Although the Pittsburgh Penguins season may not be going according to plan, their prospect pool has gotten off to a surprisingly hot start.
The Penguins certainly haven’t had many top end draft picks in recent years, due to their consistently successful regular season play and a couple of trades. After the most recent blockbuster deal, which saw Phil Kessel brought into the “Burgh”, the Pens lost a former first and second round draft pick, as well as their first and third round picks for the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft.
With that being said, the Penguins cupboards have suddenly become fairly empty. That has given some of the later round draft picks a better opportunity to play professional hockey, and hopefully crack the NHL roster.
Let’s take a look at how some of the Penguins top prospects are doing in 2015-16, as well as some dark-horses that are quickly working their way up the depth charts.
In the AHL –
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, have gotten off to an unbelievable start to their year, currently sporting a 16-2-0 record, good for first place overall in the league. That record is reminiscent of the young guns that are making the Penguins a power house in 2015-16.
8 goals and 19 points in 18 games.
The Penguins went off the board in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft when they selected 21-year-old, Dominik Simon, out of Czech Republic. Passed over in two previous drafts, Simon caught the eye of some Penguins scouts. All he’s done in his first year in North America is rank fifth among under 24-year-old players in the AHL in points per game, plying at least 15 games, scoring 1.06 a night. With limited scoring in Pittsburgh, Simon has to be one of the top candidates as a possible call-up.
3 goals and 19 points in 18 games.
Standing at just 5’8, Sheary is yet another player making a case for smaller forwards. The 23-year-old is tied with his teammate, Simon, at fifth in the AHL in points per page among under 24-year-olds. In just his second career professional season, Sheary is continuing to prove why he should be on the Penguins radar for the future. A natural talent with exceptional playmaking abilities, Sheary plays a game somewhat similar to fellow ‘small guy’, Martin St. Louis.
11 goals and 18 points in 17 games.
Wilson is a prospect that has definitely taken the long road to get where he is, but he constantly shows a tremendous work ethic, on and off the ice. A sixth round draft pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Wilson has since graduated from UMass-Lowell, and is in his second season with Wilkes-Barre, much like Sheary. His 11 goals lead the team and rank third in the AHL. Wilson was in a tight battle for an NHL roster spot, before trades and signings brought in the likes of Eric Fehr, Matt Cullen, and Nick Bonino.
4 goals and 14 points in 17 games.
Pouliot was expected to be a mainstay on the Penguins blue-line this season, after splitting time between the NHL and the AHL in 2014-15. However, a poor preseason led to Pouliot demotion to Wilkes-Barre. He has responded very well though, leading the team in plus/minus and ranking eighth in points among AHL defencemen. Pouliot is, without a doubt, the next man in Pittsburgh if an injury occurs to any defenceman.
10-2-0 with a 1.94 GAA and a .937 Save%.
After completing the 2014-15 AHL season with the best goals against average (1.58) and best save percentage (.941), Murray was also names the Rookie of the Year and Goaltender of the Year. In 2015-16, Murray hasn’t slowed down, sitting second in the league with a .938 save percentage. Many Pens fans thought Murray deserved to be the backup this year, but more time in the AHL seems to be strengthening Murray’s game even more.
In Junior –
Jake Guentzel – University of Nebraska-Omaha
8 goals and 22 points in 14 games.
Guentzel has been a very pleasant surprise to the Penguins, since being drafted in the third round in the 2013 NHL Draft. He currently sits third in points in the NCAA, a testament to just how spectacular he’s been this year. Genteel is a very smart player with a terrific hockey IQ. Along with that, he has great vision of the ice and can see the game one play ahead of everyone else. He simply needs to add some strength to become a top prospect in the Penguins organization.
Teddy Blueger – Minnesota State University
4 goals and 12 points in 16 games.
Blueger was once a second round pick by the Penguins in the 2012 NHL Draft. The Latvia native has played in North America since he was just 14 years old, and has learned some great habits during his time. Blueger plus a smart game, using his IQ to make plays that the opposition doesn’t see developing. He is a strong face-off guy as well, but won’t blow anyone away with his offensive numbers. His game would benefit from a little extra speed.
2015 NHL Draft Picks –
Daniel Sprong – Pittsburgh Penguins
2 goals in 14 games.
Strong took the league by storm in training camp this year, becoming a rare second round pick to jump straight to the NHL. The offence hasn’t been quite what he and the Penguins had hoped for, with just two points in 14 games, but he is certainly taking strides to improve his game. Sprong’s game features exceptional offensive abilities, with his stink handling being regarded as one of the best from last year’s draft. He could definitely continue to become a stronger 200-foot player.
Dominik Simon – Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins
See above (In the AHL)
Frederik Tiffels – Western Michigan University
3 goals and 5 points in 13 games.
Tiffels was the Penguins sixth round pick in the past NHL Draft. The native of Germany is always one of, if not, the fastest player on the ice. The negative part of Tiffels’ game is his strength. He is often knocked off of the puck easily, and rarely comes off the boards still in possession. Like Sprong, he would benefit from developing a more 200-foot game, something that is necessary to be successful in the NHL.
Nikita Pavlychev – Des Moines Buccaneers
3 goals and 7 points in 21 games.
Pavlychev was a seventh round pick by the Penguins in 2015. Currently playing in the USHL, he will transition to the NCAA, playing for Penn State in 2016-17. The 6’7 forward definitely needs some fine-tuning to become an NHL forward, but that will come with time in the NCAA. Pavlychev `will never be your top scorer, but he has the potential to play a strong all around game.