|Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
The Pittsburgh Penguins practically rebuilt their AHL squad, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, this past off-season. Many of the top players from years past, such as Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, and Scott Wilson, are now contributing at the NHL level. Meanwhile, newer players such as Jake Guentzel, Dominik Simon, and Oskar Sundqvist are expected to step up and fill some of the void those veterans left. There have been some early bumps in the road for the WBS Penguins, but they’ve been buoyed by fabulous goaltending from Tristan Jarry, who has allowed only six goals through his first four games.
At the NCAA level, the Penguins are extremely well represented. They have 11 college level prospects spread across five conferences, many of whom are playing at a very high level. Several are in their senior seasons, meaning they could be joining the Penguins organization professionally by this upcoming spring. Among those set to graduate this spring are forwards Blaine Byron and Troy Josephs, and defenseman Jeff Taylor.
After the jump, an update on some of the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects playing across the globe.
Pro Level Prospects
Stuart Percy, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2016-17 AHL Stats: 2 games, 1 assist, 0 PIM
Percy was a smart, under-the-radar signing by general manager Jim Rutherford. A former first-round pick in 2011, Percy established himself as a solid point-producer at the AHL level, but has yet to find the same level of success in the NHL. He has begun the 2016-17 season in the AHL, where he has been in and out of the lineup due to a lower-body injury.
The 23-year-old defenseman has the speed and puck-moving ability to keep up in the Penguins system. Even if Percy never develops into more than a replacement level defender, the Penguins took little risk in signing him to a one-year contract this off-season, and he at the very least provides depth to a minor-league system that took a major hit last season via graduations and trades.
Oskar Sundqvist, C, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2016-17 AHL Stats: 6 games, 2 goals, 1 assist, 10 PIM
Sundqvist is probably ready to play a fourth line center role at the NHL level, but the Penguins’ NHL roster is fairly clogged at center, with veterans Eric Fehr, Matt Cullen, and Nick Bonino all playing bottom-six minutes at center. Instead, the big Swede is playing in the AHL, typically between wingers Garrett Wilson and Josh Archibald. He currently has 2 goals and an assists through 6 AHL games.
Sundqvist is a very smart player who should eventually develop into a shutdown center who can chip in occasional points. He could be a regular on the Penguins roster as soon as the 2017-18 season, as the Penguins are set to lose several forwards to free agency this off-season.
Dominik Simon, C/W, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
2016-17 AHL Stats: 7 games, 2 goals, 1 assist, 2 PIM
Simon has begun the 2016-17 season strong, with 2 goals and 1 assists through 7 games. The 22-year-old has a penchant for shooting the puck, and plays a puck-possession style that should allow him to eventually find a role on the Penguins NHL roster.
Connor Hall, D, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
2016-17 OHL Stats: 8 games, 1 assist, 25 PIM
Hall was a curious pick by the Penguins brass at the 2016 NHL Draft. A big defenseman, known for his size and physicality rather than his size and speed, Hall does not really fit the mold of what the Penguins look for in their defensemen. Furthermore, he has no history of any offensive production, dating back to his junior B years in the GOJHL.
After a solid, if unspectacular training camp with the Penguins, Hall was returned to the OHL and has an assist and 25 PIM through 8 games of play. Expect him to play the next season or two in the OHL.
Blaine Byron, C/W, University of Maine Black Bears
2016-17 NCAA Stats: 8 games, 3 goals, 2 assists, 2 PIM
Blaine Byron is a skilled, two-way forward who will likely join the Penguins in a professional capacity when his senior season of hockey is complete. The 21-year-old is off to a strong start, with 3 goals and 2 assists through 8 games.
Byron appears to have a skill package that will allow him to excel in the Penguins system—he is fast, skilled, and responsible in his own end—but there is never any certainty with prospects until they lace it up in the pros. If there is one thing that might hold Byron back, it is his size. He is generously listed at 6-0, 172 pounds, and while the Penguins have found success recently with smaller sized forwards, that does not necessarily guarantee success for every smaller prospects who pass through their developmental system.
Expect Byron to continue piling up the points for Maine this season. He Has been among the top scorers for Maine the past two seasons, and will likely compete for that honor once again this year.
Troy Josephs, C/W, Clarkson Golden Knights
2016-17 NCAA Stats: 7 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 12 PIM
The Penguins have experienced some recent success finding players in the later rounds of the draft, Scott Wilson and Dominik Simon the most recent examples, and it looks like they have another one in former 7th round pick Troy Josephs. The third from last player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, Josephs has not posted numbers that are particularly eye-catching, his career NCAA totals thus far are 11 goals and 26 assists through 104 games. However, he plays the game with a level of tempo and intelligence that should all but assure he finds a job in pro hockey, even if it’s as only a replacement level NHLer or career-minor league player.
Josephs is physical, fast, and seems to be the type of player Mike Sullivan loves to deploy on his fourth line. It’s hard to say what type of offensive upside he has in the pros, if any at all, because Clarkson plays a fairly defensive style of hockey.
Nikita Pavlychev, C/W, Penn State Nittany Lions
2016-17 NCAA Stats: 7 games, 2 goals, 2 assists, 6 PIM
Pavlychev is another player who hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of Scott Wilson. The 6’7 Russian has begun his freshman season at Penn State after playing several seasons in the USHL with the Des Moines Buccaneers.
In his freshman season, Pavlychev has 2 goals and 2 assists through 7 games, and has played in all situations for the Nittany Lions. The big forward remains a long-term project, he needs to continue to improve his footspeed and get stronger, as he won’t be able to rely on his superior size and talents in the pros. It remains to be seen what his upside is, but he is certainly an intriguing prospect.
Jake Guentzel, LW, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
The offseason sure hasn’t slowed Jake Guentzel, who has picked up right where he left off in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs. Guentzel was an offensive force for the WBS Penguins during the AHL playoffs, managing 14 points in 10 playoff games. Through 7 games this season, Guentzel has 2 goals and 5 assists. He has played mostly on the Penguins top line with center Carter Rowney and veteran winger Tom Kostopoulos.
Expect Guentzel to continue to be one of top offensive players for the WBS this season, that is if he doesn’t force himself into the NHL lineup.
Tristan Jarry, G, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Jarry has been one of the top goaltenders in the AHL to start the season, posting a 3-1 record, a 1.25 GAA and .950 save percentage. The 21-year-old netminder has been utterly dominating at times, and has kept his team in games they may not have otherwise deserved to be in.
Jeff Taylor, D, Union Dutchmen (ECAC)
Taylor is having a solid start to his senior season. He scored a goal and added 2 assists in Union College’s opening game versus Michigan, and has been adding to his totals ever since. The Dutchmen have been one of the top offensive teams in the nation this year, averaging 3.75 goals per game, and Taylor has been a big part of their transition game. He currently has 2 goals and 5 assists through 8 games.
Derrick Pouliot, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
This was the year that Pouliot was supposed to finally establish himself on the Penguins NHL roster. Through the first month of the NHL season, it hasn’t worked out very well for Pouliot. A healthy scratch for the first four games of the season, Pouliot finally got an opportunity to get in the lineup for an October 20th game vs the Sharks. However, he sustained a lower body injury in the second period of that game, and didn’t return for the third period. The 22-year-old defenseman was promptly placed on injured reserve for what is described as a “long term” injury. It remains to be seen when he’ll be healthy and ready to return for the Penguins.
Ethan Prow, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
It’s been a rough start for Ethan Prow, but he finally played his first AHL game October 26th, in a 3-1 win over Albany. Prow was a healthy scratch to start the 2016-17 season, and was sent to Wheeling for a week in mid-October to get some game time. He has since been recalled to the AHL.
Prow appears to have found his footing at the AHL level recently, with two assists in his past two games, so he has probably worked himself into the regular defensive rotation. He remains a promising defensive prospect despite his bumpy start to the season.
Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Sprong is technically with the Penguins right now, on injured reserve, recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. He remains a way off from returning to action, but he has been skating at the Penguins practice facility north of Pittsburgh recently, which is a promising sign.
Do not expect many changes with the Penguins roster this season, but it would not be surprising to see some of their minor-league prospects work their ways into regular NHL spots by the end of the season. Especially Oskar Sundqvist and Jake Guentzel, who appear to be at the top of the list for NHL call-ups.
The Penguins also need their prospects to get healthy. Thomas DiPauli, Teddy Blueger, and Stuart Percy –three bigger recent additions to their minor-league squad—have missed some, if not all the early part of the 2016-17 season.
Injuries aside, the future looks bright for the franchise. They have several stars at the NHL level who are still in their physical prime, and they have a steady stream of affordable depth talent they can complement those stars with.