On a long break, it's a nice chance to check in on the top 25 young players in the Penguins organization. If you missed our feature from the summer you can check in here to get caught up on all the details. Or, you know, just keep reading below to find out how their season is going so far for the latest and greatest information.
Rankings below are from how we had them this summer in our consensus list from the pre-eminent Penguin prospect trackers on all the internets, but the comments are my own.
|25||Matia Marcantuoni||5 GP (1g+2a) in AHL, 4gp 0+3 in ECHL
||Injuries have hampered 21 year old's critical 2nd pro season
|24||Blane Byron||17 GP (5g+5a) at U Maine
||Sophomore leading his NCAA team in points so far this year
|23||Reid McNeill||23 GP (0g+2a) 28 PIMs in AHL
||Defensive dman playing 3rd pair minutes in WB/S, one of few in organization with size and a nasty edge
|22||Anton Zlobin||11 GP (0g+6a) in ECHL
||Talented but oft-injured 22 yr old Russian forward has fallen off radar in big way
|21||Tom Kuhnhackl||17 GP (6g+6a) in AHL
||Back from injury and having solid season as checker in AHL
|20||Dominik Uher||27 GP (1g+5a) in AHL
||Good checker but limited production even at the AHL level leaves questions about his ceiling
|19||Jeff Taylor||17 GP (1g+5a) at Union
||Disappointing start to season for offensive dman in junior season
|18||Josh Archibald||22 GP (0g+4a) in AHL
||23 yr old hasn't found much offense in the pro ranks and is quickly becoming a forgettable NHL prospect
|17||Jean-Sebastien Dea||27 GP (8g+7a) in AHL
||3rd in WB/S in goals, looks to be taking big step forward in 2nd season
|16||Tim Erixon||23 GP (2g+9a) in AHL
||The journeyman continues with a good but quiet AHL season after spending time (but not playing) in Pittsburgh
|15||Adam Clendening||9 GP (0g+1a) in NHL
||Firmly mired at #7/#8 in Pittsburgh, which hasn't come with much ice-time
|14||Jake Guentzel||17 GP (10g+16a) at Omaha
||Excellent season for junior center, an impact player who is currently 4th in NCAA in points
|13||Teddy Blueger||20 GP (5g+12a) at Mankato
||Isn't eye-popping but former 2nd round pick on pace for best year in college in his senior campaign
|12||Dominik Simon||27 GP (11g+16a) in AHL
||21 yr old 2015 5th rounder has to be biggest prospect pleasant surprise, leads WB/S in points in first year in North America
|11||Tristan Jarry||8-1, 1.5 GAA, .940 sv%
||As rookie, 20 yr old goalie has played great in AHL backup role
|10||Conor Sheary||24gp (6g+15) in AHL, 4g, 1+1 in NHL
||Has impressed his way all the way onto Crosby's line after proving to be solid scorer in AHL. Small but skilled
|9||Bryan Rust||10gp (1g+3a) in AHL, 5gp, 0+0 in NHL
||Seems primed to get chance to make jump as full-time NHL'er sooner than later based on how team likes him
|8||Scott Wilson||25gp (15g+9a) in AHL, 1gp 0+1 in NHL
||Speedy winger leads WB/S in goals, recorded first career NHL point recently as well
|7||Daniel Sprong||18gp (2g+0a) in NHL
||18 year old got 2 months in NHL to learn, back to juniors for rest of season. Future looks very, very bright
|6||Brian Dumoulin||33gp (0g+ 7a) in NHL
||Finally got a full-time NHL chance and has made the most of it at age 23 as one of Pens most consistent defensemen this season
|5||Oskar Sundqvist||27gp, (5g+8a) in AHL
||Lauded for size, 2-way game and some decent boxcars as a young rookie learning North American game
|4||Matt Murray||12-4, 1.84 GAA, .938% in AHL, 1-1, 2.02, .920 in NHL
||Young star continues to shine bright in AHL and just won his first NHL game this week. Sky could be the limit with his size and ability
|3||Beau Bennett||24gp (5g+5a) in NHL
||Was finally getting a scoring role chance but, shocker, back on injury shelf -sadly the story of his career
|2||Derrick Pouliot||26gp (5g+12a) in AHL
||Prized pick has needed, and received, more developmental time in the AHL after poor preseason
|1||Olli Maatta||27gp (4g+5a) in NHL
||After returning from another injury, Maatta is looking solid lately as a top-pair NHL defenseman and figures to be huge part of the puzzle going forward
Top 5 biggest risers: Guentzel, Simon, Sheary, Sprong, Dumoulin
Top 5 biggest fallers: Sundqvist, Erixon, Archibald, Taylor, Uher (No fault of Sundqvist's own, but looks over-voted at 5 compared to how guys ranked under him are doing).
Overall, there would be some changes in positioning but our list has held up really well about halfway into the 2015-16 season. 8 of the top 10 have already played in the NHL this season and all of the top-15 are having strong seasons in their respective leagues. In the low end of the list there are a couple of guys dropping off with more long-term hopefuls, as to be expected in the murky world of hockey prospect development.
Interesting note of the future: Barring any trades, for the first time since 2012 (and for just the 2nd time in the last 9 drafts), Pittsburgh will have 2 picks in the top 60 in the 2016 draft. And, yes, that's regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not. They currently have Anaheim's 2nd rounder right now, no matter what.
Then, the Kessel trade kicks in. Pittsburgh will get their own 2nd back from Toronto (which TOR got in the Winnik trade) if the Pens make the playoffs this season, leaving the Pens with 2 second rounders to start the draft (ANA, PIT).
In the frustrating event that the Pens miss the playoffs, TOR keeps PIT's 2nd rounder, but the silver lining will be the Pens getting their own 1st rounder back, to pair with the ANA 2nd for two high picks in the draft. That first rounder would be a top-15 pick, which would mark only their second top-15 pick in the past 10 drafts (to join Pouliot in '12 from the J. Staal trade).
The strength of the Penguins core is and will remain 27-31 year-olds with the likes of Letang, Kessel, Malkin, Crosby and Fleury all under contract for years to come, but their under-25 year old players might be stronger than first thought of. They have 3 U-25 defensemen at the NHL level (with Pouliot probably coming soon) and have Matt Murray and a couple of lower-end forwards that can play at the league. Not much in the way of bluechippers, but the emergence of Sprong is a much needed organizational asset.