Back in the Fall we took a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins best available prospects under the age of 25 by eliciting a fan vote to rank the available options. We checked back on them at various points in the season, but never put together a final look back at the list. The 2014 Prospect Development Camp is scheduled to run from July 15th through July 19th, with a free scrimmage open to the public on the 19th. So this seemed like the perfect time to take a look back and see how far our prospects have come this year.
If you remember from our initial posting last year, there were some divided opinions on which players should be included and which should not. One question revolved around whether we meant players 25 and under, or rather were looking at players that were strictly under the age of 25. As far as rookie requirements are concerned, the NHL marks the cutoff as a player who has not yet turned 26 as of the start of the league year on September 15th. Hockey's Future, on the other hand considers the player graduated after the season of their 24th birthday. The general consensus that most fans here agreed to was that we would stick to strictly players under the age of 25. Although even then there is some debate as to what cutoff date to use, September 15th as the NHL uses, December 31st like the Junior/AHL cutoff, or even June 30th in the spirit of Hockey's Future using the season of the player's 24th birthday.
Of course beyond the age limit we also had to considered player experience. One option was to include all players under the age limit regardless of playing experience. Another option would be to use the Hockey's Future cutoff of 65 NHL games. Then there is the possibility of using the NHL's rookie criteria, which sets the cutoff at 25 NHL games or 6 or more in each of two previous seasons. And sometime after the list was made I learned that the Penguins internal prospect rankings work under the assumption that players are considered graduated after they have player more than 10 NHL games. With multiple different criteria to choose from, the majority of our posters settled on using players who still qualify as NHL rookies.
Out With the Old...
So now that we have a full season behind us, who do we need to remove from our list of available choices when we start working on next year's Top 25 Under 25 poll? Some of the players meet one or more of the cutoffs above which means they may be considered graduated and as such no longer prospects. Of course there are also a couple that are no longer with the team, so they wouldn't be an option even if they didn't meet the cutoffs.
I believe everybody accepted the fact that Brandon Sutter was not an acceptable option last season even though he had not yet turned 25, he was simply far too experienced of a player. He turned 25 during the season and has 443 career NHL regular season and playoff games, so there is even more reason to consider him graduated if you had not done so already. Sutter is currently an RFA that the team is still attempting to re-sign.
Another name that was widely accepted as graduated already last season was Dustin Jeffrey, he was only possible if you were of the 25 and under camp, and already had significant playing experience. He has since turned 26, has 124 career NHL games, and was waived and claimed by the Dallas Stars. He won the Calder Cup with the Texas Stars and then they chose not to tender him a qualifying offer, after which he signed with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency.
A new face that could have made the list as of last season if using a strict age based cutoff is Nick Spaling. However, he is already 25 years old now and will be 26 by the end of the year, and he has 325 career NHL regular season and playoff games. He is currently an RFA who has a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for July 31st.
One player that some people chose to add but most felt shouldn't count since he was not a rookie was Beau Bennett. He is only 22 and will be turning 23 by the end of the year, but he has already met even the high end Hockey's Future cutoff as this season brings his total up to 65 career NHL regular season and playoff games. He is still playing on the final year of his ELC, and interestingly enough is still eligible for Prospect Development Camp, however he is currently recovering from wrist surgery and is expected to be out all summer.
Another of our players who still qualified for the age cutoff but was no longer a rookie and as such didn't make most people's lists was Simon Despres. He is just 23 years old, but despite the fact that the team "misused him" and "never let him play" he still managed to accrue 91 career NHL regular season and playoff games. He is currently an RFA that the team is still attempting to re-sign.
The last of our players that most people chose not to use because he was no longer a rookie is Robert Bortuzzo. He is now 25 years old and this season jumped up to 83 career NHL regular season and playoff games. He has one year left of his contract and is expected to be fighting for a spot on the 3rd D pair this season.
Then we have some other players that were rookies, but for one reason or another did not make it onto many people's lists. Brian Gibbons is now 26 and has accrued 49 career NHL regular season and playoff games. He matched his career highs at the AHL level despite playing less than half as many games and was selected as an AHL All-Star. He left in free agency to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Likewise we have Paul Thompson whom most people did not feel deserved to make the cut. He is 25 and will turn 26 by the end of the year. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and they chose not to tender him a qualifying offer and he currently remains a UFA.
Joining them as players most felt should not make the list was Zach Sill. He is 26 and has now played in 20 career NHL games. Despite being under the games played limit, he is now too old to be considered an NHL rookie. He re-signed with the Pens this summer and is expected to compete for a spot on the 4th line, but most likely he will wind up placed on waivers with the intention of sending him back down to WBS.
Bobby Farnham also got passed over by most people, although he met the major criteria of age and experience, he just wasn't really good enough to get listed. However, he turned 25 during the season so he can now be considered graduated. He is currently an RFA whom the Pens are still working on re-signing.
Another player who didn't make many people's lists simply do to his lackluster performance was Clark Seymour. He is just 21 years old and has yet to play a single professional game. However, they added him to WBS last spring on an ATO, released him less than two weeks later, and then chose not to offer him an NHL contract before his rights expired. He is currently a UFA.
Now we get into those players who may or may not be considered graduated depending on what criteria you use. The first is Alexander Pechurski who is still listed as being in the Penguins system despite never getting signed to an NHL contract. He only has 1 career NHL game played, however he turned 24 during the previous season, so if using the Hockey's Future criteria he would no longer count as a prospect this season. He is fresh off a Gagarin Cup victory with the KHL Mettalurg Magnitogorsk and he is set to return with the team again this season.
Next up we have #18 on our Top 25 Under 25 Nick D`Agostino. Last year was the season of his 24th birthday, so if we use the Hockey's Future cutoff dates it means he will be turning 25 this season. However, they allow for special circumstances with NCAA prospects, and he will be finishing up the final year of his ELC this season, so some people may still chose to include him.
Then we have #11 on our Top 25 Under 25 Eric Hartzell. He turned 25 last season and as such will be turning 26 before the end of the year, so he does not fit the cutoffs for our Top 25 Under 25 and as such should be considered graduated. He is playing the final year of his bridge contract and is expected to battle for the role of AHL backup again this season.
Continuing upward we have #5 on our Top 25 Under 25 Jayson Megna. He turned 24 during the season, so using the Hockey's Future cutoff date it means he will be turning 25 this year. In addition, he has accrued 38 career NHL regular season and playoff games, so he is no longer a rookie by NHL standards. He is currently and RFA whom the Pens are still attempting to re-sign.
And last but not least is #3 on our Top 25 Under 25 Olli Maatta. Despite being just 19, although turning 20 before the start of the season, he has already played 91 career NHL regular season and playoff games. In fact, even though he is still on his ELC, the fact that he played more than 70 games last season means he is not even eligible for Prospect Development Camp this summer. He is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and is expected to start the year in the AHL, where he can rehab until he is fully healed and return to the NHL later in the season.