If you can believe it, we're already now in the top half of the countdown of the top 25 players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, and now it's really going to get interesting. Catch up with the earlier parts of the series if you need
- Looking back at the 2015 list and the departed
- 2016 T25U25: Honorable Mentions and #25- #24
- #23 - #20
- #19 - 16
And now on to the listing!
#15 (#NR) Ethan Prow D, 23 years old, St. Cloud St, Wilkes-Barre (AHL)
The Penguins hope they have struck gold when they signed Hobey Baker finalist Ethan Prow to an entry level contract as a free agent.
"I think he’s a little ways away still, but I think he’s a prospect, no question," said player development coach Mark Recchi. "His hockey sense is very good. He’s got to get a little bit stronger and his skating — he’s probably got to add half a step. Which is going to come. We think playing down in the minors will help his pace and help his skating."
"He’s a great puck-moving defensemen," Recchi said. "Very composed. Very good on the power play. Runs the power play well. His first pass is tremendous. … You’ve got to get the puck in the forwards’ hands and you’ve got to have a certain calmness to make those plays. There’s a lot of pressure coming from [opposing] forwards. If you can stay composed and make the right play, then it’s going to make it easy for your team and hard for the other team."
Prow shined at the team's summer prospect camp, as to be expected for an older prospect who can skate very well. 2016-17 will be his first full year in the pros and it will be interesting to see how much of one of the best defensemen in the NCAA's game translates to the professional level. With Pittsburgh's stacked organization of experienced minor league defensemen, it doesn't seem like Prow is an NHL option in 2016-17, this year is about development.
Skilled, swift-skating right-handed defensemen don't grow on trees, Prow is under-sized and unproven but will get the opportunity to show his stuff and could be a prospect to climb up the rankings for next year's list.
#14 (#11) Tristan Jarry, G, 21 years old, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
What a wild 12 month for Jarry- he watches Matt Murray (one year his senior) rocket to success on the biggest of stages, and watches the Penguins draft who many consider the top goalie in the draft with their first pick.
Jarry had a perfectly decent rookie season, stopping .905% of pucks for WB/S in 33 games with a 2.69 GAA and 5 shutouts. That's quite a stepdown from Murray's stellar rookie season a year earlier, though unfair for the natural comparison that Jarry will have for the foreseeable future.
All that said, Jarry just turned 21 years old in April, for most goaltenders his development is still in the very early stages of the player that he could possibly become. And, best of all for him with Murray firmly in the NHL and Jeff Zatkoff moving on in free agency Jarry looks set to get the first crack to be the top goalie in Wilkes-Barre. There's plenty of questions on his consistency and durability, but he should have plenty of time to make his mark.
#13 (#21) Tom Kuhnhackl LW, 24 years old, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
Tom Kuhnhackl makes the biggest jump for a player ranked in 2015 to 2016, flying up 8 spots in our ranking. Look at what we said about Kuhnhackl just last summer:
Quite the career track for the former Penguins 4th round 2010 draft pick. Kuhnhackl had his best season to date in 2014-15, setting career highs in the AHL for games played (72) goals (12), assists (18) and points (30). More impressively was how he did it- reinventing himself from his past as mainly a scoring winger, to turn into an grinder/energy player
It's very surprising and a testament to him that he ends up playing in 66 total NHL games this season (regular season + playoffs) and earned a niche on the 4th line and a two-year, one-way contract for the upcoming seasons.
How did he do it? Kuhnhackl definitely earned the trust of Mike Sullivan when the two were in Wilkes-Barre at the beginning of the season, and it also helped he had the best season of his career. He scored 15 points (7g+8a) in just 23 AHL regular season games, showing some scoring touch for the first time in his career, and that parlayed into a shot at the NHL. He played well enough to earn a jersey for each and every NHL playoff game on the road to a Stanley Cup, no small feat.
So why only 13th on our list in the final year of the 24 year old's eligibility for the T25U25? Questions about ceilings abound, it's difficult to imagine Kuhnhackl becoming more than a 4th line NHL player. But hey, that's nothing wrong with that, lots of prospects never advance that far. Kuhnhackl has a lot of use and value to the Penguins in the coming years, but the players above him on the list are all younger and have higher capabilities, which push them a little further up the rankings.
Then again, 1-2 years ago it seemed very unlikely Kuhnhackl would emerge as an NHL regular, so perhaps his upswing and surprising play won't end just yet.
C/RW, 22 years old, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)/ Pittsburgh (NHL)
On the flip side of the coin from the rising Kuhnhackl who rose the most, no young players dropped as much as Sundqvist from last year. This is more about the strength of the Penguins system adding talent (and others stepping up) more so than reflective of Sundqvist's first season in North America.
Sundqvist split time between the AHL and NHL and didn't look out of place in the 18 regular season games he played, nor the 2 playoff games (although his minutes were extremely limited). The team has seen enough to be ready to turn the 4th line center job over to him full-time, if Matt Cullen elects to play somewhere else next season.
Sundqvist has impressive size and instincts on the ice, but his first step isn't explosive and he doesn't seem a perfect fit for the system that the Penguins currently run, however teams love to stay big down the middle and if Sundqvist can continue to develop more he could be a mainstay of the penalty kill unit and be a force in the faceoff circle.
The list will resume later on this week, so far we've got: