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6 Pittsburgh Penguins Thoughts: Prospects, Pouliot, Fleury and more

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A preview of the Penguins and the World Juniors (it's quick this year) and why that should change soon, Derrick Pouliot notes and Beau Bennett + injury is something we'll never escape

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#1: It's now December, so that means it's almost World Juniors time. One of the Penguins problems has been high top-end talent at the youth level, mainly due to the fact that they've traded their 1st round picks from 2013-16 for various reasons leading to stock the NHL level. Most of the Canadian and American players are past (or sometimes future) first round picks, and if you don't have a first rounder, it's tough to get those blue-chip players. In fact, I believe the last time the Penguins controlled a Canadian WJC player, it was Derrick Pouliot and before Pouliot it was 2009 first round pick Simon Despres.

#2: It's good however, that Filip Gustavsson (#10 on the Pensburgh summer 2016 Top 25 Under 25) and Pens second rounder in 2016 is going to be on Team Sweden. Fellow '16 draft pick Kasper Bjorkvist is playing for Finland. Nice that the Pens two highest draft picks of last year are in the mix on pretty strong teams, and maybe just maybe this time next year whoever Pittsburgh's 2017 pick is (assuming they keep it for once) might even be on a powerhouse USA/Canada/Russia team.

Here's Bjorkvist's first career NCAA goal at Providence

#3: Staying with prospects, did you see that Connor Hall is out for the season after a recent knee surgery? Hall, a Pens 3 rd rounder this season, is the player drafted as the return for oft-injured Beau Bennett. Of course the return for Bennett starts his career with an injury, hopefully this is just a blip in the radar for his future.

#4:

By this measure and outlook, the Penguins are one of the strongest teams in the league with only weaknesses in shooting % (hopefully will rebound in time) and also minors taken (everyone looks to Evgeni Malkin ). Somewhat surprisingly, given the overall narratives and maybe "eye test" of how most fans seem to feel, Pittsburgh is doing pretty well relative the league in 5v5 offense AND defense.

#5: If you're into data and graphs, here's a great blog article from Null Hypothesis about Marc-Andre Fleury and whether or not his performance and consistency has improved under relatively new goalie coach Mike Bales. A lot to learn here, and it pretty much confirms the hunch that many close Penguins observers have had for a while, that Bales has made a positive difference for the Penguins.

#6: Mike Sullivan (or maybe Mike Tomlin) on Derrick Pouliot:

Pouliot appears to be ready for game action following his October injury and completed a 3 game conditioning assignment a weekend prior in WB/S. Yet he's been a scratch. It's important that publicly Sullivan acknowledges that Pouliot needs to play, however the Penguins have made him a healthy scratch for every game he's been healthy save the one game he's dressed for. With Ian Cole and Justin Schultz both playing above expectation, there won't be a scratch among the most obvious place to have one, at the 3 rd pair. Among top-4 defensemen, it would be relatively easy to argue that Olli Maatta or Brian Dumoulin could be scratched for a night and not be missed. Trevor Daley hasn't been super-impressive this season either at times, but he plays a ton of minutes and realistically it's tough to see the coaches benching him willingly.

Even with Sullivan's wishes to play young Pouliot, they're not going to scratch Maatta and Dumoulin continuously (if even at all), so it looks difficult to envision how Pouliot will regularly be getting a jersey as being among the Penguins top 6 defensemen, as long as the normal players remain healthy.