Home stretch of our countdown!
#4 (#9) Matt Murray, goalie, 21 years old, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
Ingoal magazine (featured in yesterday's Pens Points) had this great writeup on Murray, where they named him the 5th best goalie prospect in the entire league.
The 2014-2015 season was a dream beginning to Matt Murray’s professional career. He was voted as the AHL’s rookie of the year, and was a first-team all star – on top of having the top goals-against-average and save percentage in the entire league. The highlight of his year was from February 8th to March 8th when he did not allow a single goal. Four straight shutouts spanning 304:11 minutes of scoreless hockey would give him the record for the longest shutout streak in AHL history. It was a legendary performance that will certainly ramp up the pressure and expectations placed on the 21-year-old. His stock went from "solid prospect" to "outgrown the AHL" in only one season, which is not an easy thing to do.
At first glance, he doesn’t look like he’s an extremely large goalie – but standing 6-foot-4, Murray covers a lot more net than shooters expect. He’s technically sound, seals the ice well, and doesn’t allow the game to speed up around him. He does resort to a type of blocking mindset at times, and had to be bailed out by a strong Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team in front of him on some nights. Many forget that Marc-Andre Fleury is only 30 years old, so competing for an NHL job will still be a challenge.
Murray's 2014-15 season was shocking for how well it went, he passed every test and expectation set for him.
Now the big question becomes: how much of it can he replicate? And how does a young player improve on being a 1st team all-star, top GAA and save % player in the league? (Not to mention setting the all-time league record for shutout minutes).
That said, even if Murray doesn't post the gaudy numbers, he could make his NHL regular season debut. And probably should, at some point, if even for a chance to get out there and get a game or two in.
#3 (#5) Beau Bennett, Right Winger, 23 years old, Pittsburgh Penguins
Bennett's star-crossed young career continued in a 2014-15 season that ended with Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford saying, "We made a mistake on Beau Bennett development-wise. When it was getting closer for him to become a waivered player, I felt that we should've sent him to Wilkes-Barre and let him play a lot. He’s a guy that hasn’t played enough over the years. So we kept him around that time. He’s not consistent enough, he’s not strong enough, but he’s a very talented player."
Rutherford may have felt that, but he didn't do it, keeping Bennett in the NHL and in a limited role. Playing with 2 knee braces and in a very limited role down the regular season stretch, mostly on the 4th line with Maxim Lapierre and Craig Adams. Unsurprisingly Bennett did not produce many points then.
But he still has a chance next season. This is the first summer Bennett isn't rehabbing from a surgery, and can focus hopefully on building strength and sharpening his skill for the coming season.
As we said in Bennett's season in review his spot still seems uncertain:
Another year wondering what's next for Bennett. As Rutherford hints, the Pens hope he breaks out sooner than later, because if it's later, it probably won't be in a skating Penguin jersey. Time and patience is running short for a player who hasn't carved out any sort of niche in the NHL, and doesn't really have a great option going forward
The Penguins seem to admit they need to play Bennett in a good spot to give him a chance, however will they actually do it? Will Bennett earn such a spot? It seems like (based off this DK $ report) the Pens favor players like Eric Fehr and Pascal Dupuis in the bottom-six Right Wing role. And surely Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist are locked into the top-6 right-side.
Despite the uncertainty, what is known is that Bennett will get one more crack at being a Pittsburgh Penguin. For a player with talent (and an improved cast of forwards to play with), Bennett should be in a better position next season, no matter where he slots in.
And if he can just stay healthy, who knows, maybe just maybe Bennett's breakout season will come to pass after all.