We're up to the top 10 of our 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
- #15 - 12
And now on to the listing!
#11 (NR) Lukas Bengtsson D, 22 years old, Frolunda (SHL)
The Pens did well to sign Bengtsson (a previous undrafted attendee of New York Ranger development camps) to an entry level contract. Bengtsson was a key cog in Frolunda's championship run in 2015-16. Elite prospects describe him as such
Bengtsson is a defenseman who stands out with his terrific skating ability and offensive instincts. Owns excellent acceleration and agility, allowing him to rush the puck up the ice. Of below-average size, he still protects the puck well when skating. Manning the point on the powerplay, he has a great one-timer and quick decision-making ability. Always gets back defensively, but could certainly improve his overall game, given his hockey smarts.
With Brian Dumoulin a full-time NHLer, and others like like Scott Harrington traded, Pittsburgh was pretty thin on developmental prospect defensemen with NHL pedigrees. Bengtsson's addition to the organization should be a positive one, and he's a very anticipated player to watch in 2016-17, his first in North America.
Per General Fanager, Bengtsson has a "european assigment clause", which means he can decline a trip to the AHL and go back to Sweden, but fortunately from comments made in English and Swedish earlier this summer, Bengtsson mentioned being open to going to Wilkes-Barre, if necessary, for developmental purposes. With 6 defensemen on NHL contracts, plus Derrick Pouliot in the mix for a big-league job as well, the AHL might be Bengtsson's starting point
#10 (NR) Filip Gustavsson G, 18 years old, Luleå HF (SHL)
The highest rated newcomer to the 2016 T25U25 list is the Penguins highest draft pick of 2016, goalie. Drafted 55th overall, Gustavsson is a highly rated goalie with size out of Sweden who brings more depth and potential to the Penguins in years to come.
NHL European scout Tyler Bilton had this take on Gustavsson:
He’s got great size. He’s a really good goaltender. He fills the net really well. Technically – I mean he’s a really technical goaltender. Very focused. His footwork is very strong – he sets himself and gets square to the shot. But with Gustavsson, there’s just a couple things he needs to work on and one of them is his athleticism.
SB Nation's CBJ blog, The Cannon, had a similar sounding scouting report:
Filip Gustavsson is considered by some to be one of the finest goaltending prospects in the upcoming draft. He is noted for being positionally strong, letting the play come to him, and for having smooth movement from side to side across the face of the goal. He has issues overcommitting to a play sometimes, though, and would likely need several years of seasoning before he could play in the NHL.
Gustavsson will be a long-term prospect, as his contract is Sweden runs through 2017-18 and he's expected to finish it out. That's perfectly fine for Pittsburgh, a team stocked with several good young goalies, headed of course by Matt Murray. Gustavsson at 18 is very, very young and it's good he'll have the chance to compete and develop in a high level men's league in Sweden.
#9 (#8) Scott Wilson, W, 24 years old, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)/ Pittsburgh (NHL)
Scott Wilson ends his days on the Pensburgh T25U25 one spot down from last year at #9. 2015-16 was a strong season for Wilson up until a broken ankle on March 11th that ended his season. Wilson was pretty much an unstoppable force in the AHL scoring 36 points (22g+14a) in 34 games, and then made a transition to the NHL getting 24 games (up from just 1 in 2014-15) and scoring 5 goals and adding 1 assist.
Due to the injury, Wilson was overshadowed by some of his peers who starred in the Penguins Stanley Cup run like Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary. Wilson's skill set is arguably the best of the bunch, but he was unable to show it when the spotlight was brightest.
But with a new year comes a new opportunity and 2016-17 should be a step forward for Wilson. He's on a one-way contract for the first time in his career, and will most likely have his first full season in the NHL. It remains to be seen if he will establish himself as a top-12 option, especially when Pittsburgh is returning all 12 forwards from the playoff group that won the Cup.
#8 (#14) Jake Guentzel C/W, 21 years old, Wilkes-Barre (AHL)
Guentzel rises 5 spots in the rankings since to a very successful professional debut on his amateur tryout last spring. After a stellar junior season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he led the team in assists  and points  (and was among the nation's leading scorers), Guentzel elected to turn pro and join the WB/S Penguins. His regular season in the AHL was encouraging scoring 6 points (2g+4a) in 11 games.
It would be the playoffs where Guentzel shined, leading the Pens in goals [tied 5], assists  and points  in Wilkes-Barre's 10 games.
Guentzel was a great add by the Penguins, he could have gone back to college in 2016-17 and then become a college UFA next summer (ala Jimmy Vesey), so getting him signed and started before that point was obviously a very important and good thing for Pittsburgh.
Guentzel was also a star of this summer's prospect development camp, where Jonathan Bombulie of the Tribune Review proclaimed that Guentzel "has emerged as perhaps the most-skilled forward prospect in the organization since Beau Bennett was drafted in 2010." Quite the compliment to Guentzel's skills given the nature of Daniel Sprong.
In addition to his pure talent, read any good scouting report or information about Guentzel and almost universally they will quickly get to another attribute of being a very smart and heady player.
"His hockey IQ is off the charts," said player development coach Mark Recchi. "He competes like crazy. He plays center, he plays wing — very versatile. "Where do you see him? I think on the safe side, project him as a top-nine (forward). On the high side, a top-six, for sure."
In 2015-16, the Penguins played 9 forwards in the NHL who spent time in Wilkes-Barre at one point or another, mostly due to injuries to their NHL players. If that figure repeats, we could very easily see Guentzel work his way for an NHL cameo in 2016-17, but this rookie season for him will mainly be about adapting to a long, grinding 80 game season playing against professionals who are older and stronger for the first time.
The list will resume later on this week, so far we've got: