The Penguins needed, and got, significant contributions from prospects en route to a Stanley Cup championship.
A case could be made that netminder Matt Murray was Pittsburgh’s playoff MVP. Forwards Conor Sheary, Tom Kühnhackl and Bryan Rust also contributed significantly to the team’s post-season success, while forwards Oskar Sundqvist and Scott Wilson as well as promising blueliner Derrick Pouliot got experience during the NHL regular season. As if that wasn’t enough, forwards Jake Guentzel, Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon and goalie Tristan Jarry are developing in the AHL and junior. Competition for four or so forward jobs will be fierce at Pittsburgh’s main training camp.
After dealing several well-regarded defensive prospects in the past couple of years, the Penguins didn’t have much in the blueline pipeline, which they tried to address by choosing defenders with their third- through sixth-round picks in the 2016 entry draft.
* Also plays other position
Matt Murray (G) – Although he still qualifies as a NHL rookie, Murray continued his meteoric rise by seizing the No. 1 job in Pittsburgh from the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, and refusing to surrender it. After backstopping the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship as his veteran counterpart watched from the bench, Murray will get every chance to earn the starter’s job this season, although the talented and proud Fleury will compete fiercely. If Murray can maintain his high level of play and convince the salary cap-crunched Pens he could handle a No. 1 workload, he and his $894,166 cap hit for one more season would provide a clear edge over Fleury and his $5.75-million annual hit for three years, particularly since only one can be shielded from the expansion draft.
Derrick Pouliot (D) – The signing of former sought-after prospect Justin Schultz to a team-friendly, one-year contract buys a bit more time for highly skilled prospect Derrick Pouliot to show enough to earn a decent contract and a spot on the Steeltown blueline once his entry-level deal expires at the end of the season. Pouliot’s development has technically stalled as he strives to become defensively responsible, but the Pens still have high hopes for their former eighth-overall draft pick due to his impressive offensive skill set.
Daniel Sprong (RW) – The Dutch sniper might have been the best player at Pittsburgh’s main training camp a year ago, which earned him the right to remain with the big club when the season began. That’s the good news. The reluctance of then-head coach Mike Johnston to live with the youngster’s defensive deficiencies led to scant playing time, then frequent benching even under Mike Sullivan, who replaced the fired Johnston. Pittsburgh burned a year of Sprong’s entry-level contract by playing him in more than nine games, and delayed his development by sitting him in the press box before finally returning him to his junior team. Sprong played well for the Charlottetown Islanders the rest of the season, and remains an outstanding prospect.
Jake Guentzel (C/LW) – One of the NCAA’s highest scorers while with Nebraska-Omaha, Pittsburgh’s 77th overall pick in 2013 followed a late-season, 11-game, six-point AHL audition with an eye-opening five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 10 Calder Cup playoff games. Guentzel's game is built on speed, but continuing to play bigger than his smallish frame and showing occasional feistiness will also help to give him a shot at a top-six job with the Penguins, although it will be likely have to be at LW.
Dominik Simon (C/LW) – The Czech youngster, who has exceeded expectations at every stage of his development, did so again by being named to the AHL all-star game in his first North American season. Although he fell off in the second half of his first demanding pro season, the 2015 fifth-round pick finished with a solid 25-goal, 48-point campaign, and even got his first NHL point during a three-game callup. Although his skating and size aren’t pluses, Simon compensates with great hands and a high hockey IQ.
Tristan Jarry (G) – Success has been elusive for Pittsburgh’s 2013 second-rounder after being a key member of the 2014 Memorial Cup-winning Edmonton Oil Kings. Playing for a much-weaker Edmonton squad after several stars graduated, Jarry watched his GAA balloon from 2.24 to 2.74. A GAA of 2.69 In his pro debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton contrasted sharply with Matt Murray's spectacular AHL rookie season with WBS the season before. Yet Jarry's confidence is infectious, he hates to lose and he has two more seasons on his entry-level deal to figure things out in the AHL.
Teddy Blueger (C/LW) – It’s not like the Penguins have given up on the talented Latvian, but his pro career debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL was unimpressive compared to Jake Guentzel’s 10-game, 14-point playoff performance. After finishing his fourth hockey season with Minnesota State Mankato and signing with the Penguins, Blueger went pointless in 10 AHL league games, adding just one assist in 10 playoff outings. He’s a dynamic stickhandler and playmaker, but fellow prospects Conor Sheary, Oskar Sundqvist, Tom Kühnhackl, Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson have already got NHL experience. Sheary, Kühnhackl and Rust even contributed to Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup effort.
Jean-Sebastien Dea (C) – The smallish former junior scoring sensation wasn’t out of place in his first full AHL season with 20 goals, 16 assists and plus-13 in 75 league games, but was pointless in 10 post-season outings, losing ground to fellow center prospects Jake Guentzel, Oskar Sundqvist and Dominik Simon. A skilled, creative playmaker with a decent shot, Dea has just one more season to establish himself in Pittsburgh’s system before becoming an RFA and running the risk of not tendered a contract offer.
Josh Archibald (RW) – While his relentless work ethic, versatility and coachability remain attractive to coaches, Archibald totaled only nine goals and nine assists in 69 games, easily the most he's played in an AHL season. Registering 75 PIMs and adding another 10 in 10 playoff games, Archibald willingly gets his nose dirty for the good of the team. Yet Tom Kühnhackl has established himself as Pittsburgh’s fourth-line RW, and he has more scoring upside than Archibald, who has just one more season before becoming an RFA.
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