Well, this is it. Finally the end 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
- #15 - 12
- #11 - 8
- #7 - 4
It's no surprise really for who the Top 3 remaining are. But, for the first time in many years, we have a change of #1.
#3 (6) Brian Dumoulin, D, 24 years old, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
He finally put it together.
Dumoulin was arguably the #3 piece of the 2012 trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina. Pittsburgh got a defacto Staal replacement (though certainly a downgrade) in Brandon Sutter, the 8th overall pick (Derrick Pouliot) and Dumoulin for their big center. And as of right now, Dumoulin ranks as the prize of that deal for Pittsburgh (although getting Nick Bonino + for Sutter was great too).
Dumoulin's had an interesting career path. He's been a lesser light as a prospect behind guys like Maatta, Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Simon Despres. But Dumo's continued to grow and finally exploded in 2015-16 as a big-time player.
By the end of 2015-16, Dumoulin was a partner of Kris Letang and held his own well on the top pair. He's a clear top-4 defenseman, even if he isn't generating a ton of offense he's got the size, skating and puck-moving ability to fit in perfectly with the style that coach Mike Sullivan wants to run.
Dumoulin always seems like a guy to fly under the radar, he's not flashy, he was a late bloomer. But he is a very solid player and the Penguins are lucky to have him under team control. Good things are worth waiting for, and Brian Dumoulin definitely was worth waiting on for Pittsburgh.
#2 (1) Olli Maatta, D, 22 years old, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
For the first time in 3 years, Olli Maatta isn't the top player in the Penguins organization under the age of 25. It's the latest of several tough breaks that have plagued Maatta over the last 18 months, though somehow we think this adversity to be slighted on Pensburgh will be easier to handle than the mumps, thyroid cancer and a significant shoulder injury.
One thing that a lot of people forget as Maatta was over 2 years younger than the next Penguins skater in the Stanley Cup run this spring (behind Conor Sheary). Maatta made his NHL debut in October 2013, so seemingly he's been around forever, considering he only celebrated his 22nd birthday last week.
That said, Maatta's stock across the fanbase seems down, mainly due to a choppy 2015-16 season and playoff where his skating and footwork left him often exposed. While skating while defending in open space has never been a strength, Maatta wasn't good after all his injuries. Is that simply a function of being limited due to being so banged up? Time will tell, though Maatta was decent enough in this area prior to the accumulation of all his trials.
For all his trials and tribulations, Maatta admirably played well during the biggest time of year this spring, returning from a concussion off a Brooks Orpik late hit, no less. Maatta's strong play pretty much erased the injury to Trevor Daley, which the Penguins badly needed in order to capture the Cup.
Maatta's 2016-17 comes with a bigger price tag, thanks to the 6-year contract extension he signed earlier in the year. Now at just over $4 million a season, Pittsburgh will need their young defenseman to stay healthy and be able to play up to his capabilities.
#1 (4), Matt Murray, 22 years old, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
It's not a huge surprise, but it is official; Matt Murray is the new king of the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 list.
After winning the AHL goalie of the year award (and setting their consecutive shutout streak) in 2014-15 for a rookie campaign, Murray topped that with an even more unreal 2015-16 season culminating in 15 playoff wins and hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Murray has long been special. We even wrote an article about him starting his pro career (which, not to say we knew how good he would be....but who else have I ever written a similar article for?). It was easy to see Murray was special, even if he wasn't drafted all that high (3rd round in 2012) nor did he standout in the junior leagues.
It's something about his size, technique, calmness. A lot of savvy fans don't like to talk about the "it" factor, but Murray has it. He's a big, skilled goalie who has great positioning and athleticism. Almost everything in the pros has come naturally to him, whether it was being the AHL's best goalie last year, or outclassing guys likes Henrik Lundqvist and Vezina winner Braden Holtby this playoff, Murray exudes a really unique, understated coolness.
Murray has been so good, when he allows a goal it becomes a big deal. "OMG is his glove weak??". Murray's performed so well, it's as if perfection is the only answer and any goal conceded suddenly becomes a big deal.
It's not, but what is a big deal is the future of the franchise in net. Pittsburgh's lucked out with great goalie depth now and it's highlighted by the netminder who's passed every test and led them to the Stanley Cup. Long live the new king.
And now, here's your complete 2016 T25U25