There is always some turnover of young players in NHL organization, but the tumultuous 2022-23 season for the Penguins saw a lot of faces coming...and mostly going. Add in a change of general managers and the Pens saw five young players from our list last summer depart the organization. Two more have gotten old enough to not qualify any longer for this process — which most of our former network-mates on SBN have adopted over the years to rank the top young players within the organization.
Though players and managers have come and gone, the Pens’ pool isn’t much better. It was all I could do not to make this year’s feature a Top 20 Under 25 this summer, because quite frankly even stretching out to 20 prospects to get even a little excited about for realistic NHL long-term chances is difficult to do. But it’s summer and we shall do what we must. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll go back to this list and get a good laugh if some players have made an unexpected and what will have to surely be an impressive streak of development to make something out of themselves.
For now, a look at who was on last year’s list that won’t be back this time around.
Graduates and Departed from 2022 Pensburgh T25U25
|Fearing a potential arbitration award, or perhaps as a matter of simply wanting to find better players for the bottom of the lineup, Kyle Dubas let Ryan Poehling walk from the organization. Poehling was quickly snapped up by the Flyers on a one-year contract.
|O'Connor, ranked fifth last year, turned 25 in June. He's graduated this list and presumably finally graduated into being full-time on the NHL roster.
|Back to Europe
|After only getting three total games in the NHL in the last two seasons, Hallander decided to take the security of a five-year contract in his native Sweden, likely in the process closing the book on his North American pro hockey days.
|Back to Europe
|A two-year stint in the Pens' organization only resulted in 26 total games, with injuries derailing a promising looking future after a brilliant NCAA career led Lindberg to sign a two-year deal back in his native Finland.
|What a wild journey it's been for Nylander, a former top-10 NHL pick on organization No. 3 and still searching to truly find a niche on an NHL squad. 2022-23 was a step forward and one of his personal best in many years.
|Rather than sign Caulfield (a 2019 fifth round pick by Jim Rutherford), Ron Hextall traded his rights to Anaheim for a defensive prospect. Now Dubas will have to decide to do with that player. Life moves fast in the NHL. (Caulfield signed an NHL contract with the Ducks)
|Split time between AHL Wilkes-Barre and ECHL Wheeling, aged out of these profiles in March and still a free agent.
It was a surprise when the Pens elected to let Poehling walk, but it was a loss covered by other free agents like Matt Nieto and Noel Acciari. One overlooked point of the season is that when Jeff Carter’s ice-time and role went down and Teddy Blueger was traded, Poehling’s role and importance went up. In the final stretch of the season, Poehling played the eighth most total minutes among all forwards on the team, ostensibly becoming a third line player. He only scored two goals and added just one assist in that time period, and the team did not have success. That’s not to say those last few months was the reason Poehling wasn’t brought back to Pittsburgh, but that kind of uninspiring performance couldn’t have helped his cause.
Even though O’Connor was signed in March of 2020 (just before the pandemic ground things to a halt), it feels like he has been a part of these things forever. He ended up ranking: 8th in 2020, 12th in 2021 and 5th last year during his time in the T25U25. Given he was an undrafted signing with a lower-line ceiling, that goes to show the lack of strength in the system lately.
The two Filip’s (Hallander and Lindberg) depart North America as a bummer for what could have been. Hallander especially stings, being drafted in the second round by the Pens in 2018, traded to Toronto in the 2020 deal that brought Kasperi Kapanen back to Pittsburgh, then traded BACK to Pittsburgh in 2021 for Jared McCann and never finding much of a groove after that point. Unfulfilling ending but hopefully he enjoys going back home and getting to play pro hockey there.
Speaking of yo-yo’s in a young career, Nylander has about done and seen it all so far in pro hockey. He’s cleared waivers as a down point, he’s been a small faction of the internet’s stand-in for a cure to everything that ails the Penguins as a high point. His career has been high, been low, and who knows what will come next, but you have to credit him for sticking with things, modifying and putting in the work in Wilkes to show improvement and change his reputation around. The storybook finish would be if it pays off and he’s able to embark on an NHL career, but with as crowded as the Penguins should be this training camp, that’s no guarantee.
Finally at the bottom there isn’t too much else to say about Caulfield and Swoyer, who only hung onto the periphery of a thin prospect pool and now are off to do other things.
Those are the young players who are either gone, or not that young any longer. That’s a good bit of quantity and a handful of some of the better young players in the organization with four members of last year’s top 10 being ineligible this year. And usually for this team, once you get out of the top-10 m, it gets really hairy and odds become super long to stay optimistic about chances of long-term success at making an impact in the NHL.
Those losses weren’t completely replaced. The Penguins only acquired one young player in the last 12 months (Timo Nickl, who came to the organization in the above mentioned Caulfield trade, though Nickl was only signed to an AHL contract for next season). The Pens did bring in some fresh faces in the 2023 NHL draft, but only had two picks in the top-100, limiting the amount of quality entering the organization.
In all, and as this month’s series will make very clear - Kyle Dubas and the Pens still have a long, long way to go when it comes to stocking the system with talented young players.