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Penguins Prospects: December 2023 update

Brayden Yager is looking at Team Canada soon, but Owen Pickering is not

Hockey: CHL Top Prospects Game Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of running through the entire update of all the prospects in the Penguins’ system in this mid-season time, we’ll stick to some notables and the most relevant of information this month as the biggest non-NHL draft event of the year happens for young players soon by way of the annual World Junior Championships.

Pittsburgh’s 2023 first round pick Brayden Yager made Team Canada’s selection roster. But Owen Pickering, the Pens’ 2022 first rounder, is not on the list (despite attending summer meetings).

Many expect Yager, who currently ranks 11th in goals and points in the WHL this season, to make the final roster for the Canadians.

Yager has been off the charts good out in Moose Jaw. After a slight lull where he only scored one goal over eight games in November, he’s heated back up and has 5G+4A in three games. That’s the type of accumulation out of a first round pick.

And just to be mean, here’s what a power play goal looks like. Yager rips the puck from the left circle in a way that will surely have Pens’ fans wondering how quickly he can make it up to the show.

Pickering being left out was a shock to some, like Elite Prospects content director Cam Robinson, who called the omission a “massive oversight”. Unfortunately for Pickering, this was his last chance to make the U-20 team before aging out - something he now will not be able to do. Canada is always stacked with choices and decided to go in a different direction. Pickering plays on a fairly anonymous, mediocre Swift Current WHL team and only has three goals and 14 points in 21 games his season after missing time either injury — all pieces of context that certainly didn’t help his cause to standout and earn an invite to the selection camp.

Some other prospects to update and keep half an eye on:

Mikhail Ilyin (2023 fifth round pick) — Ilyin was a prospect who popped out in the first month, due to the extreme rarity of an 18-year old getting on the scoreboard in regularity in the KHL. He’s slowed down a bit with only 1G+5A since the last update, but remains top-5 on his team in scoring and will participate in Russia’s Channel One cup they’re putting on (since they are excluded on the world stage from sporting events like the WJC).

At the risk of making a bold statement way too early, Ilyin might be a player worth investing in — even at this point. Check out the between the legs pass to start this highlight, then another setup on a primary assist. He also wears No. 99, which is pretty nifty.

Ilyin is getting compared to Nikita Kucherov as well.

Elite Prospects has Ilyin’s current contract going through 2024-25, and heaven only knows how long it might take before Pittsburgh could ever sign him. It’s also important to remember Ilyin still very young as well, he’s got a looooong ways to go before ever making any sort of impact.

But his highlights available on line and the fact he’s playing on a top line for a KHL team at age-18 strongly suggest there is some very real promise to his game. It’s been a while since the Pens hit on a mid-round pick, and this player and situation is the furthest thing from a sure thing given how much out of the team’s control is going on. However, at this point, it’s time to pay attention to what Pittsburgh may have with an exciting, offensively talented potential diamond in the rough.

Sergei Murashov (2022 fourth round pick) — The Penguins’ other best kept secret for their prospect pool is also over in Russia. Just look at what Elite Prospects has for Murashov’s last five and 10 games played in the MHL:

As written last month, Murashov clearly has nothing left to prove at the MHL level (akin to Russia’s junior system). He has a 13-2-1 record and .932 save% this year. Last season he had a .948 save% in 37 games. Their game and style is different over there, lower scoring with better goalie stats, but those numbers catch the eye every time.

Murashov is up to 2-0-0 with a .925 save% and a shutout in two KHL games with Yaroslavl this season. Unfortunately for him though, he’s still the low man on the totem pole and bound to get shuffled back to the MHL when the traditionally powerful Yaroslavl team doesn’t need him.

It’s difficult since it’s not like Murashov will be coming to any prospect camps or international tournaments, but he’s arguably as talented and has the best statistical profile of just about any 19-year old goalie in the world at this time. Patience and waiting will be the standard, but something good is cookin’ up for him too. Be it Igor Shesterkin (drafted in 2014, signed to NHL in 2019) or Ilya Sorokin (drafted in 2014, signed in 2020), it can takes what feels like an eternity for Russian goalies to make the leap over to the NHL. Remains to be seen what path Murashov will take, but he also looks like he could be worth the wait if he keeps performing and developing in this manner.