How Deep This ‘Prospect’ River Runs

Wave after wave, player after player. The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect pool may not be as bad as it once seemed to be. Admittedly, I dreaded the thought of injuries within the big club heading into the season when no big name players, aside from Matt Murray, were available in the AHL for the Penguins to call up. Instead the Penguins found role players like Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson to fill in injured spots throughout the lineup.

None of those names obviously brought excitement to the fans’ eyes, but after seeing the speed and intangibles they had when brought to the NHL, it left everyone wondering if the prospect pool is really all that bad.

The Penguins added to their defensive depth in this offseason’s draft by adding a defenseman with each of their four final draft choices. They added more goaltending depth by taking Filip Gustavsson. They selected Kasper Bjorkqvist in the third round, who is a solid forward that should add to the Penguins skill towards the end of the Crosby era.

Despite the hate the Penguins’ prospect pool gets, they actually have some intriguing options ready to go at some point this season barring injuries, needed changes, or a breakout season in the AHL in which a player proves he’s no longer needed as an AHL asset. Some of these guys were added as draft picks throughout the years, others were signed as college free agents and landed in the Pens arms. Regardless, we may be seeing some of these guys in the near future.

  • Right Winger Daniel Sprong

Daniel Sprong made the Penguins opening night roster last season and was almost a shoe-in to do so again this season until a surgery is going to keep him out for a 7-8 month time frame.

It’s got to be frustrating for a kid who looked so promising with a quick release and scored only two goals but only averaged over five minutes of ice time a game. He was sent back to his junior QMJHL team in Charlottetown to receive playing time and played for WBS throughout their playoffs and looked pretty good doing it.

Sprong’s first career goal against Ottawa Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson was a product of a quick release and that’s something that made Sprong an intriguing pickup. Only time will tell how much Daniel Sprong, if any at all, the Penguins will see next season.

  • Center Oskar Sundqvist

I liked the game Oskar Sundqvist brought last season when filling in for injured Penguins. He won some face-offs and held puck possession for a good amount of time.

Sundqvist isn’t a huge goal scoring guy as he is more of a grindy, defensive minded forward but that’s the the Penguins could use to their advantage seemings they don’t have many of them.

I consider him a prospect still because of his limited NHL experience. Assuming the Penguins cannot resign Matt Cullen in his twentieth year of NHL play, it looks as though Sundqvist is the most ready and able to take over for Cullen. I don’t think he will put up 16 goals like Cullen did a season ago but who knows.

If the Pens do retain Cullen, I don’t think he will go another full 82-game slate. That was pretty impressive last season that he stayed that healthy. This will give Sundqvist a long awaited opportunity to shine on the ice for the Penguins.

  • Center Jake Guentzel

Jake Guentzel is a name becoming very intriguingly popular among Pens fans this season after having an outstanding playoff for Wilkes-Barre Scranton.

He played ten playoff games and netted five goals and fourteen points burning goalies abroad. He’s only got 21 games of AHL experience as he also played eleven regular season games and totaled six points.

I am very excited to see what he can do at the top level. Sure Guentzel is a hot product it looks like after netting 20 points in 21 games, but I’m thinking that he’s still got a ways to go before making the NHL club. His inexperience combined with the logjam the Penguins already have at center will probably hold Guentzel off until late this season as an injury replacement or possibly next season with Nick Bonino potentially becoming a free agent.

  • Center Teddy Blueger

Blueger is another center the organization has stashed away for its future and his first 20 games in the AHL were very forgettable.

He has one lonely point in those twenty games. Blueger was a pretty productive player at Minnesota State University but just hasn’t been able to flip the switch in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quite yet.

Blueger is a center standing at 6’0″, 185 pounds and shoots lefty. So your prototypical Sidney Crosby, right? Ehh, not really. His defensive game needs a lot of work and his offensive production better start soon matching the numbers he did in college or else he won’t sniff the NHL.

  • Defenseman Lukas Bengtsson

I am not going to lie and say I know a ton about Bengtsson because I don’t at all. I know the Penguins signed him and he’s playing currently in the Swedish leagues.

I heard he’s a pretty good two way defenseman with better offensive upside than most. Of the Penguins defenseman, he’s most comparable to Trevor Daley.

He can shoot the puck and is a great puck moving defenseman. He can man a powerplay and still has the skating ability to get back on defense and make the necessary plays while logging short handed minutes as well.

One or two solid seasons in WBS should help get his name on the market as a future Pens defenseman.

  • Defenseman Ethan Prow

This here is my favorite and most intriguing Pens prospect at any position.

The day the Penguins decided to sign Prow, I watched some tape on him. A 5’11”, 185 pound defenseman is a bit small in these days of the NHL but he’s got as much upside as any Pens prospect and that’s a good thing.

His offensive skills are just mind-blowing. He had 38 points in 37 regular season games at St. Cloud State which is insanity for a defenseman. By no means is he going to play the body a lot either with his size and he has a good discipline level.

He’s very comparable to Kris Letang. His offensive minded game and hopefully continual improvement on the defensive side of the puck will make Prow a long-time successful fan favorite in Pittsburgh.

  • Goaltender Tristan Jarry

Jarry unfortunately had to follow up a record breaking season by Matt Murray but didn’t have a terrible season himself. Murray started a majority of the games until he was called up for good around the third quarter of the season.

Jarry’s playoff struggles did give way to Casey DeSmith during WBS’ short lived playoff run. But he posted five shutouts with a 2.69 GAA and a .905 SV%, solid numbers for someone making his full-time debut in the AHL.

He should have a full season to start now and develop as the starting netminder for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. If the Penguins decide to trade goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at some point throughout the season, it’s quite possible Jarry would be the next one up in line behind Matt Murray, as he once was projected to be the all-star takeover for Fleury until Murray really emerged.

It’s quite possible that only Sprong and Sundqvist see NHL playing time at all this season. I’d love to see Guentzel up here at some point but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Prow, Bengtsson, and Blueger are still young works in progress with a few years to go before they sniff a chance at the NHL. Jarry figures to spend most of, if not all of this upcoming season progressing himself in the AHL.

Despite what some may say…

The Penguins prospect pool actually runs deeper than just the guys at the AHL level. It runs deeper than just the players who have been drafted. Some guys like Conor Sheary or Chris Kunitz went undrafted and made successful careers out of nothing. Others like Prow were signed off of their college teams. You just never know how deep a prospect pool is. You can predict a player’s future, but you’ll never know how good he is before he plays at the NHL level.

Just remember the 2005 NHL entry draft saw Sidney Crosby taken first and none other than Patric Hornqvist taken last. Subsequently, by fate or not, they play on the Penguins first line together heading into the 2016-2017 season. You just never know, so don’t count the Penguins prospects out.

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