August 32-in-32: Pittsburgh Penguins

Dave Hall

2022-08-29

The 32-in-32 Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in August we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s draft, and insights into their off-season movements thus far. Following this up in September, we will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check back often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all off-season long!

The Penguins continue to be one of the NHL’s more impressive teams, having recently made the playoffs for the sixteenth consecutive season on the backs of superstars such as Sydney Crosby. But for how long? With their core group of players now on the wrong side of 30, some even 35, the club’s window for contention is closing in rapidly. That reality does not seem to phase Ron Hextall and company, though. Rather than break it down and start fresh, the club found a way to keep the band back together, signing a string of 30-plus UFA’s over the summer, keeping their contention window ajar for the next few seasons. At least, that is the hope.

Of course, winning has come at a cost for the club. With a league-best playoff streak (16 years) alive and well, the club has forgone its fair share of top-rated draft picks over the years. As a result, leaving their prospect’s shelves rather empty. In fact, this year’s first-round selection stood as just the third in 10 years for the club and the first since 2019, when they selected Samuel Poulin.

Make no mistake about it, it’s win at all costs for the Penguins right now, and with a strong core – albeit aging – at the helm, the possibility of hoisting another Stanley Cup is certainly within reach.

But first, it was time to draft.

The Draft

While it is certainly positive that the club held a first-round pick, the Penguins were still left empty through rounds two and three. With just five picks over the weekend, Ron Hextall and company had to get creative to find the best bang-for-their-buck in the deeper rounds, yet again.

Round One, 21st Overall – Owen Pickering, LD 

Finally, a first-round pick.

With the depth chart in need of virtually everything, the Penguins elected to shore up their left-side defense pipeline. With 33 (9G + 24A) points over 62 games, Pickering finished tops amongst his Swift Current Bronco’s in points by a defender.

The Manitoba native brings an intriguing mix of size, skill, and skating ability – a combination that can be tough to find in defenders. While he is still quite slender, he boasts a staggering 6-foot-4 frame, with tons of potential to add to his listed 181-pounds. Although it may be rare for such a large frame, Pickering is quite mobile and was considered one of the better skating amongst this 2022 defense crop. He carries relatively fluid edges and is able to cover tons of ground while putting himself into good positions to create offense or close in gaps. The Penguins receive a bit of a project and are banking on him filling out and hitting on a nice upside swing, but overall, should squeeze out a top-four asset, at the very least.

The towering defender will return to the WHL for a third season next year, where he is slated to continue crunching minutes as the Bronco’s go-to option on the backend.

Round Four, 118th Overall – Sergei Murashov, G

With former prospect Calle Clang dealt to Anaheim, the Penguins looked to add another project piece to their future crease. That assignment? Russian-born, Sergey Murashov.

At 6-foot, 168-pounds, the Yaroslav native is considered a relatively small netminder. Instead, he is heavily reliant on his speed and agile mobility in order to make up for the lack of net space taken. Additionally, he is known to be very aggressive and challenges his opponents early, forcing shooters to make quick and uncertain decisions. This, being just another area in which he makes up for his smaller stature.

While he may have not blown the hinges of the league, Murashov had a decent showing amongst goaltenders in the MHL last season, finishing eighth in save percentage among those with 20 (or more) starts. Additionally, he finished (tied) second in shutouts with six, capping the year off with a 21-16-3 record. He is expected to return to the MHL (Loko Yaroslavl) for 2022-23, with the potential to move up the ladder, should the KHL call for help.

Round Five, 150th Overall – Zam Plante, LW

Plante, slated to finally turn 18 in late August, was one of the youngest players among the 2022 crop.

To kickstart his 2021-22 campaign, Plante dominated the Minnesota High-school circuit, firing at an incredible 2.91 clip with 64 points over just 22 games. From there, he graduated to the USHL, where he finished 12th among rookie skaters in points-per-game (0.68).  While he is committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, it’s likely that he returns to the USHL to develop, before taking on the NCAA for the 2023-24 season.

Standing just 5-foot-9, he is rather undersized, yet, brings elements to his game that screams “fan favorite”. Obviously, as his point totals have indicated, his offensive skills jump out of the page. He is fast, and his high-end motor provides non-stop headaches to defenders. While he may be a long-term prospect, he certainly brings tantalizing potential and will provide Pens’ fans with a solid stream of entertainment as he develops.

Round Six, 167th Overall – Nolan Collins, RD

In addition to a heavy-set frame, Nolan Collins is a right-handed defender, which instantly checks off a premium box. On top of that, he brings a heavy-set frame (6-foot-3), with tons of potential to add to as he matures.

Like many, Collins lost out on an entire year of development due to the COVID-19 shutdown year. Unfortunately, that was slated to be his rookie campaign. With that, he was forced to jump and shake off the rust as a 17-year-old rookie. He contributed just 18 points during his rookie season, however, it’s important to note that 13 of those came over the last 18 games played. As the season progressed, Collins slowly took on an increased role and found himself in a top-two pairing role among a subpar Sudbury Wolves (OHL) team.

Being a sixth-round pick, Collins does not bring huge upside. However, with his responsible defensive prowess, and shutdown frame, one can hope for a bottom-pair future.

Round Six, 182nd Overall – Luke Devlin, C

Opposite to Zam Plante, who is an undersized waterbug, Devlin comes as a 6-foot-3 power forward. The Memphis native split his 2021-22 season between prep hockey (St. Andrew’s), where he produced 47 points over 44 games, and the USHL. To add to his imposing and developing frame, he can also mix in creative playmaking and decent skating ability, while playing a hard-nosed style.

Devlin is slated to join the West Kelowna Warriors (BCHL) this season, before heading to the NCAA circuit, where he has committed to Conrell University.

The Offseason

The Penguins’ off-season was rather quiet in terms of outsourcing new faces through free agency. While they did dabble in the trade market, majority of their high-profile transactions came “in-house”. As mentioned above, the Pens’ refuse to lie down and become a basement dweller of the league. I mean, if you have Crosby locked up for another three seasons, why not? It appears that most club veterans had similar thought processes, as Hextall was able to retain the majority of their top core pieces.

Bryan Rust was the first to drop, extending for six years almost immediately following their first-round exit. The 30-year-old has blossomed into one of the league’s best swiss army knives, capable of filling many roles while sporting an impressive 0.91 point-per-game clip over the previous three years.

Rumors circulated around Kris Letang, and where the grizzled right-shot veteran would land this summer. Those proved to be exactly that (rumors), as the organization’s top producing defender decided to remain – and likely retire – as a Penguin, committing to a six-year term that will bring him right into his prime years of 40. While signings of players in-and-around the 35-year-old threshold are usually frowned upon, Letang has shown no signs of slowing down and is fresh off of a career-best 68-point campaign. He is still a very capable producer from the backend and while the deal may prove to be sour over the last few seasons, it’s a moot point for a club in a desperate hunt for one last shot at the tirle.

Finally, to wrap up the over 30-section of their off-season signings, Evgenii Malkin was brought back at a reasonable cost of 6.1 million AAV for the next four years. Reasonable in the sense that although he has seen his fair share of injury-plagued seasons, continues to be a top-producing pivot for the club, even at 36-year-old. Much like signing Letang, it’s a gamble you just have to make.

As mentioned, the club took part in a few trades over the summer. Most notably, bringing in 34-year-old veteran, Jeff Petry, in exchange for Mike Matheson. Oddly enough, both are coming off polar opposite seasons. Matheson is fresh out of a career year, with 31 points in 74 games, while Jeff Petry fell victim to his worst statical year since the 2015-16 campaign with just 27 points on his ledger. As a right-shot option, the Penguins clearly see upside and are banking on a full-blown bounce back among a more potent offensive top-six group in Pittsburgh. Unlike his role in Montreal, Petry will be able to enjoy secondary deployment, while hopefully taking off some of Letang’s pressure to produce at such a high rate. He should see secondary powerplay time, to boot.

As a sweetener for swapping defenders trending in opposite directions, the Pens also acquired Ryan Poehling in the deal. Despite jumping out the gate with a three goals NHL debut performance, the 23-year-old has struggled to find consistency at the pro level since. A shot in the club’s bottom-six is likely, with hopes of being able to gain some traction and turn his otherwise quiet career around.

Finally, the club made a splash by swapping young defenders in a trade that sent 25-year-old, John Marino to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for 22-year-old, Ty Smith. Smith, a former Spokane Chief captain, enjoyed a very lucrative Junior career, compiling 235 points while firing at just under a point-per-game clip (0.98) during his five-year WHL stint. While he has yet to break out as a top-producing prospect, his 43 points over 114 games are certainly nothing to scoff at. The Penguins received a very young, and still very capable defender with a high ceiling capable of fulfilling a top-pairing role down the road.

Incoming

Main Roster: Jeff Petry (D), Ryan Poehling (C), Ty Smith (D), Drake Caggiula (RW), Jan Rutta (D)

System: Dustin Tokarski (G), Josh Archibald (RW), Xavier Ouellet (D).

Outgoing

Mike Matheson (trade), John Marino (trade), Evan Rodrigues (UFA), Brian Boyle (UFA), Michael Chaput, Anthony Angello, Nathan Beaulieu, Louis Domingue, Jan Drozg, Jodran Bellerive, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Juuso Rikkola, Cam Lee, Justin Almeida, Niclas Almari, Alex D’Orio, Will Reilly.

Re-signed

Bryan Rust (RW), Kris Letang (D), Evgenii Malkin (C), Casey DeSmith (G) , Taylor Fedun (D), Alex Nylander (LW), Rikard Rakell (F), Pierre-Oliver Joseph (D), Denton Heinen (LW), Kasperi Kapanen (RW).

In next month’s 32-in-32 Series we will be diving into updated organizational depth charts to identify the prospect risers, fallers, and projected roles for the 2022-23 campaign.

Dave Hall

 


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