The 2022 version of our Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 countdown list continues with a player thought to be the throw-in in the Matt Murray trade.
#23: Jonathan Gruden - LW
2021 Ranking: 16
Age: 22 (May 4, 2000)
Acquired Via: 2020 Matt Murray trade with Ottawa Senators
Height/Weight: 6’0” / 170 pounds
Coming into his second professional season, it’s not like expectations were at skyscraper height for Jonathan Gruden. Now, that’s not to say he’s not a good player or unworthy of his spot in the lineup, but given the Penguins’ prospect pool, even with its shallowness, Gruden has never been labeled as a “can’t miss” player.
Gruden was tasked with playing a physical, bottom-six role for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton club, and by the end of the season, he found himself as the team’s leader in games played, appearing in 75 out of a possible 76 games. Dependability and reliability are always positive traits.
From an offensive perspective, Gruden nearly doubled his point totals compared to his first season with the Baby Penguins. Double-digit goals and assists are positive increases, but the number that really sticks out to me is the 78 penalty minutes. While Gruden only played in 32 games in 2020-21, accumulating 13 PIM, the 78 PIM lends more credence to the notion of the coaches wanting the winger to embrace the physicality of a typical, lower-line forward.
Even if he is to make it to the bright lights of the NHL, Gruden will never be looked at as a consistent source of offense; he’s going to have to rely on his physical game and defensive responsibilities, and maybe he’ll chip in on the scoresheet now and again. Coaches in this league seemingly will always find a spot for that hardworking, mucker-grinder type on the lower lines.
However, heading into his age-22 season, with this being the final year of his entry-level contract, Gruden will need to make some strides in his game if he wants to receive his first, official call-up during the 2022-23 campaign. Fellow teammates Valtteri Puustinen, Drew O’Connor, and Filip Hallander all got a brief taste of NHL action this past season. And in O’Connor’s case, he may be in the team’s opening night lineup come October 13.
At 22, there’s still time for Gruden to become something of a late-bloomer. He’s largely been projected as a bottom-six player in the NHL. And he should remain on that trajectory, if not somewhat exceed it if he delivers an impressive 2022-23 season in the AHL.