Finally we reach the end of the summer 2015 list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. If you need to catch-up on the recaps:
- Departures from 2014
- 2015 list: #25-20
- 2015 list: #19-15
- 2015 list: #14 -9
- 2015 list: #8 -5
- 2015 list: #4-3
And here we go.
#2 (#2) Derrick Pouliot, defenseman, 21 years old, Pittsburgh Penguins
Pouliot, the 8th overall pick in 2012, made his NHL debut on December 20th, 2014 and the then 20-year old didn't waste anytime showing the promise and skill that made him such a high pick, scoring a NHL goal in the first period of his first game with his first shot. (Unlike a certain someone, it wasn't on his first shift though).
That brilliant start wasn't a sign of things to come - Pouliot only scored one more goal in the next 33 NHL games he played and was on the ice for just 13 Goals for (versus 21 goals against) at 5v5, but at the same time, being a 20 year old NHL defenseman is still an impressive feat.
Which shouldn't be forgotten. As we pointed out in Pouliot's season review, the youngster played 26 NHL games in the important months of February, March and April - and would have played in the NHL playoffs too, if not for an injury that knocked him out.
As the depth chart stands now, the Penguins are putting a lot of responsibility on Pouliot for next season, with him currently penciled in for second pairing role- which would be a big step-up from last year when he played a very sheltered, 3rd pairing role with the likes of Robert Bortuzzo, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy.
#1 (#1) Olli Maatta, defenseman, 21 years old, Pittsburgh Penguins
For the second year in a row, and via unanimous decision, Maatta headlines our list of the top 25 players under 25 years old for the Pens.
That's about the first good thing you've probably read about Olli Maatta in the past year. First, in May 2014 it was announced he had to have a major rotator cuff surgery - which though tough didn't seem so bad, since he rehabbed in time for the start of the regular season. But he couldn't make it out of October without being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and another surgery to address that. Once that was dealt with and a clean bill of health given, Maatta contracted the mumps in mid-December. As if a cancer scare and the mumps weren't enough, Maatta's previously reconstructed shoulder had to have the exact same surgery in January, putting an end to about the most terrible season one could imagine.
Like Pouliot, the Pens have extreme expectations for Maatta in 2015-16. Maatta is set to place first pair defense with Kris Letang, which considering all the trauma Maatta had in the past year (plus the fact he only has 98 career NHL regular season games under his belt) is a big ask of a young man who just celebrated his 21st birthday earlier this week.
Still, there's a reason why Maatta is expected to carry such a load. He's a supremely talented defender who has shown that he can handle (and excel) when playing against a high quality of competition, as evidenced by the chart in his end of season review.
A lot of the success the Penguins hope they have in 2015-16 depends on the surgically repaired shoulders of Maatta and Pouliot. Both will be counted on to be major factors in the puck moving, possession system that the Penguins will employ. And since the forward group has been completely rebuilt in the last year, it will hopefully make the job of being a defenseman easier, since they will hopefully be spending less time in their own zone.
Final T25 U25 list for summer 2015: