The next edition of our annual series of the best young players in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
Catch up on the earlier installments here: #25 Tobias Lindberg #24 Justin Almeida #23 Jan Drozg #22 Sam Lafferty #21 Clayton Phillips
#20 Adam Johnson #19 Zach Lauzon #18 Sam Miletic #17 Niclas Almari #16 Linus Olund
#15 Jean-Sebastien Dea, center, 24 years old
Dea’s best chance might have come and gone given the roster depth at center that’s been built up over the last 12 months with the additions of Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and Matt Cullen to a now-loaded Pittsburgh lineup down the middle.
Last summer the 3rd and 4th names listed behind Crosby and Malkin were Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney! Dea couldn’t beat either for a job and started the year in Wilkes-Barre. He was an injury call-up and dressed for five NHL games on the season, and got his first goal which is always fun. Dea finished 2nd on the season in WB/S in assists and points, showing in his 4th professional season that he is a very solid AHL level player.
At this point, however, that appears to about be his ceiling or at least in this organization. Dea is back with the Pens organization for 2018-19 but looks to have a very uphill battle for now at reaching and sticking at the game’s very highest level.
#14 Anthony Angello, center, 22 years old
The Penguins got Angello to start his pro career a year early, signing him after his junior year at Cornell. Cornell isn’t much of an elite program so the jump up to the AHL should be a sizeable one. Angello did get off to a great start scoring a goal in each of the two playoff games he got into.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman wasn’t the biggest fan of Angello, stating he didn’t watch too much of him but:
[he ] showed me some skills, didn’t see a ton of pace/speed in his game. I’ll circle back around in WBS but didn’t show me enough to get him listed.
Angello is probably something of an unknown and a wild card at this point with not too many people really knowing where he is at in terms of his skill and development potential. At 6’5 and with some skill it will be interesting to see how he handles his first year as a professional.
I feel like Angello could be a huge pleasant surprise and potential big mover up this list for next summer. It’s doubtful he plays in the NHL in 2018-19 but a 6’5 center with good hands is a pretty unique player, especially within the Pens organization.
#13 Juuso Riikola, defenseman, 24 years old
Another virtual unknown to most of North America, the Penguins signed the 24-year old Finnish defenseman in the summer.
Pronman was a bit sunnier on Riikola:
Riikola can skate and has some offense as he can transition the puck with his mobility or vision. He defends fine, although he’s not the biggest guy. His skill level is bland and, overall, his upside is tail-end of the roster kind of guy.
As a low-ceiling guy and a bit of an older prospect with already a whopping six (!!!) years of professional experience playing in the top Finnish league, Riikola may have a quicker turnaround time and could contribute in 2018-19.
While the Pens do have a full compliment of seven NHL caliber defenseman, their depth isn’t the best. They have Zach Trotman and Kevin Czuczman as AAA/AAAA type veterans, but it’s not inconceivable that if Riikola handles the transition to North America well that he could be the first option to be brought up to the NHL in the event of an injury.
He won’t be on the list next year for aging out, but if he was eligible for the next T25U25 it would be curious to see if Riikola would be in the Top 10ish range with a solid season or off the list completely if he was a flop. Could see that going either way.
#12 Filip Hallander, winger, 18 years old
There’s much hype and good feelings about the Pens’ second round pick right now (as there always seems to be immediately after a draft). But the feelings appear to be warranted, as the talented Swede had borderline first round talent but dropped in part due to a knee injury last season.
The Dallas blog Defending Big D was among those impressed with their pre-draft scouting report on Hallander:
Hallander has all the skills you want in a forward; great forechecker, works hard in high danger areas, fights for the slot, quick mitts, a good release, solid vision, and does it all with pace. He doesn’t have great acceleration, but his top speed is very good.
Hallander uses these well-rounded skills to open up lanes for his teammates. He’s very good at distributing the puck with forecheckers in his face — further emphasizing the relentless pace he plays with. He has quite a bit of Patric Hornqvist on him; he’s not afraid to park himself right in front of the goalie and take a few facewashes just to secure that extra whack at the puck in case it’s loose (or, if you watch his highlight reel below — not afraid to literally crash into the goalie).
Pittsburgh has already signed the youngster to an NHL entry level contract, but that will “slide” at least a year as they will loan him back to Timra next season to play in Sweden. This prospect will take some development time but given his young age and bright looking future he will probably be worth the wait.
#11 Teddy Blueger, center, 24 years old
It feels like ol’ Ted has been in every Pensburgh T25U25 ever and....well he probably has. This will be his final year in it though as the center will age out. It’s also sort of seeming like “fish or cut bait” time for his career too. Blueger enters his 3rd full professional season and still has 0 career NHL games.
But while he hasn’t cracked the glass ceiling of making the highest level, that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed. Bluger’s offensive stats have improved every year, and perhaps more importanly he’s become a very realiable two-way center that usually plays on WB/S’s most important matchup/checking type line. That type of transformation will be very important since Blueger projects to be a lower line center if he ever does make it to the NHL (be it with Pittsburgh or someone else), so it’s useful growth for him.
Pronman was fairly sunny on Blueger too:
Blueger was a 2012 pick, but he’s still hanging around and had a quality season in the AHL. He’s not dynamic in terms of his speed or skill and could play a little quicker, but he’s got good two-way hockey sense and could be a fine defensive forward if called up.
Blueger ending up at 11 on this list is more in-line with the Pens trading a ton of first-round picks over the years more so than Blueger being some great prospect. On most NHL teams with better younger talent, Blueger probably isn’t in the top 20, and his NHL ceiling is pretty low if he ever gets the opportunity. That said, depth is crucial for a Pittsburgh organization that doesn’t have much of it and Blueger does offer a capable AHL body at the very least and that can be an important role in the organization too.
That’s it for the lower end of the list and thank goodness. Now we move into the top 10 with the next edition of the T25U25 and we get to the cream of the crop with the most talented young players in the Pens organization.