the road. During his development, the most important thing will be improving his ability to drive offense. He had some tools, but his offensive skill set really hasn’t grown yet.
13. Forward Kasper Bjorkvist
Kasper Bjorkvist inked a two-year, entry-level deal in May after a decent three-year career at Providence. Over his last two seasons, he scored 33 goals and 53 points while helping the Friars to a 2018 Frozen Four quarterfinals appearance. He was a second-round pick by the Penguins in 2016 after scoring 66 points in his final season of junior hockey in his home country of Finland.
Bjorkvist has made a name for himself with his high motor and well-rounded skill set. He plays a strong two-way game and has experience on the power play and penalty kill. The 6-foot-1 winger brings some above-average speed and vision to his game, but he’s not entirely consistent in the offensive zone. Best-case scenario, Bjorkvist ends up in the NHL as a penalty killing, fourth-line grinder with a bit of scoring touch.
12. Forward Nikita Pavlychev
The most intriguing thing about Penn State’s Nikita Pavlychev is his haunting stature; the winger stands at 6-foot-7, 211 pounds and doesn’t mind throwing his weight around, leading the Nittany Lions with 57 penalty minutes last season. He’s massive and has a relatively unpolished game, but surprisingly, his skating and scoring touch are actually fairly decent according to most scouts. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you make it to the top spot on Sportscenter’s Top-10 plays.
The Penguins took a late flier on Pavlychev in 2015, using a seventh-round pick on him as a raw 18-year-old prospect. Now, it seems like the big-bodied Russian might be a diamond in the rough for the franchise desperately in need of some breakout prospects. His offensive awareness and vision should continue to develop a bit as Pavlychev could make an intriguing bottom-six forward in the next few years.
11. Forward Jan Drozg
Coming off a 21-goal, 62-point QMJHL campaign, Jan Drozg signed an entry-level deal with Pittsburgh back in March and should begin the 2019-20 season with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Playing for the Slovenian U18 and U20 teams, the 6-foot-2 winger totaled 50 points in 28 games. For what it’s worth, those numbers came while Slovenia was playing in the World Junior Championship’s Division-1B, but Drozg led the division in scoring and was named the best forward this past tournament.
The Penguins scooped Drozg up as a fifth-round selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The 20-year-old owns a strong shot and some decent offensive awareness for being a fairly raw prospect. He works hard which sometimes makes up for his less-than-impressive skating. Drozg will need to improve on that, as well as his overall consistency, if he wants to make an NHL impact in the near future.