The 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup as a team of mid-career star players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel who were supported by a shot in the arm in the form of some fresh-faced youth.
The youth movement was sprinkled throughout the lineup. Whether it was Matt Murray minding the crease on the way to 15 playoff wins or Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust jumping into scoring line roles and coming through with big goals, the energy was everywhere. You had Tom Kuhnhackl emerging as a full-time NHL'er and 2 young dmen in Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin playing top-4 roles by the end of the playoffs. The Pens needed and got spectacular performances up and down the lineup from young players, making this Top 25 Under 25 an interesting look to the future, which sometimes sneaks up very quickly.
Read more: Last year's complete T25 U25
Out of the top 25, from last season 15 of the below spent time in Pittsburgh (including players like Jarry and Erixon that didn't play in a game) showing that young talent had a lot of opportunity to make a difference.
And, as we saw in the player season recaps, they certainly did make a huge impact.
Here's a look back at last summer's list:
|25||Matia Marcantuoni||Traded to Arizona in Feb 2016 for 3 minor leaguers|
|22||Anton Zlobin||Signed with Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
|20||Dominik Uher||Signed with HC Sparta Praha (Czech League)
|15||Adam Clendening||Traded to Anaheim in Jan 2016 (in Carl Hagelin deal)|
|3||Beau Bennett||Traded to NJD in June 2016 for a 3rd round pick (Connor Hall)|
This is a less turnover than last year, when we saw 7 of the T25U25 leave the organization (including top prospects like Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington and Simon Despres all get traded). In that regard, the Pens did well not to lose much from the top of their talent this year, only 1 of the top 14 young players from last year are gone. And with a bunch of new talent infused in terms of draft picks, as well as undrafted free agent signings, the overall amount of talent in Pittsburgh's organization is certainly stronger now than it was last summer.
And no one aged out this year, meaning the 2016 list of the Penguins top 25 players under the age of 25 will be even better than the 2015 list was. That's great for the depth of the organization and scary for the rest of the league moving forward. A bunch of the Pens young players had the opportunity to step up, and several did big-time. This is a must for a team that has so much salary locked in for their top 5-6 players to be able to provide a young, energetic and hungry supporting cast. It worked to perfection this past spring and the future appears bright.
A quick look at the players who have moved on:
Outside of Top 25:
The Leafs former first round pick was acquired in the Kessel trade by Pittsburgh, mainly as a body to make the total contract situation even between the 2 teams (each team can only have 50 under contract and the Pens sent 3 to Toronto in Kapanen, Spaling and Harrington). Biggs had an injury filled season, playing only 11 games at the AHL level and 1 in the Coast. He wasn't qualified by the Pens and his pro career seems in jeopardy.
The Pens 6th round pick in 2014 wasn't offered a contract and is a professional free agent now. A major knee injury the year after he was drafted seemed to limit Lindo, who never developed into much of a point-producer or pro prospect even at the OHL level.
Ruopp wasn't given a qualifying offer by the Pens after finishing his 3 year entry level contract. The rugged defenseman was a 2011 3rdd round pick of the Coyotes and came to the Pittsburgh organization in the 2012 trade that sent Zbynek Michalek back to the desert. Luckily for Pittsburgh the other main piece of that trade was a 3rd round pick in 2012 that they used to select Oskar Sundqvist. Ruopp ended up playing 31 games in the ECHL and only 11 in the AHL this past year, which as a 3rd year pro go to show how far down the depth chart he was.
And now for players in the top 25 who have moved on:
#25 Matia Marcantuoni
Some picks like Bryan Rust (3rd round, 2010) pan out, some like Marcantuoni (4th round, 2012) just don't. The Pens shipped out Marcantuoni at the deadline for 3 minor leaguers including blast from the past Dustin Jeffrey, in an effort to bring some depth to the organization. In a sense the deal was a success, as Wheeling Nailers went to the ECHL Finals and Wilkes-Barre made it to Game 7 of the 2nd round. None of the 3 players acquired were retained for 2016-17. Marcantuoni only put up 1 goal and no assists in 14 games with Arizona's AHL team, where he is under contract for one more season. At age 22 and still not even a full-time AHL player, it seems pretty safe to close the book on any sort of meaningful NHL future for him.
#22 Anton Zlobin
Zlobin capped his first pro season in 2013-14 scoring 10 points (6g+4a) in 15 AHL playoff games, leading many to hope and believe the talented youngster could build upon that and develop into a scoring winger. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Zlobin blew out his shoulder early into the 2014-15 season and was basically never the same player with that being essentially a lost season and then 2015-16 playing more games in the ECHL (41) than AHL (12). Zlobin opted to sign with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL. The Penguins did not give Zlobin a qualifying offer this summer, so he is an NHL free agent if he ever elects to return, though that seems really doubtful barring a major career Renaissance.
#20 Domink Uher
Like Zlobin, Uher also elected to return to his respective home country as a free agent. Unlike Zlobin, the Penguins did give Uher a QO, so they control the 23 year old Czech's NHL rights. In Uher's 4 year professional career he appeared in 2 games in the NHL (both coming in 2014-15) and was seen as effective at the AHL level as a checker/grinder. However point production at the AHL level (69 in 236 games) left something to be desired, including only 13 points in 43 games this season. Uher didn't have quite the profile of an NHL player, and his path to the big league in Pittsburgh looks blocked big time, making a return to the Czech Republic logical. It remains to be seen if Uher's in the Penguins plans going forward, but they do still have his rights in case both parties want to give it another go sometime in the future.
#15 Adam Clendening
What a wild ride for Clendening, who's been a part of 6 NHL organizations since the start of the 2014-15 season. He came to Pittsburgh as a throw-in for the Brandon Sutter for Nick Bonino deal, and fittingly was sent out as a throw-in in the David Perron for Carl Hagelin trade. If nothing else, at least Clendening was an asset involved in 2 trades you'd have to classify as a major win for Pittsburgh. Clendening is a young (23), right-handed defenseman who can skate and move the puck. Yet, somehow he can not find a way to stick on an NHL club, for some reason. It's odd that he hasn't found a home yet, he's signed this summer with the Rangers so we will see what the future holds for him there. Looking at their depth chart, it seems like a long-shot he's a top-6 option for them.
#3 Beau Bennett
The saga of the 2010 first round pick finally came to an end this summer when the Pens dealt Bennett to the Devils for a 3rd round pick. As has been written a million times, Bennett is a skilled player but one sadly immune to staying healthy. And while early in his career some of his injuries were of the freakishly bad luck variety, 2 serious shoulder injuries in 2015-16 season could indicate a troubling turn for the future if that reoccurs again. The Penguins gave Bennett a ton of chances to prove himself (as did we by this sky high #3 ranking!) however, unfortunately, it just didn't all add up. Pittsburgh cut bait with Bennett at the draft, shipping him out to Jersey for a 3rd round pick.
Now that the look to the past is finished, we will start counting down this year's top 25 players. Will Olli Maatta keep his #1 spot? How far will key Cup contributors like Kuhnhackl, Sheary and Rust rise? Where do the newcomers slot in? Find out all this and more as the new list is slowly unveiled.