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2019 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: #20- 16

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Four likely members of next year’s Wilkes-Barre team are featured in the this segment of this Top 25 Under 25 Countdown

NHL: Preseason-Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to this summer’s listing of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top young players in the organization. The purpose of this ranking is to take stock in the young talent throughout the organization. Whether it’s a prospect drafted just last month who is 18 years old and years away from turning pro, or a full-fledged young NHL caliber player who is 23 or 24, they’re all eligible here.

Part 1: The Graduates and Departed

#25 - #21: Santeri Airola, Nikita Pavlychev, Judd Caulfield, Alex D’Orio, Jan Drozg

#20 Jake Lucchini, Right wing

2018 Ranking: n/a

Age: 24 (May 9, 1995)

Acquired Via: undrafted free agent March 2019

Height/Weight: 5’11, 182 pounds

(via elite prospects)

Lucchini’s trying to be the next college FA success story from the franchise that has launched Conor Sheary and Zach Aston-Reese to NHL careers. The Penguins had Lucchini in prospect camp in 2018 after a terrific junior season, he followed that up with a solid senior year and signed on with Pittsburgh. Six goals in 15 AHL games is a nice way to start things out to.

And his name has even been bandied about a bit as a potential NHL injury call-up for 2019-20, depending on how things go.

Lucchini is a good skater, has some decent hands and positional flexibility to play all around the ice. He should be a lower line, energy type of player at the next level. As an older prospect (and, in fact his entry level contract is only for 2019-20 due to his age) this chance won’t be around forever.

#19 Clayton Phillips, left defense

2018 Ranking: 21

Age: 19 (September 9, 1999)

Acquired Via: 2017 Draft (Third Round)

Height/Weight: 5’11, 183 pounds

(via elite prospects)

Phillips has had a unique journey in his young career already. The plan entering 2017-18 was for him to play in the USHL and enroll in fall 2018 at the University of Minnesota. But things went of the rail for the Golden Gophers that season and a rare second-semester call-up happened, to have Phillips join them in January 2018. He did OK as a very young freshman, and the coach was fired.

In his sophomore year at Minnesota in 2018-19, Philips was up and down and has sought a transfer. Elite Prospects seems to have him locked down for Penn State, which hasn’t been confirmed but certainly looks like it’s being strongly considered. If so, Phillips will have to sit out the games of the season per NCAA rules (booo).

It would be odd to lose a full year of games at this stage, especially after getting rushed into college probably too early. But, here we are.

At last month’s Pens development camp Phillips looked like a small player for officially listed 5’11, 183, but that’s to be expected where those numbers are often generously given out. He can skate pretty well and does move the puck with some snap on it. As with most young players, getting stronger and better defensively will be important development points of interests for the future, no matter where that may unfold.

#18 Niclas Almari, left defense

2018 Ranking: 17

Age: 21 (May 11, 1998)

Acquired Via: 2016 Draft (Fifth Round)

Height/Weight: 6’1, 168 pounds

(via elite prospects)

After about 2.5 seasons of playing in the SM-Liiga, Finland’s top men’s league, Almari is about to begin the North American portion of his career starting this fall.

Almari is a simple player, probably has a low ceiling. His skating is fine, but doesn’t jump off the page. He’s not flashy with great hands or a player that thinks offense, though he does make a pretty good outlet pass.

“He’ll be on your penalty-kill,” Bill Guerin told the P-G. “His biggest asset is his skating, going back for pucks and getting them out of your zone.”

Simple, reliable aspects like that can make for a very useful player, and we’ll see how the acclimation goes for Almari this season, where we should learn a lot more as far as what (if any) future NHL prospects that he may have.

#17 Anthony Angello

2018 Ranking: 14

Age: 23 (March 6, 1996)

Acquired Via: 2014 Draft (Fifth Round)

Height/Weight: 6’4, 209 pounds

Angello ended up fifth in Wilkes-Barre in goals and ninth in points, a nice rookie campaign. Angello and the Pens will surely be looking for a big jump in what he’s able to showcase and produce in the all-important second professional season to take the next steps and demonstrate an NHL ceiling. Especially now for an age-23-season.

Or as Penguins’ assistant general manager Bill Guerin told the Post-Gazette:

“For a kid who’s 6-4, he skates really, really well. When he’s moving his feet and playing a physical game, he’s pretty hard to contain. He’s got a good skill level that will only get better as his career continues. He has a good offensive touch. At this pace, he’s going toward a 20-goal season, which is a heck of a first year (as a pro). Like most young players, his thing right now is (to develop) consistency and playing his game. When you’re that big and you’re counted on to be physical, it’s tough to do it every night, but he’s finding a way to do that.”

It’s tough but so is making it to the top. In a lot of ways 2019-20 will be a big time year for Angello.

#16 Sam Miletic

2018 Ranking: 18

Age: 22 (May 4, 1997)

Acquired Via: undrafted free agent

Height/Weight: 6’0, 196 pounds

(via elite prospects)

Even with missing time to injury, Miletic finished fourth in Wilkes-Barre in assists and sixth in points and by the end of the year was playing on an important line with Sam Lafferty and Ryan Haggerty. All three should be back and it’ll be interesting to see if they can pickup where they left off.

Guerin also said of Miletic:

“He’s has a high hockey IQ and always seems to put himself in the right position. He consistently gets scoring chances. … He’s a good two-way player. He doesn’t cheat in the defensive zone, or anything like that, but he creates. Very good on the power play. He’s a different type of skater. At first when you look at him, you might think he’s not that fast, but he is. He’s got an extra gear.”

Even though Miletic isn’t the biggest, he’s got some power in his game and has a nose to the net, which is always a great trait to have.