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Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: #10 - 6

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Our countdown of the top young players in the Penguins organization continues

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Here’s what you may have missed -

Catching up on the 2016 List

2017: #25 - #21

2017: #20 - 16

2017: #15 -11

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#10 Josh Archibald, 24 years old, winger, Wilkes-Barre (AHL), 6th round pick 2011

Barely making the age cut, Archibald gets in one last time on this list. His has been a fun story of development, from drafted even before he went to become NCAA player at Nebraska-Omaha from 2011-13, then a few years of minor league growth, and finally some opportunity at the NHL level- getting 10 regular season games in Pittsburgh last season. And, more importantly, a game in the Stanley Cup Final (and 3 other playoff games) which means having the honor of his name engraved on the Cup.

This year Archibald scored his first NHL goal on a nice backhander

And then had his first two-goal game thanks to a gift from Mike Smith (although he showed a nifty quick reaction to kick the puck from his skates to his stick to convert)

As seen in the picture leading this article off, Archibald is best when he’s aggravating others. If he makes it in the NHL it will be as a 4th line hustle type of player. He’s got above average skating, and despite being one of the smaller players on the ice, he’s willing to throw his body around more than the average player and initiate heavy checks.

Archibald’s a fun player to watch, manic energy flying all around. Is he good enough all around and offensively to stick full-time in the big league? We may find out, but the roster numbers make it look like an uphill battle to stick in Pittsburgh. He’s on a one-way contract to pay him like an NHLer and since it’s 2 years that could dissuade another team from claiming him on waivers now, unless they want to enter a $1.3 million commitment to this player.

It’s been a great and memorable run, and who knows what the future will hold but Archibald is definitely among the minor success stories of Pittsburgh’s development in the past 5 years.

#9 Teddy Blueger, 23 years old, center, Wilkes-Barre (AHL), 2nd round pick 2012

Another long-term prospect, Blueger finally played his first professional season in 2016-17 after being drafted high in 2012. The wait may be starting to pay off, as the team needs center depth and Blueger can now finally be considering in the conversation of names available to fill an NHL job.

From Dobber Prospects:

After missing more than a month following a lower-body injury in training camp, Bluegers posted respectable numbers in his first “full-time” pro season. His seven goals and 31 points in 54 AHL games were augmented by a plus-24 rating for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The playmaking Latvian had just one goal in seven games at the world championship but that’s more a reflection of a weak team than of his performance. The former second-round pick, who played four NCAA seasons, has one more crucial season on his ELC. Able to play the middle as well as on the wing, he remains a viable prospect albeit one in a system awash with similar young players. Starting the 2017-18 season healthy would help to give everyone a better idea what his NHL odds might be. Mark Allan

A strong camp and standing out amongst fellow center options like Carter Rowney, J.S. Dea and Greg McKegg might put Blueger on a path for his NHL debut in 2017-18. While few doubt or are writing him into the NHL opening night lineup by any means, the door is never going to be more open for Blueger to get a shot in Pittsburgh than it appears right now after Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen left in free agency and the team hasn’t made any external replacements yet. They will trade for a center sooner or later, but until that happens Blueger has a greater opportunity to show what he’s got to offer.

#8 Filip Gustavsson, 19 years old, goalie, Lulea (Sweden), 2nd round pick 2016

The success of Matt Murray at such an early age may have stained expectations for what is “normal” for goalie development. Filip Gustavsson is among the brightest young goalies in Europe, already playing in the highest league in Sweden last season. He will continue to develop there.

From Dobbers again:

The plan for the young netminder to marinate in Sweden is halfway complete. In his transitional season, the 18-year-old performed well against players his own age and predictably not as well against the best Sweden has to offer. In six games with Luleå HF’s J20 junior squad, the player once dubbed the Swedish Carey Price had outstanding peripherals of 2.09 and .928, improving to 0.95 and .967 in three playoff games. Disappointingly, he made just one appearance at the WJC, although 2.00 and .947 were in line with his other junior stats. In 15 SHL outings, he registered 2.70 and .912, figures that should improve in the coming season. Mark Allan

Scout Tyler Bilton said before the 2016 draft:

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.

Gustavsson signed his entry level deal with Pittsburgh, but that won’t kick in until he comes over to America. That won’t be this season but could be in 2018-19, where it would be expected for him to adjust to smaller rinks and different angles of shooters in the AHL. By then, who knows what the Penguins goalie system will look like, but with Murray, Tristan Jarry and Gustavsson - there’s no doubt that young goaltending talent is a huge position of strength for the organization.

#7 Derrick Pouliot, 23 years old, defenseman, Pittsburgh, 1st round pick 2012

Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

In a lot of ways, now three years into his professional career, Pouliot has become a Rorschach test among Pittsburgh fans. Is he an impressively skilled defenseman who has a lot to offer? Yes. Is he an inconsistent defenseman who makes mistakes and hasn’t ingratiated himself to 3 different NHL coaches? Yes.

This year will be a crossroads for Pouliot, certainly in the Pens organization, and if not in his career as a whole. He is no longer waiver eligible.

He did seem to take lessons from being in the AHL for another extended stint in 2016-17

“I think it was a good improvement once I started playing consistently in the American League,” Pouliot said. “It was a lot easier to get into a rhythm. You have a lot more games to look at and stuff to work with.”

Pouliot watched video with Wilkes-Barre assistant coach J.D. Forrest. He took for granted his natural talents would lead to his share of points and focused his efforts instead on improving in the defensive zone.

“I know top through bottom in this organization, box-outs are a big thing,” Pouliot said. “You see in the playoffs, guys get tips or second and third chances in front of the net if you don't move them out of there, so that's a big part.”

Outwardly the organization remains high on Pouliot in their praise and hopes for him.

General manager Jim Rutherford, however, has maintained that Pouliot finished the season strong in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 46 regular-season games in the AHL, Pouliot contributed seven goals and 23 points.

“I was playing with a lot of confidence,” Pouliot said of his play at the end of the season. “I was defending well, defending hard. That’s a thing that’s always been stressed by Pittsburgh and in Wilkes, to make sure you’re playing well defensively; everything else will take care of itself. Just playing an all-around solid game. I felt really good at the end of the season.”

But actions speak louder than words. The Pens signed Matt Hunwick to a three year contract this off-season. They also still have Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole and Olli Maatta on the depth chart, all as left-handed defensemen. Add in Kris Letang and Justin Schultz as righties and that’s an opening night starting 6 right there. Last season Chad Ruhwedel played well at times in the NHL and could easily fit as the 7th. Usually NHL teams only carry 7.

What does that mean for Pouliot? We’re about to find out. Training camps have traditionally been difficult for him and he has never really impressed in September in practices and games. Pouliot can’t afford a slow start this season.

#6 Zachary Aston-Reese, 23 years old, forward, Northeastern, undrafted free agent

Aston-Reese has captivated a lot of the fan base since he chose to sign with the Penguins in the spring, here’s a scouting report from SBN College Hockey

He plays a heavy game and he is consistently strong on pucks. He has four shorthanded goals this season. One of them, earlier in the season, he did great work along the wall to win a battle, killing time if nothing else. But, then he came away with the puck and scored.

The question some NHL teams will have is how heavy is game can be at the pro level when he's having to go up and down the sheet at the pace of pro hockey for 12-14 minutes a game.

At the next level, he's going to have to be a bottom six player, and all indications point to him being able to do just that. A lot of his goals have come off tip-ins, rebounds or looks in the slot where he's found a seam in the defense and received a good pass. Very few of his plays are of the highlight reel variety.

While he doesn't have the hands or elite speed to be a top six player, he can be a bottom six forward that does a good job in his own zone taking away time and space, and winning puck battles along the wall. He can cycle well down low, be a puck hound in all three zones, and push possession while he's out there. He can kill penalties and chip in offensively from time to time.

Strengths: Heavy game, plays and competes in all three zones, goes to dirty areas for tip-in and 'garbage' goals

Weaknesses: Lacks elite speed and offensive skill set to play top six in NHL

In a way, a low ceiling prospect ranked so high says a lot about the depth and quality of Pittsburgh young players right now. But, then again, we saw with Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson and Tom Kuhnhackl just how important the energy and effort from bottom-six wingers can be for NHL contenders. Will ZAR be the next in that line? We’ll find out soon enough.

Aston-Reese is trying to be in the mold of a different player though:

During his time at Northeastern, Aston-Reese worked on becoming a north-south player like Chris Kunitz.

"He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college," Aston-Reese said. "Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net."

Kunitz is also known for being willing to go to the dirty areas, something Aston-Reese excels at. Guerin called Aston-Reese an 'honest, hard-playing player' who does his best in the ugly areas.

"That's kind of been what I've been developing the last couple of years at Northeastern, and I think that kind of showed with my production throughout my four years there," Aston-Reese said of his net-front presence.

Aston-Reese figures to start the year in Wilkes-Barre and depending on how he does down there, could be an early candidate for an injury call-up to the NHL.