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2017 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: #15- 11

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We get into the meat of the countdown with some of the best and brightest young players in the Penguins organization

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Back to the countdown, old items:

Here’s what you may have missed -

Catching up on the 2016 List

2017: #25 - #21

2017: #20 - 16

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#15 Sam Lafferty, 22 years old, forward, Brown University (NCAA), 4th round pick 2014

After very pedestrian freshman and sophomore seasons (only 8 total goals and 22 points in 62 combined games), Lafferty exploded in 2016-17 with a 13 goal, 22 assist junior year. He followed that up by being named one of the top prospects at this summer’s prospect camp by Mark Recchi.

College Hockey News had the following:

"He has tremendous foot speed," Brown coach Brendan Whittet said. "There is no difference when he has the puck or when he doesn't, which is rare. He never slows down. He has good hockey sense, plays hard and all around he has really raised his game. He has taken a big, big step for us this year."

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"He has becomes jack of all trades for us," said Whittet. "He plays in all situations and plays a ton of minutes. But he has earned those minutes and he is a good player."

"Playing a lot of minutes has been fine," Lafferty said. "Whenever your number is called, you just have to be ready to go. That is how I approach it and just try to be ready to go."

Lafferty is headed back to Brown for his senior season, and hopefully will be a player that the Penguins can sign so that he does not become a free agent next summer. One would think Lafferty ought to be one of the best and brightest players at the NCAA level this season.

#14 Adam Johnson, 23 years old, forward, University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC), undrafted free agent

Johnson, 6’0 174 pounds was another high scoring forward at the college level putting up 37 points (18g+19a) in 42 games before turning pro and choosing to sign with Pittsburgh. He’ll start his pro career this year, likely with Wilkes-Barre. Here’s what our own SBN College Hockey said about Johnson recently when they named him the #87 (!!!) best collegiate prospect.

Johnson was a prospect that drew serious attention from NHL Central Scouting in his first year of NHL Draft eligibility, way back in 2012, due in large part to his explosive skating ability. But ultimately teams backed off because of a lack of physical maturity and a lack of toughness he showed playing against weak high school competition.

Five years later, two years of junior hockey and two years in college hockey has really matured Johnson’s game. He has filled out his frame a bit and plays a much heavier game while still maintaining that explosive quickness. He has the tools to be a very effective winger at the NHL level.

Johnson seems like the classic “late bloomer” and there’s no doubt the Penguins hope his story can end as promising as one like Conor Sheary, who was in a similar boat going undrafted and then having a successful NCAA career. However, as an older pro rookie, Johnson probably figures to rocket up this list next year...Or fall way down (or even off) if he fails to make an immediate impact in the AHL level.

He was another player, like the above mentioned Lafferty, that got a mention by Recchi for excellent play at last month’s camp, hopefully that bodes well and makes him a player to watch for at training camp.

#13 Dominik Simon, 23 years old, forward, Wilkes-Barre (AHL), 5th round pick 2015

As an older draftee in 2015, Simon was able to make an impact immediately at the AHL level in 2015-16, scoring 48 points in 68 games and getting 3 games in the NHL too due to injuries in Pittsburgh. 2016-17 was almost statistically identical- Simon put up 46 points in 70 AHL games and got another brief NHL cameo of two games.

Now the question becomes- what’s next and is this his plateau? Simon’s obviously a valuable player at the AHL level, he was an all-star there as a rookie. But at 5’11, 178 pounds he’s on the smaller side. His scouting report says he has good hands, great hockey sense but average skating ability.

Pittsburgh is flush with lower line wingers and fellow AHL teammates Josh Archibald and Carter Rowney have passed Simon up in recent years on the organization’s depth chart. But with the loss of guys like Porter and Sundqvist, Simon should be expected to be at least one of the top scorers for WB/S this season. If injuries happen in Pittsburgh, one would think Simon is about the best semi-veteran call-up available. The key for him will be not to get passed up too quickly by the next batch of rookies in Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese.

#12 Jean-Sebastien Dea, 23 years old, center/wing, Wilkes-Barre, undrafted free agent

For every Conor Sheary who makes it big, there are guys like Dea who are still digging to get to such a high level. Dea has now finished three pro seasons in the Pittsburgh organization, making his NHL debut playing a single game at the end of the season as the Pens were resting for the playoffs.

Still, Dea’s growth and evolution has been impressive over the years. Undrafted, he scored 45 and 49 goals in his last two seasons in junior, earning a reputation of being an offensive-minded center with a great shot. Since then, he’s worked on his two-way game, played center and wing in Wilkes-Barre and become a very reliable player.

Now, with Pittsburgh not having much in the way of center depth, Dea’s sights are set on making a bigger NHL impact:

“I’m really excited. That’s why I wanted to come back. I saw the opportunity for me to maybe make it this year.”

Describing his game:

“I am fast,” Dea said when asked to describe his game. “I can be physical as well. I can put the puck in the net. I’ve had some good numbers the last couple of seasons. Also I can play wing, help on power play and maybe the penalty kill, depending on what the Penguins want me to do.”

NHL fans might see a lot more of Dea in 2017-18 if he can have a great camp and live up to that. If nothing else he’ll be a key AHL player, but the time to make a leap and claim an NHL job probably never will be better for Dea than it will this fall in training camp. All that is left is to see how he can handle such an opportunity.

#11 Zachary Lauzon, 18 years old, defenseman, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL), 2nd round pick 2017

Lauzon wasn’t ranked very highly by the scouting services (though Montreal also wanted to make him a 2nd round pick) but he already is well-rounded enough to win the QMJHL’s best defensive defenseman award in 2016-17, playing a key role on the league’s champion, no less.

At this point of Lauzon’s early development, there’s a lot of conflicting pieces of information on the player. His offensive skills aren’t very impressive with just 3 goals and 18 assists in 63 games in the Q. Yet, he’s said to be an effective outlet passer to start rushes, with Jesse Marshall comparing Lauzon to Brian Dumoulin, “if Brian Dumoulin was a lot meaner and fought more.”

Lauzon mentioned that he tries to model his game after Marc-Edouard Vlasic who plays a responsible style and is capable of playing in all situations. If Lauzon can develop into that type of player, he’ll obviously be a heck of a player and moving up to the top of this list in years to come. Vlasic, interestingly enough, also was limited offensively in his draft year in the Q (30 points) but then made a MASSIVE leap in his draft+1 year, become a point+ per game player and never even played in the AHL, save 1 game. Odds are, Lauzon won’t follow such a trajectory, because almost no defensemen can jump so high, so fast, so seamlessly. But it’s still something to shoot for

That said, Lauzon is obviously a long way away from Vlasic right now in summer 2017, but his season will be one of the most intriguing prospects to watch for Pens fans next season.

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