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Pensburgh 2015 Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and departed

We kick off our summer list of the best players under 25 years old by checking back on last year's list and seeing who moved on. There was a lot of roster movement

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The theme of summer 2015 for the Pittsburgh Penguins has been change. We've highlighted several times that Jim Rutherford has basically flipped his whole roster (less the Core 4, vets with multi-year contracts and a couple recent 1st round picks) in the past year.

This has come at a cost, and that cost has been futures. And the effects will be long lingering too: as the main ammunition to acquire David Perron (2015) and Phil Kessel (2014, 2016) the Penguins have dealt away 3 first round picks.

Aside from that, there were several more transactions throughout the past year where the Penguins moved younger players. Let's recap last year's Top 25 under 25 list, as well as denote the movement:

Rank Name Notes
25 Nick D'Agostino Wasn't given a qualifying offer
24 Blane Byron
23 Scott Wilson
22 Reid McNeill
21 Matia Marcantuoni
20 Adam Payerl Released to unrestricted free agency
19 Bryan Rust
18 Dominik Uher
17 J-S Dea
16 Philip Samuelsson Traded to Arizona in Dec 2014
15 Teddy Blueger
14 Oskar Sundqvist
13 Jayson Megna Released to unrestricted free agency
12 Jake Guentzel
11 Josh Archibald
10 Anton Zlobin
9 Matt Murray
8 Simon Despres Traded to Anaheim, March 2014
7 Brian Dumoulin
6 Scott Harrington Traded to Toronto, July 2015
5 Beau Bennett
4 Tristan Jarry
3 Kasperi Kapanen Traded to Toronto, July 2015
2 Derrick Pouliot
1 Olli Maatta

7 of the top 25 best young players in the organization ended up leaving the organization in the past year. Hockey is a game with a lot of player movement and this is the price a contender like Pittsburgh is going to pay, year after year, as they try to chase another Stanley Cup while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are at/near their peaks.

Also, as mentioned many times before, at least the Penguins were able to acquire Kessel giving up "only" their 3rd and 6th best young player, and not #1 and #2, who pretty clearly are head and shoulders above the rest of the assets on the list.


# 25 Nick D'Agostino

The team didn't qualify D'Agostino (a 7th round pick from 2008) after he failed to establish himself as a full-time AHL defenseman, last year playing 50 games in Wilkes-Barre and 5 more in Wheeling. D'Agostino seemed to develop a little, but not a lot, and the Penguins have a pretty deep minor league system, bolstered further by bringing on players like Tim Erixon, Adam Clendening, David Warofsky and Steve Oleksy. D'Agostino wasn't qualified and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

# 20 Adam Payerl

Payerl peaked in the Penguins organization in 2013-14, earning his first two (and to date only) NHL games and swelling up to #20 in our rankings last summer. In retrospect, this was too high, but many (myself included) felt the big, rugged, undrafted winger had a chance to make the NHL 4th line, or at least see a call-up at some point in the season. Instead, Payerl languished in Wilkes-Barre and was even a healthy scratch for them as the season wore on. The writing was on the wall for the player and organization that his time was up, and his contract was not renewed and he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

#16 Philip Samuelsson

Samuelsson, a 2009 second round pick of the Pens, was traded on December 5, 2014 for 4th line forward Rob Klinkhammer. This were our thoughts on the deal:

It's a good deal for the Pens, who had placed Samuelsson on waiver after training camp. Between Olli Maatta, Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot, Samuelsson was lost in the shuffle, outside of a few games last season when injuries had decimated the Pens blueline. However, as a former 2nd round pick, the Pens once again fail to get any value from a high pick, a problem that has plagued them from 2007-2011 due to trades and poor selections.

Samuelsson only played 4 NHL games for Arizona and played the rest of the season in their minor league. He is still a part of their organization, and at least the Coyotes are not expected to be any good next season. Maybe he can stick as a #6/7 defenseman, if not, the clock on his NHL development is probably running out.

# 13 Jayson Megna

Megna might have had the biggest fall from grace of any young player in the Penguins organization. In 2013-14 he played 36 NHL games, scoring 9 points (5g+4a) and gave the Pens some energy, and generated a bit of excitement for the hopes he could become a full-time NHL player. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Megna played 12 totally forgettable NHL games this season, and definitely got in the doghouse for a 4 minor penalty performance in a December game vs. Calgary (in just 6:42 of ice-time). He finished the season out in WB/S, with both player and team happy to move on in free agency. Megna signed with the New York Rangers last month.

#8 Simon Despres

Perhaps you heard, Despres was traded at the deadline? In what was a controversial deal (and certainly one of bad asset management) the Pens flipped a 23 year old that they didn't have in their plans for a 31 year old that wasn't as talented, but one they hoped would be more consistent in Ben Lovejoy. The trade didn't work out, and was amplified by Despres having a PDO-driven successful playoffs, with Lovejoy forced to play first pair minutes where he did not go well.

Despres as a Penguin. (USA Today - Geoff Burke)

But, lest we forget, last summer Despres was coming off playing in the AHL playoffs. He was so inconsistent and distrusted by former coach Dan Bylsma that he wasn't seen as an NHL option in spring 2014. Despres did little more in the 2014-15 season to endear himself to new coach Mike Johnston. Really, it's a wonder Despres lasted 3.75 professional seasons with the organization, considering how fast other high picks (Joe Morrow, Angelo Esposito, Kapanen, Harrington) were all dealt. Despres could never end up getting on track in Pittsburgh, and it will be interesting to see if his game finds stability for any length of time in Anaheim.

#6 Scott Harrington

A part of the Kessel deal, Harrington starts his 3rd year pro in the Toronto organization and with Mark Hunter (both formerly of London in the OHL). Harrington made his NHL debut and played 10 games, going point-less and racking up an unfortunate +/- of -10. He was a shade better than that indicated, but pretty clearly was going to be headed into his last ELC year behind all of Maatta, Pouliot and Dumoulin. Unfortunately, through numbers or slow development, it didn't look like Scott Harrington was going to make it as a Pittsburgh Penguin, so the trade comes at a good time for him, professionally.

#3 Kasperi Kapanen

Kapanen had a middling draft+1 season. He made modest statistical improvements in the Finnish league (going from 14 to 21 points), and it's impressive to be so young and playing in the top men's league. But he had an invisible World Junior Championships, which surprised many, given his skill. Kapanen ended his year on a strong note in the AHL playoffs, scoring 5 points (3g+2a) in 7 games with Wilkes-Barre. He would have had an outside shot to make the Pittsburgh roster out of camp, but likely would have been sent back to the AHL for more development time. Kapanen was last year the only real pure skill, very good prospect the Penguins had (which, if you like Daniel Sprong , he's the closest replacement now) Kapanen's loss will sting, but his projection is a "maybe". Kessel is a sure thing, which will ease the pain of the sting.