While the rest of the season is uncertain and unknown, one thing we can look into the future for is that the Penguins will have some decisions to make about prospects to sign, or lose the rights to this summer.
The Pens have to sign four prospects or lose their rights this summer, they are forwards Nikita Pavlychev and Dominik Uher and defensemen Ryan Jones and Will Reilly. Two names you don’t see in the list above are 2019 draftees Samuel Poulin and Nathan Legare, who Pittsburgh has already signed. Both turn pro later on and are already secure with their positions as professional players in waiting, and the details of contracts are already worked out (with the players getting their signing bonuses early as a perk).
Despite some confusing blocks above, Pittsburgh will retain the NHL rights to defenseman Lukas Bengtsson and Andrey Pedan for one more year until summer 2021. It remains unlikely that either is in the club’s plans beyond that, as both are playing in Europe and not on the NHL radar.
Of the unsigned with a decision this summer, Pavlychev is probably the most known, being as he played at Penn State and is notable for his 6’7 frame and two-way ability as a center. After two fairly unimpressive seasons in State College, Pavlychev appeared to turn a corner in his junior year in 2018-19 scoring 29 points (14G+15A) in 39 games, which was more than his point total in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined. However, this year as a senior Pavlychev only recorded 14 points (7G+7a) in 29 games. Does his size and all-around ability earn him a professional contract? Possibly. But at 23 years old, he hasn’t really produced at the NCAA level to project to being any sort of reasonable NHL prospect at this time, which probably portends more to an AHL contact to start, which could mean a stint in Wheeling in the ECHL to see how his game translates to the professional ranks.
Uher almost certainly will not be retained. The fifth round pick in 2011 actually played four seasons in the Pens’ organization from 2012-16, culminating in two NHL games in the 2014-15 season, mainly for injury reasons. Uher was a decent enough AHL role player, but didn’t have a high ceiling and elected to return to the Czech Republic for the 2016-17 season, and has since moved on to play in the DEL (Germany). The Pens have officially retained Uher’s NHL rights, but there’s no reason to think they will want to extend the relationship any further.
Jones is an interesting case. He was a fairly high draft pick (fourth round in 2016) and just completed his senior season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Jones has great size at 6’2, 200+ pounds and is a prototypical defensive defenseman. He only recorded four goals in 141 career NCAA games, and his assist totals were not impressive either — just nine in 36 games as a senior. Jones has participated in the Pens’ summer prospect camps, so they have tracked his progress, but he hasn’t really grown as they probably hoped from draft day. Also potentially working against Jones is the Pens recently signed free agent defenseman Cam Lee, who skates and moves the puck a lot better than Jones.
Reilly is perhaps the most signing worthy player, the R.P.I. senior tallied a career high 8G+14A and 22 points in his last college season and showed gradual improvement each year. The Pens drafted Reilly in the seventh round of 2017 as an overage player (a strategy that has worked well for them) and now they’ll have to decide about his future. At 6’3 and a right-handed shot, Reilly brings some intriguing tools to the table. However he’s also turning 23 this summer and his NHL prospects might not be the brightest but for all these players in the mix, Reilly’s trajectory looks the best right now. Reilly has also been in the Pens’ summer prospect camps and this will be a player they have tracked and know well.
It will be interesting to see what happens for the Pens in this regard for summer signings. Not a lot to move the needle for the NHL outlook in the near future, but these organizational decisions will shape minor league rosters. I would think the best candidates to sign, possibly to AHL deals to not count against the 50 contract limit would be Reilly, Pavlychev and Jones in that order, with Uher being a complete non-factor.
It’s also somewhat amusing to see who the league keeps on the reserve list. Like 36-year old Sergei Anshakov, who hasn’t played high level hockey since 2010-11 and was acquired by Pittsburgh in the ill-fated 2003 Martin Straka trade. Yet Anshakov remains on the Pens’ list, despite never playing on the North American continent. Ditto 2003 fifth round pick Evgeni Isakov, whose career never went anywhere and has been over for 15 years.
Yet officially in the NHL’s eyes, Isakov and Anshakov remain on the Pens’ reserve list as a relic of a bygone era in the previous pre-salary cap CBA rules on unsigned European players. They will apparently just remain on the Pens’ reserve list for perpetuity, despite having a 0.00% chance of ever being thought of for a single second in regards to the NHL (aside from right now, I suppose). Just some random, very deep “in the weeds” type fun for your Sunday.