The 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins season was one of incredible turnover, with seven players from the opening night lineup traded during the season, and another in Tanner Pearson traded for and back out as well.
The young players who make up the organization had just as much turnover too. In fact, from our 2018 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 list (catch up with it here) we have an astounding 10 players that will not be around for the 2019 list.
Some of this involves aging out — previous list mainstays like Matt Murray, Teddy Blueger and Dominik Simon for instance are no longer eligible based on age, as are some others like Juuso Riikola and Adam Johnson.
But many others have been traded, waived or otherwise moved on. From Tobias Lindberg to Olli Maatta there’s a lot of variance in how important the young player has been to the organization, but there’s no overlooking just how much activity there’s been with an incredible amount of churn among not just the NHL roster but for young players as well.
For many years this list has felt very similar, but this year will certainly be a departure. It will be weird making a list without players like Murray and Maatta and Blueger who have been on it since the very beginning of our Pensburgh list!
But with change comes growth. The Pens have added a first round pick in 2019 in Sam Poulin. They’ve also traded for 2017-first round pick Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Those are two of the best young prospects and pedigrees to be in the organization literally in years, a sad statement of a contender more worried about trying to add banners to the rafters than young players for the future.
Now, as we turn to our 2019 list, let’s first look back at the players from 2018 no longer with us for the Top 25 Under 25 exercise:
Departing T25U25 players from last year
|25||Tobias Lindberg||AHL/WB Pens, Bellevelle, Chicago||Traded out of the Pens organization in December|
|20||Adam Johnson||AHL/WB Pens, NHL Pittsburgh||Aged out of T25U25, looking like a NHL/AHL fringe player at this point|
|15||Jean-Sebastien Dea||NHL/New Jersey + Pittsburgh, AHL/WB/S, Springfield||Eventful season; Got waived by Pittsburgh out of training camp, claimed by NJ. Stayed for two months, waived again and claimed by Pittsburgh. Rode the PIT - WB/S yo-yo for a bit longer before a trade to the Florida org in Feb. Signed two-way contract with Buffalo for 2019-20|
|13||Juuso Riikola||NHL/Pittsburgh, AHL/WB/S||Made NHL off a strong camp performance, but was a limited player in the NHL. Eventually waived in a number's crunch and assigned to AHL where his season ended with injury. Re-signed by Pittsburgh for 2019-20 and figures to be on fringe of NHL lineup|
|11||Teddy Blueger||AHL/WB Pens, NHL Pittsburgh||The 2012 draft pick FINALLY got called up to the NHL in Jan 2019 and basically was in the show for the rest of the season, eventually becoming a solid NHL player and earning a two-year, one-way contract that should have him graduate to be a full time NHL layer just as he ages out of the T25U25|
|7||Dominik Simon||NHL/Pittsburgh||A great possession season and suppressed shots/goals against well, rate-wise an impressive player but boxcar-wise, not so much. Simon could play anywhere from 1st to 4th line on any given game next season as a supporting option|
|6||Zach Aston-Reese||NHL/Pittsburgh||Injury has limited ZAR a bit, but he still has become a trusted bottom-six player and has quietly emerged as one of the team's more valued and better PK'ing options up front|
|4||Daniel Sprong||NHL/Pittsburgh and Anaheim||Couldn't find a home in Pittsburgh lineup, now getting a chance with the Ducks that's been similar with brilliant goals and bumps along the road resulting in healthy scratches.|
|3||Olli Maatta||NHL/Pittsburgh||The two-time Stanley Cup champion would have (finally) aged out of the T25U25 this summer anyways after being a mainstay for so long, but was dealt to Chicago this summer anyways|
|1||Matt Murray||NHL/Pittsburgh||Another graduation by a two-time Cup champ, Murray can be one of the best goalies in the whole league when he's on his game but even as he turns 25 the organization is probably still hoping for a bit more consistency and avoiding the trainer's room|
With those salutes made to the departed, we turn our attention now to the list of eligible players for the soon-to-be-released 2019 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25.
As a refresher, it doesn’t matter if a player is an NHL All-Star or an unsigned CHL free agent, a standard we hold like all the other SB Nation blogs that conduct these lists. This list was going vaguely off a 10/1/1994 or earlier birthdate for eligibility, an arbitrarily chosen date. (Thus, Jake Guentzel is eligible for one more year and a guy like Simon who turns 25 next month is not).
This list can also mean different things to different people, and there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to go about it. How do you value an 18-year old top prospect but not a professional like Poulin against an older player with a more limited upside but better chance of contributing sooner like a Sam Lafferty? It’s not easy. Technically I try to think of it like “OK, if there was a trade to be made, which has more value?” and go from there.
But there are certainly many different schools of thoughts, as well as opinions on the caliber and future of players. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. In hockey, as the word indicates prospects are not always sure things. Occasionally players develop more than expected. Then again, occasionally some high picks with believed to be bright futures never get on track.
You never know what could happen, but this is only a snapshot of this moment in time. Thus how younger players (even with potentially higher ceilings) can be thought of right now as less-useful than players with lower variances that are more known for what they actually can contribute and immediately.
I included everyone under NHL contracts or whose rights are currently held by the Pens organization. This year it’s only a list of 32 players — and really with all draft picks you would think 7 rounds * 7 years of players ages 18-24 and that = 49. .
So it goes to show how shallow Pittsburgh’s system is due to all the trades of picks made. Also, compared to other organization’s, it’s not an extremely talented group of youngsters either. Some have promise and potential, but it’s hardly some of the locks that many other teams have built up.
2019 Pensburgh T25U25 eligible player pool