As we get to mid-December, why not take a chance to look at how the members of our annual summer list of the Top 25 players under 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization are doing. Hockey is a unique major pro sport, being as players are spread far and wide from the reaches of Western Canada to colleges in America over to outposts in Finland and Sweden and Russia - you never know where the top young talent may be playing.
|25||Tobias Lindberg||AHL/WB Pens||15 games, 2 goals, 4 assists||GONE||Traded out of the Pens in an AHL deal just last week, didn't seem to have an NHL future|
|24||Justin Almeida||WHL/ Moose Jaw||24gp, 6g+30a||Small gain||Diminutive player remains great at producing at juniors - 5th in his league in assists|
|23||Jan Drozg||QMJHL/Shawinigan||27gp, 8g+23a||Small gain||Again the best player on a bad junior team, producing a lot despite not much help|
|22||Sam Lafferty||AHL/WB Pens||26gp, 4g+12a||Gain||Tied for most assists currently in Wilkes-Barre, impressive start to season|
|21||Clayton Phillips||NCAA/Minnesota||15gp, 1g+7a||Gain||Tied for team lead in assists, impressive for being so young in first full NCAA season|
|20||Adam Johnson||AHL/WB Pens||26gp, 7g+5a||Same||So far, so good in AHL year #2 to emerge as more of a team-leader|
|19||Zach Lauzon||N/A||none||Down||Hasn't played yet this season following off-season surgery|
|18||Sam Miletic||AHL/WB Pens||13gp, 3g+3a||Same||Started off strong early, got hurt, looking to come back strong|
|17||Niclas Almari||SM-liiga/HPK Hameenlinna||15gp, 0g+3a||Same||Impressive to be in a men's league at a young age but not too much to read into|
|16||Linus Olund||AHL/WB Pens||26gp, 3g+5a||Same||A staple of the AHL lineup's bottom six so far this season|
|15||Jean-Sebastien Dea||NHL/New Jersey + Pittsburgh||22gp, 4g+2a||Small gain||Getting picked up on waivers by NJ might have been best thing for NHL career|
|14||Anthony Angelo||AHL/WB Pens||24gp, 8g+5a||Gain||Monster forward tied for AHL team lead in goals so far|
|13||Juuso Riikola||NHL/Pittsburgh||14gp, 0g+1a||Small gain||Made NHL off a strong camp performance, since then on the fringe of the lineup|
|12||Filip Hallander||SHL/Timra IK||23gp, 5g+7a||Gain||Super impressive production, looking for a star turn at the WJC later this month|
|11||Teddy Blueger||AHL/WB Pens||26gp, 8g+12a||Same||Feels like a holding pattern, great AHL stats but will he ever get NHL opportunity in Pgh?|
|10||Kaspar Bjorkqvist||NCAA/Providence||16gp, 8g+7a||Small gain||Strong start to jr season for hard-working forward, starting to get assist numbers now|
|9||Calen Addison||WHL/Lethbridge||30gp, 4g+27a||Gain||A bit of a rocky start but almost an assist/game AND shot at Team Canada WJC are encouraging|
|8||Tristan Jarry||AHL and NHL||13gp, 4-6-1, .905save%||Same||The yo-yo for playing time for Jarry continues, would probably like him to have more|
|7||Dominik Simon||NHL/Pittsburgh||26gp, 4g+9a||Gain||Quietly playing well again, seeming to find a good fit on Crosby's wing - not a bad place to be|
|6||Zach Aston-Reese||NHL/Pittsburgh||16gp, 2g+1a||Same||Hasn't produced a ton in NHL, but is becoming trusted member of PK and bottom six|
|5||Jordy Bellerive||WHL/Lethbridge||30gp, 12g+20a||Same||His individual stats have gone down as his team's gone better but all in all happy to be playing|
|4||Daniel Sprong||NHL/Pittsburgh and Anaheim||19gp, 1g+4a||GONE||Couldn't find a home in Pittsburgh lineup, now getting a chance with the Ducks|
|3||Olli Maatta||NHL/Pittsburgh||28gp, 0g+8a||Same||Got healthy scratched, also played fairly sturdy at parts of the season. Hurt by Schultz injury|
|2||Jake Guentzel||NHL/Pittsburgh||29gp, 12g+14a||Up||Having a huge year in contract year, becoming one of top young players in the whole NHL|
|1||Matt Murray||NHL/Pittsburgh||11gp, 4-5-1, .877 save%||Down||Injury and inconsistency, 2018 has been a year to forget for Murray|
So far, the non-professional names to watch this month are definitely Filip Hallander (Sweden) and Calen Addison (Canada) as they look to compete for their teams at the World Junior Championship. The Penguins haven’t have an interesting prospect in that tournament for a very long time, so it will be fun to watch how that goes.
And I guess you can also throw a bone to Penn State’s Nikita Pavlychev who is having a great junior season, and really for the first time making a case that he could be a legit pro prospect moving forward, so that’s always exciting to watch a possible diamond in the rough show some indication of forming.
At the NCAA level Clayton Phillips (Minnesota) and Kaspar Bjorkqvist (Providence) are having impressive starts as well, but both of them still look like long-term prospects - especially if Bjorkqvist stays in college in 2019-20 as rumored. As a player who turns 22 this summer, if you’re the Pens’ organization you sure want him to turn pro and start developing in the AHL versus going back for the degree, but that’s the player’s choice to make. We’ll see how that shapes out, the persuasion of getting a pro contract usually wins out once the teams make their case, and the Pens are no stranger to signing players a year or two early out of college - four players on this list including Jake Guentzel did it.
Speaking of Guentzel, he’s having an amazing season. His 23 even strength points rank only behind Johnny Gaudreau, Artemi Panarin and Alex Ovechkin for players listed as left wings. And yeah, Guentzel gets to play with Sidney Crosby, but he’s playing well, getting limited quality power play time and still on pace for 74 points this season. As someone who predicted that Guentzel’s new salary could well begin with the total number of points he puts up this season (be it in the $5-5.9 million range for 50 points or $6+ million range for 60+ points) it’s pretty wild to consider if he ends up with a 70+ point regular season to go along with the massive post-season success he has already on his resume.
And, at the risk of speaking too early - the best thing about the future right now might be that as of now the Pens still have their 1st and 2nd round draft picks! It won’t be a shock when either or both are traded near the deadline in late February, but if no one interesting is available this year could be a chance for Pittsburgh to re-stock the organization. Given the lack of high-end forwards and defensemen in the system and minors right now, that could be a welcome happenstance indeed.