December Prospect Review

For our 3rd monthly prospect update, we’re going to lose a couple of guys from the goalie category. Sean Maguire got traded out of the organization and Tristan Jarry is the full time NHL backup. I don’t think we can really consider a full time NHL player a prospect, so here we are. All stats are accurate up to 31st December.

Forward

Jordy Bellerive, 5’10, 194 (UDFA, 2017) – Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

With the year he’s having, I cannot understand why Jordy Bellerive didn’t get drafted. He’s now at 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 35 games, with an additional 36 PIMs. While it’s not much clearer if he’s going to be a center or a winger in the pro game, he has the ability to translate between the two pretty effortlessly and his skillset is one that the Penguins will appreciate with his speed and grittiness.

Jan Drozg, 6’0, 174 (5th round, 2017) – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

Shawinigan is still awful and haven’t yet found a home for Jan Drozg as a trade piece. His production took a little bit of a hit as he tied for 2nd in points with 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) in 31 games, but he did get to spend 5 games playing for Slovenia at the 1B World Juniors where he put up 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 5 games as he dragged them kicking and screaming to a bronze medal. That’s a nice showing for a guy who’s not having a great time with his junior team.

Daniel Sprong, 6’0, 181 (2nd round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Daniel Sprong is clearly a player in need of adversity and external motivation. Through the 12 games in December following his healthy scratch, he scored 9 goals and 5 assists for 14 points with his consistency away from the puck increasing. His need for external motivation was no clearer than when he did not get called up when Bryan Rust got hurt, so he responded with a 4 point night against Hartford. Pittsburgh noticed and called him up for his first NHL game on the 31st of December, where he put in a good showing. If Mike Sullivan can keep him engaged, Sprong will be better for it.

Dominik Simon, 5’11, 176 (5th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)/Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)

Dominik Simon has become pretty familiar with the trip between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, as he was called up for 6 games at the beginning of December, was sent back down on December 31st and then recalled on January 1st. In his time with the big Penguins, he was a healthy scratched occasionally, but he looked good as he played up and down the lineup, getting 2 assists in 6 games. Plenty of fans would argue he was more deserving of a lineup spot over a handful of Penguins, but his recall would hopefully indicate that is to be the case going forward.

Sam Miletic, 6’0, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – London Knights (OHL)

Another good month for Sam Miletic as he ups his production to 44 points (12 goals, 32 assists) in 31 games. His goal scoring production is down from last year, and his goal total is what got him signed by the Penguins, so I’m not exactly sold on him as a prospect, but we’ll see how he fits when he turns pro. He likely won’t turn pro until next year as London looks to make a deep playoff run.

Kasper Bjorkqvist, 6’1, 205 (2nd round, 2016) – Providence College (NCAA)

Compared to Patric Hornqvist by his own college coach, Kasper Bjorkqvist is probably a more defensively inclined incarnation for Providence, who won the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh to end the year. His production is better than last year at 9 points (7 goals, 2 assists) through 20 games, but certainly not where the Penguins would have liked it. While he has a skill set that means he’ll likely be a 4th liner at worst, there’s not much ceiling there for Bjorkqvist. What is working in his favor is that he is only a sophomore, so we’ll have to wait and see if he gets a bump in production as a junior.

JS Dea, 5’11, 175 (UDFA, 2013) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

The production for JS Dea isn’t as good as you would hope for a 4th year pro at 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in 31 games, but he’s been a victim of WBS hitting a rough stretch of games. He stills plays all situations for the Baby Penguins and is showing a translatable bottom 6 skill set, so I expect him to make a strong push for a bottom 6 spot next year as he just misses out on Group 6 UFA status, thankfully for the Penguins.

Teddy Blueger, 6’0, 185 (2nd round, 2012) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Teddy Blueger is still as solid defensively as he’ll ever be, but has seen a little uptick in his offensive production recently, getting to 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 31 games, with 10 of those points coming in the 14 December games and not registering a point on the marginal powerplay time he has received. His production is really impressive considering his defensive deployment and he will push for NHL time next season right out of camp.

Thomas DiPauli, 5’11, 187 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

While he only added 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) through 10 December games, Thomas DiPauli played through a lot of bad games for WBS and missed 4 of their better games through an undisclosed family issue around Christmas time. I advocate for him to make the NHL team sooner rather than later, as he brings speed, forechecking and penalty killing ability and has found a bit of a goalscoring touch this year.

Adam Johnson, 6’0, 175 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Adam Johnson is still without a home of sorts in the lineup, but remains mostly at wing now. He’s played both defensive deployment with Blueger and also saw some offensive time with Greg McKegg and Sprong. He appeared in 10 games in December, scoring 5 assists and 1 goal in that time. He has great skating, but his current struggle is adding weight and strength to his frame. That is something that should come in the offseason.

Linus Olund, 5’11, 185 (5th round, 2017) – Brynas IF (SHL)            

With Brynas dwindling in mediocrity, Linus Olund is struggling to really rack up the points, but as a 20 year old in a men’s league, 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) through 30 games is plenty respectable. Good skating and being defensively reliable are what you get out of Olund and we’ll see him in NA soon enough. He’s a nice piece to have in your depth chart going forward.

Nikita Pavlychev, 6’7, 212 (7th round, 2015) – Penn State (NCAA)

Nikita Pavlychev is putting together a nice season for himself considering his size and his project status. He’s currently at 10 points (7 goals, 3 assists) in 20 games, and I very much expect him to return for his junior year, then turn pro. He has good size and skating, so if nothing else, will become a difficult to play against defensively minded player. Any added offense would be a nice step.

Anthony Angello, 6’5, 205 (5th round, 2014) – Cornell University (NCAA)

Anthony Angello now sits at 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) through 13 games for Cornell which puts him on course for a similar offensive output as his stellar freshman year. I suspect the Penguins will try to encourage Angello to come out of college this summer as he has the size and skating of a pro hockey player already, and his deployment in Cornell isn’t as offensive as they’d like it to be. He’ll be a nice addition to WBS and you can’t ever say no to a big bodied center with some solid offensive skills.

Zach Aston-Reese, 6’0, 205 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Appearing in all 14 games for WBS through December, Zach Aston-Reese added 7 points to his total on the year through 3 goals and 4 assists. His contributions on the score sheet, however, are not as impressive as his off puck work, where he regularly wins his board battles and has begun to be worked into the PK rotation. Another prospect likened to Hornqvist, this time by Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin, he’s considered a good guy to play with as he does all of the dirty work on the boards and behind the net to free up his team mates. He’s also not afraid to mix it up as he picked himself up 2 fighting majors against tough AHL players in Tyler Lewington and Michael Latta.

Sam Lafferty, 6’1, 185 (4th round, 2014) – Brown University (NCAA)

Sam Lafferty got noted for his athleticism by Guerin and Erik Heasley, a hockey operations assistant for the Penguins. While he’s not the fastest skater, he has a strong athletic base which shows in his strength on the puck and his above average skating ability. He’s having a bit of a down year production wise with only 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 13 games, but the Penguins have a lot of interest in him signing his ELC as he has good hockey IQ and skills. It will be interesting to see how he does on a better team.

Freddie Tiffels, 6’1, 201 (6th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Frederik Tiffels got sent down to Wheeling again to start the year, where he’s at 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 15 games, before coming back up to WBS where he’s got into 3 games that he didn’t register a point in. Tiffels hasn’t got himself into any PK rotation with the AHL team, and seems likely to go back down to Wheeling soon enough. He’s still fast, but his puck skills still have a lot of room for growth.

Defense

Clayton Phillips, 5’11, 174 (3rd round, 2017) – Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA)

Clayton Phillips didn’t add any points in the extra 2 games he played in the USHL this year, but he did get some good news as the Golden Gophers added him for the spring semester as they wanted to add offense from their blueline. While Phillips didn’t score in either of the two games he got into with Minnesota, he had 6 shots and was a +1. Phillips is going to see a nice amount of time with Minnesota and it’s only going to be good for his development.

Lukas Bengtsson, 5’10, 192 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Unfortunately for Lukas Bengtsson, he only managed to appear in 4 games for WBS in December as he picked up an upper-body injury that has kept him for ‘week-to-week’, whatever that means in non-coach speak. He did receive some praise from Guerin however, talking about how you won’t be wowed by him, but he makes all the little ‘under the radar’ plays that will help you to win games and he has a strong competitive spirit.

Dane Birks, 6’2, 183 (6th round, 2013) – Michigan Tech (NCAA)

Dane Birks is just keeping on with what he’s keeping on with, up to 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 21 games and continuing to be a steady defensive presence for a not particularly strong Michgan Tech team. Expect Birks to get an ELC this offseason. He’s earned it from where he was 2 years ago and the Penguins don’t have many prospects who are pro on D.

Niclas Almari, 6’3, 210 (5th round, 2016) – HPK (Liiga)/LeKi (Mestis)

Thankfully, Niclas Almari has managed to get into some games for LeKi in the Finnish 2nd division. There was also an explanation from Guerin on Almari’s point total being pretty awful as HPK play some ‘1995 Devil’s Hockey’ and has reportedly added some serious mass to his frame, bumping up 30 pounds from his drafted weight of 181 pounds. Guerin also waxed lyrical on his skating ability and how eager Almari is to come over. Be excited for the kid, I think he’s going to be a good one pretty soon.

William Reilly, 6’3, 196 (7th round, 2017) – RPI (NCAA)

After starting the year at a blistering pace, William Reilly has cooled off and now sits at 8 points (6 goals, 2 assists) through 19 games. RPI are not a good team, but you’d have hoped for a bigger bump in production from Reilly with his sophomore year and his cooling off leads to questions about his consistency. He’s still an intriguing prospect because of his size and skating ability, but his junior year will be very interesting.

Connor Hall, 6’3, 190 (3rd round, 2016) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Hall has only appeared in 3 games since our last update as he’s been out of the lineup with an injury since the end of November, and added 0 points to his 6 assists on the year so far. He can still skate pretty well for a 6’3″ defender, but his long and lengthy injury history alongside his lack of offensive production as a soon to be 20 year old in a junior league really puts a damper on his ceiling as a professional hockey player and I wouldn’t be awfully surprised to see the Penguins only offer him an AHL deal.

Antti Palojarvi, 6’1, 176 (6th round, 2017) – Luuko U20 (Liiga U20)

Appearing in a further 7 games and registering another assist, Antti Palojarvi’s disappointing year continues and it’s unsure what his next step is going to be as his junior contract expires this year. A stint in the NCAA would likely be the best step for his development, but it’s unsure whether he is interested in that route. He needs to add weight and find some additional offensive ability from somewhere or face being left behind by the other prospects in the system.

Joseph Masonius, 6’0, 190 (6th round, 2016) – Connecticut (NCAA)

Joseph Masonius is now up to 14 games with 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists), and looks to be chugging along at an okay rate. His size and lack of offensive production, however, doesn’t fill me with confidence with his future in professional hockey. I wouldn’t expect Masonius to be given an ELC right now, but he may wish to come out and work his way up through an AHL deal translating into an ELC. A lack of defensive prospects turning pro works in his favour.

Zachary Lauzon, 6’1, 190 (2nd round, 2017) – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

I would love to give you an update on the ridiculous reach that Zachary Lauzon was for the Penguins and if it looks like a shrewd piece of scouting, but he hasn’t played a game in December as he remains out with an undisclosed injury. A bad pick isn’t looking any better with the less time he plays.

Ryan Jones, 6’2, 192 (4th round, 2016) – University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)

Ryan Jones added 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in his last 6 games to get to 16 games and 6 points on the season. A random offensive explosion for Jones is a good thing, as it shows he has some puck ability that he hadn’t shown recently and bumps him to 3rd on Nebraska Omaha in points for a D. If he continues to show some development offensively, his size makes him an intriguing prospect and I’ll have to reconsider my thoughts on him.

Jeff Taylor, 6’0, 185 (7th round, 2014) – Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

Getting into a game for WBS and appearing in another 4 for Wheeling in between being a healthy scratch providing cover in WBS, Jeff Taylor has been moving back and forth across Pennsylvania for the best part of December. In his WBS season debut, he registered his first AHL point on an assist, and looked pretty solid, albeit in the 1 game I saw him in. A nice AHL debut is good progress for Taylor and I expect him to be a staple for WBS next year or if injuries start to take hold this year.

Ethan Prow, 5’11, 185 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Ethan Prow only got into 4 games with WBS, but looked very strong in those games, adding 2 assists and handling some PP duties. He also got into 3 games for Wheeling, but didn’t add any stats in those games. His games in WBS were a solid basis to get into more games, and with Bengtsson missing through injury, there’s a good opportunity for Prow to build off those games.

Goalie

Filip Gustavsson, 6’2, 183 (2nd round, 2016) – Lulea HF (SHL)

The stats aren’t there for Filip Gustavsson, who’s down to a 3.04 and an .887 in the SHL, but he is the #1 goalie at the WJC’s for Sweden, one of the favorites, and has put forth an incredibly good 1.62 GAA and .923% as one of the top goalies at the tournament. I am excited to see how he translates his positive play here back to the SHL and furthermore how splitting time in the AHL from next year onwards.

Alex D’Orio, 6’3, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Alex D’Orio is dragging his stats up despite Saint John being awful, getting himself to 3.35 GAA and a .901. D’Orio’s resilience in the face of his bad team is a really nice thing for him to show and adds another solid goaltending prospect to the Penguins pipeline, which is never a bad thing to have.

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