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Today it gets real as we crack into the top 10 players in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization under the age of 25. The voting panel was made up by myself and TKN of this site, as well as Jesse Marshall from the Pensblog, Ian Altenabaugh of Hockeys Future and Netwolf from Lets Go Pens. Thanks again to those gentlemen for their input.
10. Anton Zlobin (6th round pick 2012, 21 years old). Zlobin played his first professional season last year and bounced between AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (8 G, 11 A in 46 games) and ECHL Wheeling ( 5G, 6A in 10 games) before settling in a niche of a scoring winger at the AHL level. He capped his season with a great playoff, finishing second among all forwards in goals (6) and points (10) playing in 15 games. Zlobin provides a rarity in the Penguins organization; a winger with offensive skill. At 5'11, 195 he has decent but not great size, his strength is in his hands and ability to produce points. From his pedigree as a scoring winger in juniors to now establishing himself as a scorer in the AHL, the curiosity turns to future ceiling. Still young, and only beginning his second pro year, Zlobin still seems outside of the bubble for the NHL right now. But for a team that needs scoring wingers, perhaps another strong season in the AHL might bring more attention and the chance of an NHL debut in 2014-15.
9. Matt Murray (3rd round pick 2012, 20 years old). After a few middling seasons in the OHL, Murray broke out with a great 2013-14 with Sault St. Marie (32-11-6, 2.57 GAA, .921 sv%) to make him one of the best goalies in that league. He turned pro at the end of the season and made his AHL debut looking pretty decent in his lone AHL appearance. At 6'5, 180, Murray is a very lanky but very big guy in the net with size you can't teach and great athleticism. The jump from juniors to pro can be difficult, and for an organization that already has Marc-Andre Fleury, Thomas Greiss, Jeff Zatkoff and Eric Hartzell, the best way to find time for Murray might be a beginning with the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL. With his talent, Murray is probably not long for that league and will get the chance sooner or later to show he belongs in the AHL. All he has to do now is go out and show it.
8. Simon Despres (1st round 2009, 23 years old). Playing 85 NHL games over the course of three different seasons, Simon Despres is well known to Penguins fans and has become a polarizing young player. He never seemed to find his way out of Dan Bylsma's doghouse and the coach would often give more ice-time and playing opportunities to others over the past few years, a problem that obviously Despres won't have now. Under the new regime Despres' role may change- they gave him a two-year contract this summer and presumably will give him the chance to finally establish himself as a full-time NHL player. At 6'4, 210 we know Despres has the size and impressive skating ability for that size. His issue has just been making the right reads, improving his gap positioning and staying consistent with the mental side of the game.
7. Brian Dumoulin (trade with Carolina, 23 years old). Now the old man of the upcoming rookie tournament, Dumoulin is hoping to make the jump to the NHL as well this season. 2013-14 was his second professional season and saw his NHL debut, a six game stint in Pittsburgh due to injuries. Dumoulin has become a huge part of the WB/S blueline and become a dependable player in all three phases at that level. But with Despres and Philip Samuelsson waiver-eligible, can Dumoulin outplay them enough to justify a spot in the lineup? Despite a lot of changes on the Pittsburgh defense, there won't be a ton of openings right off the bat this training camp, but Dumoulin certainly can and is expected to make for some difficult decisions soon.
6. Scott Harrington (2nd round, 2011, 21 years old). Entering his second professional season, Harrington will look to refine his craft even further to keep polishing himself to the point of being NHL caliber. His first season in the AHL left a lot to build on, "By the end of the 2013-14 AHL season, Harrington was playing regular top four minutes," said Ian in his prospect feature. "[He was] chipping in on both special teams. He saw a lot of the tough matchups, often against the opposition's top forward units, and played the type of mature two-way game that belied his age and inexperience." Harrington is right on the bubble of being NHL ready, and it won't be his boxcar stats that impress and push him over the top. His game could be a Paul Martin type, and with Martin's contract expiring after this season, the Pens may already have the eventual replacement in-house. The future is bright for Harrington.