A new monthly article on Let’s Talk Pens, I will be reviewing the prospects in the Penguins system and keeping you updated on how their season is going. In this series of articles, I will not be including Casey DeSmith, or any depth D signings (such as Frank Corrado/Jarred Tinordi). I believe they have passed through being considered a prospect due to age, or having failed to make any significant steps in the last year or so of their career. So, let’s get into it, starting with the forwards.
Jordan Bellerive, 5’10, 194 (UDFA, 2017) – Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
The talk of training camp 2017 was Bellerive’s great showing and earning himself an ELC as an undrafted free agent. He was returned to his junior team, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, to start his draft +1 year and has got off to a great start. He currently serves as an alternate captain for his squad and has repaid that faith with 8 goals and 12 assists (20 points) through 15 games on a very average Lethbridge team. He’s also been given some direction from the Penguins staff to play a rougher style, picking up 21 PIMs through those 15 games.
Jan Drozg, 6’0, 174 (5th round, 2017) – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
After being drafted out of Swedish junior leagues by the Penguins, Drozg came over to the Canadian junior leagues and was drafted to Shawinigan, who have been awful so far this year. Drozg leads the team with 5 goals and 10 assists (15 points) through 15 games, and has been a bright spot for an otherwise abject team. Expect to see him moved to a better junior team as their playoffs approach.
Daniel Sprong, 6’0, 181 (2nd round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
The Penguins best prospect hasn’t disappointed this season. Sprong leads the Baby Penguins with 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists) through 10 games. The only criticism one could make of his game is that 5 of his 8 goals have come from the powerplay and his even strength contributions could do with a bump. Otherwise, it’s been a sparkling season for Sprong so far, with his two-way game looking much improved.
Dominik Simon, 5’11, 176 (5th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
In his 3rd year in North America, Simon is off to a good start, producing 2 goals and 8 points (10 points) through 10 games. With WBS being as deep as it is, ice time is pretty evenly split, so it’s not much of a surprised that 5 of Simon’s 10 points have come on the powerplay. His production does put Simon at the 2nd highest scorer on Wilkes-Barre.
Sam Miletic, 6’0, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – London Knights (OHL)
In all honesty, I didn’t understand why the Penguins gave Miletic an ELC and while he’s broke a point per game for the first time in his career (4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points in 12 games), he’s in his draft +2 year and is classed as an overager. The bare minimum you expect of that player is a point per game. Still baffled by this move.
Kasper Bjorkqvist, 6’1, 205 (2nd round, 2016) – Providence College (NCAA)
Bjorkqvist started the year hot, getting a hat trick in his 4th game of the year, but otherwise, has only contributed 2 points in the other 7 games he played, giving him 4 goals, 1 assist (5 points) through 8 games. Providence isn’t exactly lighting the scoreboard on fire, and Bjorkqvist does seem to be getting a lot of ice time, but you’d hope for more production from a 2nd round pick. This is significant step up from his Freshman year, where he was disappointing.
JS Dea, 5’11, 175 (UDFA, 2013) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
I wasn’t sure whether to class Dea as a prospect still, but I decided that, with him only being 23, I should probably include him for his last year of being a prospect. Dea is off to a good start, scoring 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) through 10 games, with 6 of those points at even strength. He’s been playing in every situation, serving as the #1 PP and #1 PK center after playing a lot of his career at wing for WBS. I don’t know where this projects him in the NHL, but he’s looking good whatever he’s doing down in the AHL.
Teddy Blueger, 6’0, 185 (2nd round, 2012) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
The man of many surname spellings, Blueger/Blugers is playing a clear bottom 6 role with WBS and is excelling in it. He’s produced 2 goals and 3 assists (5 points) through 10 games, with 1 of his assists creating a short-handed opportunity. Blueger is noticeably quicker this year having worked on his skating in the offseason and has a bright future as a bottom 6 C for the NHL Penguins. If there’s a few center injuries in the NHL, expect to see Blueger given a cup of coffee.
Thomas DiPauli, 5’11, 187 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
Also playing in a clear bottom 6 role, usually on a line with Blueger and Sestito, DiPauli has had a much more successful year than 2016/2017 where he spent most of it injured. So far this year, DiPauli 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) through 9 games, playing a lot of PK and defensively skewed minutes. He’s also playing a lot on his off wing, showing some positional versatility that will help his NHL future.
Adam Johnson, 6’0, 175 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
An offensively minded center who has seen a lot of PP time, Johnson has 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) through 9 games. He has a power play goal and a power play assist, and while his 5 on 5 production hasn’t been great, he’s been playing well in that situation even if he hasn’t been getting the bounces. He might need another year or two in WBS to get ready for the NHL, but he’s another bottom 6 potential center for the Penguins in the future.
Linus Olund, 5’11, 185 (5th round, 2017) – Brynas IF (SHL)
Olund was drafted out of the SHL in Sweden, after putting up a very impressive 15 points in 39 games as a 19 year old playing against men. So far this year, he’s only managed to put up 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) in 15 games as Brynas have been disappointing. His contract in Sweden does expire this year, so expect him to sign an ELC and come over at the conclusion of his Swedish year.
Nikita Pavlychev, 6’7, 212 (7th round, 2015) – Penn State (NCAA)
A legitimate giant, Pavlychev’s 6’7 frame moves around pretty well considering the mass that he has to control. Through 10 games this year, he has just the 4 goals and no assists. He wasn’t drafted because of his offensive skills, however, rather his size/skating ability and his defensive game. When he turns pro, expect the Penguins to try and influence his game to a more physical style.
Anthony Angello, 6’5, 205 (5th round, 2014) – Cornell University (NCAA)
Another draft pick because of size and skating ability, Angello had a very good freshman year, a not as good sophomore year and is currently 4 games into his junior year where he has 3 assists. Angello seems to be the kind of player that will play better when it comes to the pro game as he can use his size a lot more effectively, so look out for him signing an ELC at the end of this season.
Zach Aston-Reese, 6’0, 205 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
Aston-Reese got off to a slow start in the AHL, going scoreless through the first 5 games and had a couple of healthy scratches. He finally got on the board with a 2 assist outing, following that up with a pointless game where he got into his first fight of the year, then contributed his first goal in his 8th game of the year. His defensive game has been exceptionally solid and he’s played physically, so the season is trending up for ZAR and I would expect him to contribute more on the score sheet soon.
Sam Lafferty, 6’1, 185 (4th round, 2014) – Brown University (NCAA)
Not quite as good a year so far Lafferty through 4 games with only 1 goal, compared to his junior year where he went over a PPG on a perpetually awful Brown team. Assuming Lafferty has just hit a stretch of bad luck and will rebound, expect to see Lafferty possibly look to sign elsewhere from the Penguins as the Penguins have plenty of players in a similar ilk, those that have positional versatility and play a simple 200 foot game. I like Lafferty, but his future likely isn’t in the Penguins sytem.
Freddie Tiffels, 6’1, 201 (6th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
Imagine Carl Hagelin but with even worse hands and you have Tiffels. Despite some unfounded and short lived hype from the beat writers for the NHL Penguins, Tiffels is not much of a prospect going forward. He is extremely fast and is good defensively, but is severely lacking in offensive ability. He has only got into 3 games so far for WBS, registering no points and no shots in those games. He is very much on the outside looking in with regards to WBS’ lineup, and might be better served heading down to Wheeling for a stint.
Clayton Phillips, 5’11, 174 (3rd round, 2017) – Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
An undersized puck mover, Phillips has played 7 total games in the USHL and has scored 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) while racking up 33 PIMs in the process. He has committed to University of Minnesota for next season, where he should excel at generating offence. Someone to keep an eye on for the long term.
Lukas Bengtsson, 5’10, 192 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
It’s incredibly relieving to see Bengtsson playing at all, never mind appearing in all 10 games for WBS and managing 6 assists. Making a comeback from being diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, Bengtsson is playing in every situation for WBS. He QBs the top powerplay, plays a regular role on the PK and skates with Pedan at even strength. Bengtsson could see the NHL as soon as next year.
Dane Birks, 6’2, 183 (6th round, 2013) – Michigan Tech (NCAA)
A forgotten man in the system, Birks is putting together a quietly solid season in his senior year, getting 2 goals and 4 assists (6 points) through 11 games. A bigger guy, he skates well and moves the puck well, even if he’s not dynamic offensively. I don’t know if he will turn pro with the Penguins as there is a lot of D that will be turning pro for the Penguins soon, but I suspect he has a future in the pros regardless.
Niclas Almari, 6’2, 181 (5th round, 2016) – HPK (Liiga)
Scoring a goal and 3 assists through 18 games in the Finnish men’s league, Almari has been skating on the 3rd pairing for HPK and gets some 2nd power play time. A late birthday, Almari will be 19 throughout the season, putting that he’s an everyday player in a more impressive light. Needs to add some weight, but he skates very well and moves the puck well. The Penguins will likely attempt to get him to sign to an ELC in the offseason.
William Reilly, 6’3, 196 (7th round, 2017) – RPI (NCAA)
Reilly was drafted as a 2 year overager after a very good year for RPI as a 19 year old freshman, and has shown that year shouldn’t be considered a fluke as he’s turned in 4 goals and 1 assist through 8 games as a sophomore. If he turns in another good year, don’t be surprised to see Reilly come out early and join the Penguins on his ELC. He’s got all the skills already, to go with some great size.
Connor Hall, 6’3, 190 (3rd round, 2016) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Big and mean are probably the two best descriptions for Hall, who has finally found some health this year and has played all of Kitchener’s game. However, he has only produced 3 assists through those 17 games, while adding 51 PIMs. Not drafted for his offensive ability, the Penguins likely would have hoped for more offensive growth than 3 points through 17 games in his draft + 2 year, and runs a genuine risk of not receiving an ELC.
Antti Palojarvi, 6’1, 176 (6th round, 2017) – Luuko U20 (Liiga U20)
Disappointing start to the year for Palojarvi, only getting 3 assists through 17 games in the Finnish junior league. Very much a project, Palojarvi needs to add a lot of weight and try to find some development of his offensive game, as his defensive game does not appear to be up to par either. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Penguins let his draft rights expire unless he dramatically trends upwards.
Joseph Masonius, 6’0, 190 (6th round, 2016) – Connecticut (NCAA)
Another NCAA D drafted in an overage year, Masonius is coming off a 2 assist in 5 game start after his down trending sophomore year. A good skater who can move the puck, but is defensively solid, Masonius is, for a lack of a better term, a boring prospect, which is a good thing in this context. He also has 23 PIMs so far this year, so is no stranger to getting involved physically.
Zachary Lauzon, 6’1, 190 (2nd round, 2017) – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
The Penguins first pick in the 2017 draft, and seen by many as quite the reach, Lauzon only managed to get into 3 games this year before picking up an injury. He has been selected to represent the QMJHL against a Russian junior all star team in the middle of November, so he’s possibly coming back, but I couldn’t find much information on his injury, so who knows. Regardless, not a great start to what will be a very criticized pick if it doesn’t work out.
Ryan Jones, 6’2, 192 (4th round, 2016) – University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)
Correct me if you’ve heard this one before. A decent sized, good skater who can move the puck well while not being offensively dynamic drafted as an overager in college. Jones fits the archetype of what the Penguins like to look for in D, playing a physical game too. He has 1 assist through 4 games for Nebraska-Omaha so far, so the Penguins will be hoping for a bit of a bump in scoring as the year progresses.
Jeff Taylor, 6’0, 185 (7th round, 2014) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
Undersized, but offensively skilled, Taylor hasn’t been able to play WBS so far this year as he’s been injured. He has been in practice recently, so he could get back in soon, but until then, there’s not a whole lot to say.
Ethan Prow, 5’11, 185 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)
A disappointing 2016-2017 has bled into his 2017-2018, only managing to appear in 4 games despite WBS having lost multiple guys to injury and call up. Dylan Zink, a rookie on an AHL only contract, has managed to appear in more games than Prow, even with Zink playing on his off side. If Prow doesn’t somehow develop pretty soon, he’ll likely not be in the Penguins system much longer.
Tristan Jarry, 6’2, 194 (2nd round, 2013) – WBS/Pittsburgh
Now up in Pittsburgh serving as Matt Murray’s backup, Jarry was off to a rough start in WBS from the stat sheet, not even breaking a .900 save percentage. However, scoreboard watching doesn’t always tell the full story, as Jarry was facing a significant amount of high risk chances. He excelled in his one NHL start, posting a .941%. Expect to see Jarry get in a bit more with all the back to backs in the Penguins schedule.
Filip Gustavsson, 6’2, 183 (2nd round, 2016) – Lulea HF (SHL)
As a 19 year old in the Swedish men’s league and serving as the backup, Gustavsson has a .915% and a 2.19 GAA. He’s signed an ELC and is coming over to the Penguins system next year. Get excited for him, he’s going to be good if his SHL performances are anything to go by.
Sean Maguire, 6’2, 203 (4th round, 2012) – Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)
Splitting time with Colin Stevens shows where Maguire is in regards to his standing with in the organization. A 4.04 GAA and .907% save is nothing to be impressed by, and this appears to be the end of the line for Maguire as a prospect, sadly. He missed an entire year with concussion troubles in college and that seems to have negatively affected his development. It’s a shame to see injuries derail a career.
Alex D’Orio, 6’3, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
D’Orio earned a contract through his play in training camp and at development camp, and has good size. However, he plays on a terrible Saint John team, and that has given some brutally bad stats of 3.37 GAA and .899%. He could see himself traded to a better team come playoffs, as Saint John lost a lot of players in the offseason and are likely going to look at a rebuild.