The summer's relentless heat continues, and so to does our countdown for the top 25 players in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Catch up with the earlier installments here:
Now, onto today's part of the countdown! Last summer's rankings are in parenthesis.
#14 (#12) Jake Guentzel, center, 20 years old, University of Nebraska-Omaha (rising Junior)
Guentzel, a 3th round pick in 2013, might have suffered in these rankings from a little bit of prospect fatigue. Though he had a very good sophomore season in Omaha (doubling his goals from 7 to 14 and increasing his point total from 34 to 39), Guentzel still dropped 2 spots in this year's rankings. Perhaps it's just the long-term nature of a collegiate prospect - Guentzel will return to the NCAA again this season, where he should be one of the nation's best centers. Yet he's still years away from NHL and that might have pushed him down the list a little this season. Maybe if he can have a Hobey Baker-esque season in 2015-16, he can improve his standing among the rankings
#13 (#15) Teddy Blueger, center, 21 years old, Minnesota St. Mantako (rising Senior)
Blueger, like Guentzel has been in the Penguins organization for a while (since the 2nd round of 2012 for Blueger). And he still won't be a professional this year, as he's electing to return for his senior season. He's still a very young guy and has a long path ahead of him as a slick, point producing center. It'll be worth watching if the Pens can even sign Blueger or if he follows in the path of guys like Mike Reilly and Kevin Hayes and becomes a free agent and chooses his own team next summer.
#12 (NR) Dominik Simon, right wing, 21 years old, Plzen HC
The Penguins turned heads and raised some eyebrows when they drafted a player in Simon who just turned 21 last week. That's very old for an NHL draftee, but Simon made our list very high for a couple reasons.First, and the reason Simon probably got drafted, was a very strong 2015 World Championships. Simon player some with Jaromir Jagr and scored 6 points (1g+5a) in 10 games.
Another reason for high hopes was a good July development camp where the Trib's Jonathan Bombulie said, " Impressive. Looks smaller than the 5-11, 176 he’s listed at, but explosive. Good first step."
Our own Eric Boswer like him too, saying "Simon scored goals that you wanted to see another one of the fourth line candidates score around the net, twice, and his experience and skills playing the game were evident throughout." Simon was an older player, but brand new to America and the organization and still flourished. Pretty encouraging.
Simon will probably start the season in the AHL, and if he performs well, he could be a candidate to make his NHL debut this season as well.
#11 (#4) Tristan Jarry, goalie, 20 years old, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Jarry took a tumble in our rankings, and that might be his team's fault. A goalie can be at the mercy of the team in front of him, and after winning the Memorial Cup in 2014, the 2014-15 team wasn't nearly as good. Jarry's save % fell (from .914 to .907%), his GAA rose (from 2.24 to 2.74) his shutouts went down (from 8 to 3) and his record went way down (44-14-3 to 23-26-6).
That aside, Jarry's ranking appeals to the volatility of the goaltender position, especially for young goalies. Consistency is a tough thing to develop, even tougher with a weaker team. Jarry is turning pro this season, but with Fleury/Zatkoff/Murray in front of him, it remains to be seen where he gets his starts in. He might split time from ECHL and AHL to get enough playing time, which wouldn't be the worst thing. Plenty of eventual NHL goalies end up getting pushed to the ECHL at the beginning of their career.
#10 (NR) Conor Sheary, right wing, 23 years old, Wilkes-Barre (AHL)
Sheary jumped onto the scene in a big way in his first year as a professional. Playing on just an AHL level contract last year (which has been upgraded to an NHL one this season), Sheary was by far the best player on Wilkes-Barre by the playoffs (where he scored 12 points [5g+7a] in 8 games).
With everyone in the NHL looking for the next Tyler Johnson - you know, undersized, skill winger who wasn't drafted but still can play, Sheary is such a contender. Sheary led the AHL Pens in scoring in the regular season as well, and could be a factor at the NHL level as soon as 2015-16.
#9 (#19) Bryan Rust, winger, 22 years old, Wilkes-Barre (AHL)
Rust's first season was a success, as evidenced by him shooting up the ranks here from 19 to 9. Rust cracks the top 10 with a solid AHL season (27 points in 45 games) and a 14 game NHL appearance (scoring 1 goal and 1 assists). Rust has become a fairly versatile player, left wing, right wing, scoring line, bottom-6 line. And he should have a decent chance to make the NHL team out of training camp.