Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
#16: Jonathan Gruden, Forward
2020 Ranking: #19
Age: 21 (May 4, 2000)
Height/Weight: 6’ 0”, 170 pounds
Acquired Via: Trade with Ottawa Senators in October 2020 (Matt Murray trade)
Seemingly just an extra piece thrown in during the Matt Murray trade last year, Jonathan Gruden made his professional hockey debut in 2020-21 and turned some heads in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Coming off a rather successful OHL stint with the London Knights a season prior, Gruden played in all 32 games for the Baby Pens this past season, recording 14 points in his first season at the professional level.
Those numbers may not jump off the page at anyone, and there is obviously no guarantee Gruden will have any significant impact at the NHL level in his career with the Penguins, but for a franchise barren on forward prospects, any positive signs from players in the system is good news for the Penguins right now.
While Gruden posted a solid all around season in the AHL, it wasn’t smooth sailing the entire way, especially from the start. It took until March 6th for Gruden to record his first goal, over a month into the season. That’s a long drought certainly but at this stage of the season, Gruden was playing primarily fourth line minutes.
Jonathan Gruden ties it on the power play with his first AHL goal, picking up Jordy Bellerive's rebound. 3-3 now after the early 3-0 deficit.— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) March 7, 2021
Cam Lee has assists on all three goals. All three were PP goals. pic.twitter.com/fuVMTF7YdP
Along with his six goals, Gruden also contributed eight assists during his inaugural professional campaign.
As the season went along and Gruden’s play continued to develop he saw his role and minutes increase. In the latter part of March, Gruden was promoted to the third line where he played center before another promotion saw him given second line duties at left wing to finish out the season.
All in all, moving from the fourth line to the second line in just 32 games shows how well Gruden developed during his first stint in the Penguins organization after coming over last offseason in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.
With his move up the lineup, Gruden’s offensive numbers were given a boost as well. Playing on the second line to wrap up the season, Gruden posted seven of his 14 points over the span of the final nine games of the season.
Jonathan Gruden makes it 2-0 WBS.— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) April 30, 2021
This is only the second time all season that WBS has scored the first two goals in a game. The last time came on Feb. 26. pic.twitter.com/IhQggFBOW2
WBS goes up 1-0 in the penultimate game of the season. Jonathan Gruden's sixth of the year, from Drew O'Connor and Nick Schilkey. pic.twitter.com/19MsI5OIQe— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) May 15, 2021
Based on how last season ended for Gruden, it’s fair to expect he will begin the new season in a similar role somewhere near the top of the Baby Penguins lineup when the puck drops in October. You’re likely to see him get his feet wet with a training camp invite with the Pens but all shot of a catastrophe Gruden will spend most, if not all, of 2021-22 in the AHL.
Just based on the Penguins organizational depth chart, the road for Gruden to see NHL time this upcoming season is long given the players in front of him regardless if he is playing center or left wing. This just means he’ll have ample opportunity to continue his development at the AHL level where he will be looking at a good chunk of ice time night in and night out.
While the Penguins prospect outlook at forward is rather thin at the moment, Gruden is another one of those tweener players that could make an NHL impact for the Penguins in the years to come. All he needs to worry about for the time being is continuing his development in the minors and the rest will work itself out as his career progresses.