During this lull in the NHL schedule, what better chance will we get to turn our attention beyond the normal hustle and bustle of the regular season and check in on the young players in the Penguins’ organization?
Every summer, PensBurgh ranks and counts down the list of the top 25 young players with Penguin ties. Some are in far-flung European outposts. Some are in college or the Canadian junior system. Some might be just a step away from the NHL over in Wilkes-Barre. Occasionally, the Penguins even find a young player good enough to play in the show!
Here’s our 2022 list and rankings, with an update on the respective seasons of the prospects/youngsters. In cases where players split time in different leagues, we will showcase the one with the majority of games played this year.
#25: Nolan Collins, Sudbury (OHL) - 39 games, 5G+8A, 39 PIMs: A big defender (6’3”, 194 pounds) who can move pretty well, Collins is a nice late round pick with upside. Ideally he would be boosting his statistical profile a bit more at the OHL level at this point, would like to see more production from him.
#24: Colin Swoyer, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 16gp, 0G+4A, 4 PIMs: Well, college free agent signings aren’t always going to be the next John Marino, but you never know until you try. Swoyer has been on the AHL/ECHL back-and-forth in his pro rookie season and is turning 25-years old next month. He could have a pro career, but an NHL future doesn’t look in the cards.
#23: Jonathan Gruden, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 32gp, 11G+5A, 30 PIMs: Hit a red-hot period in the AHL in December, right when the NHL Penguins needed a fourth line center due to Ryan Poehling’s injury. That great bit of timing helped Gruden make his NHL debut, playing three games with Pittsburgh. The roadmap is there for how he makes it back: be a high-energy, defensively responsible, PK capable fourth liner.
#22: Ty Glover, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 26gp, 2G+2A, 7 PIMs: Fairly quiet start to his pro career in what was a big jump in levels from the NCAA. Year 1 will likely be about learning and adapting, next season will be big to see how much Glover can take strides forward.
#21: Kirill Tankov, SKA St. Petersburg (VHL) - 1gp, 0G+0A, 0 PIMs: Unfortunately, Tankov suffered a broken neck on the ice in his first game of the season. Long-term projections of his future vary, but it obviously will present a major negative impact on his playing career.
#20: Judd Caulfield, University of North Dakota (NCHC) - 27gp, 8G+7A, 10 PIMs: This late round pick was always going to try and “role player” his way up to the pro levels. He projects to be a hard-working lower liner, but his statistical profile in the NCAA isn’t terribly impressive now in a fourth year at UND. He’s got an option for an extra year of eligibility, but is also turning 22-years old soon. Probably doesn’t have that much more to learn or grow on the ice at that level.
#19 Corey Andonovski, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 36gp, 7G+6A, 50 PIMs: Quickly a favorite in Wilkes, the rookie has a high motor and good things tend to happen for him. He’s turning 24 soon and long-term upside might be limited, but he’s a fun watch as a kind of Patric Hornqvist/Brandon Tanev’s little brother type of player. Also already on the older side of hockey prospects.
#18: Jordan Frasca, Wheeling (ECHL) - 14gp, 0G+2A, 0 PIMs: We had high hopes after a big season in the OHL last year, but it’s been a struggle for Frasca as a rookie that’s been hampered by a foot injury. Has played two games with Wilkes and only a handful in the ECHL. He’s young at 21 but has a lot of development to go.
#17: Isaac Belliveau, Gatineau (QMJHL) - 34 gp, 6G+27A, 18 PIMs: Scott Wheeler at The Athletic said, “He sees through pressure well when he looks to move the puck, and makes sound, calculated choices in distribution”. Belliveau can be weak on the rush and moving backwards, but has become one of the better defenders in the Q with the puck on his stick and creating offense.
#16: Taylor Gauthier, Wheeling (ECHL): 16 gp, 8-7-1, .896 save%: In the thankless “fifth goalie” role in the organization this year, Gauthier has been back-and-forth from Wilkes to Wheeling. He’s got a solid .916 save% in eight AHL games and overall has had a perfectly solid rookie campaign as a young goalie.
#15: Alex Nylander, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 40gp, 17G+17A, 8 PIMs: Now an AHL all-star, the former high pick and NHL player has proven he can score at that level. But has his play away from the puck and compete level demonstrated to the Penguins that he has an NHL future? Based on not being recalled once, maybe it has. Or maybe it’s just going to take more patience.
#14: Nathan Legare, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 40gp, 5G+5A, 23 PIMs: Though he’s been a little more productive as the year has gone along, it has to be considered a disappointing season for the highly-touted Legare to not improve on his statistical profile in the AHL. A player with that good of a shot should not have so few goals. But he hasn’t figured out how to score or move up the lineup yet in the AHL.
#13: Tristan Broz, University of Denver (NCHC), 27gp - 9G+11A 12 PIMs: Wrote about Broz’s impressive season (and possibly early career) turnaround here, check it out.
#12: Raivis Ansons, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 29gp, 1G+2A, 16 PIMs: Not much in the way of boxcars, but Ansons has done relatively well in the AHL at a young age. Fellow Latvian Teddy Blueger was still a junior in NCAA at the same time. Long way to go for Ansons, who could/should develop more in the future.
#11: Lukas Svejkovsky, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 26gp, 2G+6A, 8 PIMs: A high in skill but small in stature player, Svejkovsky has had some understandable growing pains while leveling up to the AHL as a rookie. Could he get to near where teammates like Puustinen and Nylander are now in a few years?
#10: Filip Lindberg Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 17gp, 6-9-1, .901 save%: Lindberg’s second pro season unfortunately has been a lot like the first when it comes to spending a lot of time on the injured list. While not without talent, it doesn’t seem like he’s any closer to breaking through or making a case for the NHL in the near future.
#9: Filip Hallander, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 26gp, 8G+17A, 8 PIMs: Hallander is back on the ice skating after taking a nasty fall and being stretchered out of a game a few weeks ago. He’s played two NHL games this season, and is a strong candidate to graduate full time to Pittsburgh by next season. His upside/role might be limited, but he’s a solid, responsible player that coaches like and can trust.
#8: Valtteri Puustinen, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 41gp, 16G+18A, 20 PIMs: Been productive in his two years at Wilkes, but Pittsburgh’s brass hasn’t been in a hurry to give him much of an NHL look. Do they see him capping out as a really good AHLer?
#7: Joel Blomqvist, Karpat (SM-liiga) - 21 games, 6-5-8, .907 save%: Has been doing well in Finland, seems excited to start his North American journey when his contractual obligations are complete.
#6: Sam Poulin, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 13gp, 4G+0A, 6 PIMs: Made his NHL debut in October but has been away from the organization on a personal leave since early December.
#5: Drew O’Connor, Pittsburgh (NHL) - 18gp, 3G+2A, 2 PIMs: O’Connor has been making moves this season - he’s also scored 22 points in 20 AHL games. In Pittsburgh, some forward injuries have opened the door for O’Connor to become a recent regular in the lineup and his game has been growing and improving before everyone’s eyes on the big stage.
#4: Ryan Poehling, Pittsburgh (NHL) - 35gp, 5G+6A, 2 PIMs: It looks like Poehling has found a niche in Pittsburgh and could be the fourth line center for the short-term future as a result. He’s got good size, moves well and has demonstrated some production. Impressive and encouraging start for what was seen as more or less a throw-in to last summer’s Petry for Matheson trade.
#3: Owen Pickering, Swift Current (WHL) - 37gp, 6G+21A, 12 PIMs: Pickering has made modest strides in his stats, as one would expect for a first round talent. All in all, he’s done exactly what the team would want and hope in draft+1, no major surprises in extremely good or bad ways.
#2: P.O. Joseph, Pittsburgh (NHL) - 45gp, 2G+10A, 28 PIMs: In his fourth pro season, Joseph has finally graduated to the NHL. He’s playing limited minutes in a sheltered third pairing role, but also standing out from time to time with just how well he can get around the ice with a smooth and pretty looking skating stride. The question now becomes can the Penguins amp his role up to the second pair eventually? Or is he capping out as a third pair player?
#1: Ty Smith, Wilkes-Barre (AHL) - 28gp, 4G+10A, 10 PIMs: Smith has played nine games in Pittsburgh, but has been outside the team’s NHL plans this season due to the dreaded numbers game (both in salary cap and also players ahead of him). Overall, Smith is as advertised- he has hiccups in his own end and can struggle at times defensively. But he is also a good skater and really good in the offensive zone with his puck distribution and getting shots from the point onto the net.