With the calendar flipping a month and the temperature going down accordingly lately, let’s check in on the Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 members on the starts of their respective 2023-24 seasons.
#25: Daniel Laatsch (Wisconsin, NCAA) 8 GP, 1 goal, 1 assist - Now a junior, Laatsch scored a game winning goal (he only had one goal in each of his freshman and sophomore campaigns) and has been a big part of the Badgers 7-1-0 start to the season. Tough to track defensive defensemen prospects, but it looks like he’s off to a relatively good start.
#24: Cooper Foster (Ottawa, OHL): 11 GP, 3G+8A - Solid start for Foster, who is putting up a point/game pace early for the 67’s in the OHL. After only producing 17 assists in 63 games last season, Foster is showing some growth as he becomes one of the older and better players in the OHL.
#23: Thimo Nickl (Wheeling, ECHL): 3 GP, 0G+1A - Given the extreme amount of depth in the organization’s blueline, Nickl might be sticking around the Wheel for most if not all of this season. So far it doesn’t look like the 21-year old is making many waves or even close to the NHL radar.
#22: Dillon Hamaliuk (Wheeling, ECHL): 3 GP, 0G+1A - Can almost rinse and repeat the note above for Nickl here with Hamaliuk. At this point the former second round pick of San Jose looks like ECHL/AHL filler and a trade throw-in.
#21 Mikhail Ilyin (Severstal, KHL): 23 GP, 5G+7A - This stat-line is a very positive surprise. Ilyin was a modestly used young player in the KHL last season (21 GP, 0G+2A) but has stepped into a much bigger role and shown some productivity at age-18 in a tough league. Given the Russian factor, it remains to be seen when and what comes of the Pens’ 2023 fifth round pick, but the start to this season has been encouraging.
#20: Jack St. Ivany (Wilkes-Barre, AHL): 8 GP, 0G+2A - St. Ivany has been a regular in Wilkes as a third pair defender.
#19: Chase Yoder (Providence, NCAA): 7 GP, 3G+1A - Serving as a team captain, the senior has two short-handed goals already this year and is a big part of the 5-1-1 Friars team that is off to a solid start. Yoder projects to be a lower line energy/PK type of player at the next level.
#18: Emil Jarventie (KooVee, Mestis) - 12 GP, 3G+4A - Jarventie is improving his points from last season at Finland’s second level and could be in line for a promotion to the top SM-liiga again at some point this season.
#17: Nolan Collins (Sudbury, OHL) - 12 GP, 0G+3A - Not much impressive going on boxcar-wise for the tall defender to start the season. He did put up 30 points in 68 OHL games last year to track moving forward.
#16: Raivis Ansons (has not played) - injury has prevented Ansons from making his debut so far.
#15: Ty Glover - traded to VAN - Involved in the Mark Friedman deal last month, Glover played two games with ECHL Kalamazoo before earning a promotion and playing one game with AHL Abbotsford in the Canucks’ organization.
#14: Taylor Gauthier (Wheeling, ECHL) - 2-1-0, 3.33 GAA, .908 save%: The goalie was recently recalled to AHL Wilkes-Barre and should see some playing time there soon with veteran Garret Sparks currently injured.
#13: Isaac Belliveau (Wheeling, ECHL) - 3 GP, 0G+1A: Numbers pushed Belliveau to the Cheese Toast League to start his pro career.
#12: Lukas Svejkovsky (Wheeling, ECHL) - 3GP, 2G+3A: Be it coincidental or not, a lot of the Hextall-era prospects have been bumped out these days, and Svejkovsky is the prime example of that. He’s been solid an in all three of the ECHL games to date. He probably deserves a look at the AHL at some point soon, if the situation will allow.
#11: Tristan Broz (Denver, NCAA) - 5GP, 2G+0A: Broz had a successful 2022-23 with Denver (28 points in 40 games) but has had a quiet early start on the scoreboard to start his junior season.
#10: Sergei Murashov (Yaroslavl, MHL) - 10-2-0, 2.09 GAA, .926save% - Much like the last two seasons, Murahov has been excelling and playing really well at the MHL level (which is near the equivalent of Russia’s junior league). We’ll see what Yaroslavl has in their plans for Murashov this season (he only played one KHL game last year) but he is a known and good quantity where he’s at right now as a promising young goalie.
#9: Emil Pieniniemi (Karpat, SM-liiga) - 15 GP, 0G+2A - The youngster has made the step up to being a near regular in Finland’s top league this year and will have more exciting times to come in the near future as a likely member of the Finns World Junior team.
#8: Sam Poulin (Wilkes-Barre, AHL) - 5GP, 1G+1A - It’s been another “one step forward, one step back” type of season for Poulin already. He scored his first goal of the season recently, but is now out “week to week” with a lower body injury. There’s never a good time for injury, but this is a really bad time for one since Poulin badly needed to get on track in games this year.
#7: Jonathan Gruden (Wilkes-Barre, AHL) - 8GP, 2G+0A - Last year Gruden was a key player for Wilkes, but the improved team has meant a fourth line role so far this season. He’s played well in spots but is no longer the focal point that he once was in the lineup.
#6: Joel Blomqvist (Wilkes-Barre, AHL) - 3-2-0, 2.08 GAA, .915save% - It’s been a solid start for Blomqvist in his first pro North American season. With Sparks hurt and Magnus Hellberg up with Pittsburgh, the young netminder should be receiving plenty of more chances to get playing time in Wilkes in the near future and keep building on his strong early play.
#5: Valtteri Puustinen (Wilkes-Barre, AHL) - 7GP, 1G+0A - Puustinen suffered an upper body injury and will be out week-to-week. About now it feels like he has slipped far off the NHL radar with all the other options of forwards in the pro ranks.
#4: Ty Smith (Wilkes-Barre, AHL) - 8GP, 0G+4A - Smith has been in a top pair role in Wilkes and has been chipping in some assists along the way. Another somewhat forgotten player at this point with an unknown future, but nothing to feel too strongly about with his early start.
#3: Owen Pickering (Swift Current, WHL) - 9GP, 1G+5A - After working through another early-season injury, Pickering is back doing his thing as a premiere player at the WHL level. The more exciting and telling time for him comes in the weeks and months ahead when he should be in the mix to make Team Canada’s WJC team.
#2: Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Pittsburgh, NHL) - 4GP, 0G+0A - The lone young NHL player in the organization, Joseph went through a dreadful month of October that has him on the outs for the lineup, at least momentarily. Given his age (24) and contract ending after this season, he could be at a real crossroads of his career, at least in the Pens’ organization depending on what happens in the near future.
#1 Brayden Yager: (Moose Jaw, WHL) - 13 GP, 9G+11A - Yager has been absolutely lighting it up since playing in the prospect camp and NHL preseason. Goal scoring was, if not a question mark than at least an area of interest, after he “only” scored 28 goals in 2022-23 (compared to 34 in 2021-22) but all doubts have completely faded with nine goals early on. Yager is 12th in the WHL in point scoring in this early going, despite playing a few less games than many ahead of him. So far, so good as exactly what you’d want to see from a first round pick going back to juniors and dominating with multi-point games becoming the norm.
The prospect star of the month is definitely Yager, with Blomqvist also impressing. Ilyin and Foster’s hot starts are worth tracking as potential surprise ascending players.