As we stretch deeper into an endless summer, we now shift attention towards our annual summer listing of the best young players in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. To start things off, we will recap last year’s list (final installment here if you want to read deeper) and see how those players did with quick recaps, thoughts, and notes where needed.
#25: Ryan Jones (4th round pick, 2016)
Jones just completed his sophomore season at Nebraska-Omaha (alma mater of Jake Guentzel). Already 22-years-old, only had one goal and 12 assists in 34 games last season. I’m not sure if he’s really on too many radars at this point for future promise.
#24: Thomas Di Pauli (free agent signing, 2016)
After a really tough first pro season in 2016-17, Di Pauli, 24, established himself as a decent AHL level player with 12 goals and eight assists in 58 games in Wilkes-Barre. He’s re-signed with the Pittsburgh organization for 2018-19, but only looks to be a minor league option for the future.
#23: Frederick Tiffels (5th round pick, 2015)
Tiffels, 23, played way more ECHL games (44) than AHL games (12) last season, his first as a pro. That’s about all you need to know about where his career is at this point.
#22: Nikita Pavlychev (7th round pick, 2015)
I won’t say anything mean about the rising Penn State junior for fear of Kait’s vengeance, but 14 points in 35 games last season doesn’t portend for much of a bright future, so we’ll wait to see if the 6-foot-7 center can have a breakout season as an upperclassman.
#21: Jeff Taylor (7th round pick, 2014)
Taylor, 24, was another player with double the ECHL games (28) to AHL (14) last year. He’s back again this year, so we’ll see if he gets a bigger opportunity. Right now, he’s no more than on the periphery of the organization.
#20: Connor Hall (3rd round pick, 2015)
As first reported on Pensburgh, Hall was not offered a contract due to shoulder injuries, and Pittsburgh’s rights to the player have expired.
#19: Clayton Phillips (3rd round pick, 2017)
Phillips had a most interesting season. The plan at first was for him to stay in the USHL all season and move on to the University of Minnesota in 2018-19, but after a rocky first half of the season, Minnesota expedited his career and had him enroll in school for the second semester and play for the Gophers. He went scoreless in 11 games, but as an 18-year-old, Phillips still got to compete at a very high level. Unlike unfortunately many on the list so far, Phillips is a youngster to keep an eye on.
#18: Niclas Almari (5th round pick, 2016)
Almari, now 20, is a rising defensive prospect from Finland who played three total games (one in the playoffs) with AHL Wilkes-Barre in 2017-18 as an amateur tryout after his Finnish season ended. The plan at this point is one more season in Europe in 2018-19, and then in 2019-20, Almari should be joining the Penguins organization full-time.
#17: Kaspar Bjorkqvist (2nd round, 2016)
A Scandanavian forward with a lot of intensity, passion, and a nose for the net, plus a name ending in “-qvist” — that sounds promising (and familiar). Bjorkqvist went from three goals his freshman year at Providence, to 16 in 2017-18. There’s a lot of praise for his current muscular build and development. Bjorkqvist is back in the NCAA this year for his junior season, but he is a guy to hopefully have signed after this season and turn pro in 2019-20. This is a kid the organization is excited about.
Bjorkqvist on today's dek hockey clinics: "It's awesome. This is the time when you fall in love with the game. It's not about anything else. It's not about the business - it's just about playing and loving the game. This is the sport at its purest." Story: https://t.co/6upMGAo0zA pic.twitter.com/1p06OwP3Sc— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 29, 2018
#16: Anthony Angelo (5th round pick, 2014)
One last gift from the Ray Shero era *of scouting? The now 22-year-old Angelo finished his junior year with career highs in goals (13), assists (13), and points (26) with Cornell, turned pro, and then played in four total AHL games in 2017-18, including scoring two goals in two playoff games with Wilkes-Barre. At 6-foot-five, he’s a rare Pittsburgh prospect with size that plays center and is right-handed, and his game has a little bit of bite to it. It’ll be very interesting to see his rookie professional season in 2018-19.
#15: Sam Lafferty (4th round pick, 2014)
One more on last gift from Shero scouting era? The 23-year-old finished his senior season with Brown, and the Hollidaysburg native signed with his near-hometown Penguins in time to play nine regular season games in AHL Wilkes-Barre, where he scored one goal and added two assists. Lafferty is another prospect who has been around for a while and is finally about to start his pro career.
#14: Adam Johnson (free agent signing, 2017)
Johnson had a pretty decent rookie AHL campaign (11 goals and 20 assists in 70 games), but hasn’t much advanced his standings in the organization. This upcoming 2018-19 season could be a make-or-break type year for the 24-year-old, who will need to stand out big time to continue forward momentum.
#13: Dominik Simon (5th round pick, 2015)
Simon appears to have graduated into the rank of a full-time NHL player. He recorded 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 33 NHL games last season. Simon is an occasional and successful linemate of Sidney Crosby, to the tune of a whopping 60.6% Corsi For percent for the two of them combined. That will turn some heads and potentially offer Simon a shot to play more with Crosby at several points in 2018-19.
#12: Jean-Sebastien Dea (free agent signing, 2014)
Dea, 24, got five NHL games in 2017-18, plus his first NHL goal. He’s back with the organization for 2018-19, but with about a million NHL-caliber centers, will he have a chance to be in the mix at all? It seems like a very long shot to get five or more NHL games in Pittsburgh this year, just on circumstance.
#11: Zachary Lauzon (2nd round pick, 2017)
It’s been a tough year for the Quebec league defender, who was limited to just 25 games with injuries. The 2018-19 season will be a very important developmental year for the 19-year-old, but besides his draft position, not much is standing out or looking too positive about him at this point.
#10: Josh Archibald (6th round pick, 2011)
A mainstay on these Top-25 under 25 list, Archibald, 25, has finally aged out of it, and he finally got a full chance at the NHL...just not in Pittsburgh. The Pens traded Archibald and a 6th rounder for a minor league goalie and a 4th round pick to Arizona last December. Archibald (five goals, six assists in 39 games) actually played pretty well for the Coyotes, so good for him. He’s under contract with Arizona for next season, but so too are a ton of other forwards. Who knows what his future might hold.
#9: Teddy Blueger (2nd round pick, 2012)
In his second full AHL year, Blueger greatly improved his goals (seven to 21) and points (31 to 45). The Penguins think he’s about ready for NHL action, but again, Blueger has about a million centers in his way. It’s looking like more time in the AHL is on its way for the Latvian, but will he ever finally get to make an NHL debut? And will it be in Pittsburgh? It looks less likely than it did a couple weeks ago.
#8: Filip Gustavsson (2nd round pick, 2016)
The 20-year-old goalie had a strong season and further cemented himself as one of the top young prospect goalies in the world with a strong WJC-20 tournament for Sweden. Pittsburgh would, of course, trade him as part of the price to acquire Derick Brassard in February. Gustavsson got his first taste of North American pro hockey with seven games in AHL Belleville, posting an impressive .912 save percentage in his small sample.
#7: Derrick Pouliot (1st round pick, 2012)
Pouliot was traded to Vancouver shortly after training camp. You know the story on him by now: a flashy, offensive player prone to terrible mistakes in his own end, a trend that continued in Vancouver with a stretch of healthy scratches there. The Canucks did re-sign him, so his chance to carve out a place in the NHL continues for what seems like the 100th straight season.
#6: Zach Aston-Reese (Free agent signing, 2017)
Aston-Reese lived up to his billing as a top talent with 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 41 AHL games. He was an eventually a permanent call-up to the NHL, where he played well in the regular season (four goals, two assists in 16 games played), and then was used as a fourth liner in the playoff lineup (one assist in nine games). ZAR’s future looks bright, though he could be caught up in the sudden roster crunch as well.
#5: Tristan Jarry (2nd round pick, 2013)
The 23-year-old goalie played the second-most games in net for Pittsburgh (though it was only 26) and is in the mix for the No. 2 or No. 3 job in the organization for 2018-19. His indivisual stats from last season (.901 save percentage in 16 AHL games, .908 save percentage in 26 NHL games, and .898 save percentage in AHL playoff games) aren’t really jumping off the page too much.
#4: Daniel Sprong (2nd round pick, 2015)
You know the story on Sprong by now too. He’s great in the AHL (65 points in 65 games in 2017-18), but is a player that the NHL decision makers in Pittsburgh never had much use for. Will that suddenly, magically change in 2018-19? Many are hoping so with all the talent Sprong has, plus a natural opening on Crosby’s right wing. Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting training camp.
#3: Olli Maatta (1st round pick, 2012)
It’s been a narrative-changing year for the Finnish defenseman, who staved off his injury-prone label by playing in all 82 games during the 2017-18 season and settled in nicely to a steady second-pairing role.
#2: Jake Guentzel (3rd round pick, 2013)
After leading the league in goals in the playoffs in 2017, Guentzel followed that up with a tidy 10 goal (and 11 assist) effort in 12 games in 2018. The kid is clutch, what can you say? He’ll be looking to tear up a contract year in 2018-19, as what should be a Crosby linemate, so look out for more big things when the lights are the brightest.
#1: Matt Murray (3rd round pick, 2012)
Murray had 49 games played through injury and personal loss, and we all know it was a tough and inconsistent year for the young goalie with two Stanley Cup rings. The 2017-18 season was a trying time for Murray, but he remains entrenched as the “go-to” guy for Pittsburgh in 2018-19.
Get ready to see more Top-25 Under 25 content coming up in the days and weeks ahead, including your chance to vote on this year’s list and more!