Happy New Years kinda! The middle-ish time of the hockey season, the all-star teams were just announced (I have some gripes with the choices, but we all do in some form or another) and Daniel Sprong is a Pittsburgh Penguin (more on that shortly.) The big club started slow and is finally starting to rediscover their offensive touch! Just in time too, because, well…McCutchen is a San Francisco Giant while Gerrit Cole is a Houston Astro, and the Steelers are no longer in Super Bowl convention. So, having one of your Pittsburgh teams doing well is definitely a silver lining…with that in mind, how are the prospects doing? Let’s take a look.
DISCLAIMER: Everyone has their different definition of what a “prospect” is in sports. For me, at least in terms of the good ol’ knife-shoe sport the Penguins participate in, it is a player under-25 that isn’t an NHL regular, or someone that currently has rookie status by the NHL’s definition. So, let’s jump right into it.
SECOND, SHORTER DISCLAIMER: The statistics for Tristan Jarry, Dominik Simon, and Daniel Sprong are as of January 17th. The statistics for the rest of the players are as of January 18th.
Anthony Angello — C
Last year, Cornell University forward Anthony Angello didn’t suffer a sophomore slump, but took a four point dip in production with 20 points compared to his freshman year’s 24–though he eclipsed his goal total in his freshman year with 12, where his assist total dropped from 13 to 8. In this year, his junior year, he’s looking to surpass both totals as he already has 14 points (6 goals and 8 assists) in just his 17th game, including 2 goals in a historic offensive takedown of Princeton in a 7-1 victory. Angello is looking to be another college standout, courtesy of the Penguins’ drafting process. Time will tell if he decides to sign, whether that be this year or next year (or at all).
Zach Aston-Reese — LW/C/RW
After a fantastic AHL debut last season, as well as tons of hype surrounding him following his outstanding senior year with Northeastern University, Zach Aston-Reese’s first full AHL season didn’t exactly start how many would’ve thought. After getting his wisdom teeth removed early on, Aston-Reese started the season slow with just 3 goals in his opening 27 games. Though that third goal started a scoring streak of three straight games for Aston-Reese, who has since picked up the pace in the offensive department. Aston-Reese currently has 6 goals for 24 points in 35 games, and is continually being deployed on Donatelli’s first line with Jean-Sebastien Dea and Ryan Haggerty.
And if his deployment by coach Donatelli isn’t enough, maybe Jim Rutherford’s testimonial on the kid is!
Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: ““He started slow,” Rutherford said when asked about Aston-Reese’s development. “He had problems with his wisdom teeth. We got that taken care of. Once he started to feel better, he’s played extremely well over the last little while. He’s coming along very nicely.”” It should also be noted that over Aston-Reese’s current season, his shooting percentage is a lowly 9.1%. That could potentially explain the weirdly low goal total…here’s hoping this start to look up for the ZAR!
Jordy Bellerive — C
Before September, Bellerive wasn’t exactly connected to the Penguins as directly as he is now. However, a hat trick in the prospects tournament later and Jordy Bellerive, after signing a three-year entry level contract, is a Pittsburgh Penguin.
And you know what? This signing may have been one of the most underrated moves of the year. I’d like to provide a bit of context before I explain why, though.
During Bellerive’s first two years with the Lethbridge Hurricanes — the latter of which he was an alternate captain — Bellerive did pretty well, all things considered. His first year, Bellerive scored 11 goals and notched 25 assists for a respectable 36 points in 65 games. He also made Team Green for Canada’s Midgets squad, going 3-3–6 in the 3 games he played. The next year, his first year as alternate captain in the 2016-17 season, Bellerive improved tremendously as 27 goals and notched 29 assists for 56 points in 70 games. Additionally, Bellerive made Team Canada in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where he played 4 games.
Though, his third year with the Lethbridge Hurricanes — and his first as captain of the squad after former captain Georgio Estepan was traded — is seeing him absolutely destroy the WHL…and it’s mind-blowing what he’s doing. In a mere 41 games (the season isn’t even OVER yet), Bellerive has scored 25 goals (2 away from his career high) and has notched 32 assists (career high) for 57 points (career high).
Bellerive went undrafted this year (which is extremely odd considering he was ranked 82nd among North American skater by NHL Central Scouting), and I think it may have something to do with his size (5’10” and 194 lbs), but that’s not a problem. Some NHL general managers view it as a problem, but if the likes of Tyler Johnson, Johnny Gaudreau, Conor Sheary and especially Martin St. Louis have told us anything…it isn’t. I think Bellerive is a perfect fit with the Penguins and as I said earlier, signing him (and even inviting him to the prospect tournament earlier in the season) was a FANTASTIC move by Pens brass.
Also, Bellerive is a funny dude. I like him. You’ll like him. As Bob Errey would say, good stuff. Good stuff.
Kasper Bjorkqvist — RW/LW
After a less than desirable freshman season with Providence College — which may have been understandable as it was Kasper Bjorkqvist’s first full season on North American ice, which is in no way an easy adjustment from Olympic ice — the Espoo native is really coming through in defying whatever his “sophomore slump” may have been. Through 24 games, Bjorkqvist has scored 10 goals (career high) and 4 assists for 14 points (career high). This includes a hat trick he scored against St. Lawrence University, with all 3 goals coming within a 14 minute duration.
As far as Bjorkqvist goes, I only see things trending upward for the Finn. Time will tell of course, but I am encouraged by his progress during his sophomore season.
Teddy Blueger — C
Right now, Teddy Blueger doing well on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s third line, usually going out there with Adam Johnson and Colin Smith (though a recent injury to Smith has found Thomas Di Pauli on Blueger’s right wing.) Through the first 37 games, Blueger has scored 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points, 2 of which are shorthanded (including a shorthanded goal.) Blueger is usually found on WBS’ top penalty killing unit, which is as aggressive as it was when former Penguin Oskar Sundqvist was there with Blueger.
Based on his play, I think Blueger has a very bright future, as well as an imminent position in the NHL. Blueger has the size, and definitely has the speed that is needed to fit into the Pittsburgh Penguins system. So, one wonders if maybe he can help the center depth problem the Penguins seem to be facing? Maybe!
Jean-Sebastien Dea — C
Another fixture on WBS’ first line, Jean-Sebastien Dea is having quite the fourth year in his AHL career. To provide context, over the first 41, 75 and 73 games of his first three AHL seasons, Dea scored 21, 36 and 34 points respectively. During the 2017-18 season, over the first 36 games of the year, Dea has 9 goals and 14 assists for an admirable 23 points. One wonders if linemates Ryan Haggerty and Zach Aston-Reese (as well as previous winger Daniel Sprong) are aiding this increase in production, but what is undeniable is that Dea is maturing as a player.
Described as a player that needed to work on his two-way game earlier in his hockey career, Dea is now one of the more reliable centers — in both zones — for the Penguins and hasn’t let his size of 5’11” and 176lbs stop him from playing an effective game. His speed is something Penguins brass undoubtedly loves, and could have a future with Pittsburgh’s NHL club quite soon if he keeps his play up.
UPDATE: Dea was recently recalled to the Penguins. With the Jake-Guentzel-At-Center experiment seemingly finished…maybe we see Dea draw into the lineup soon?
Thomas Di Pauli — LW/C
It’s safe to say that Thomas Di Pauli’s not exactly replicating his 20 games from last season…and that is without a doubt for the better. Through Di Pauli’s first 31 games of the 2017-18 campaign, he’s scored 9 goals (four of which are overtime winners) and 6 assists for 15 points as he shifts throughout the lineup.
Di Pauli is what I’d describe as Chris Kunitz 2.0. He’s a two-way player that often gets into the dirty areas around the goalie to score goals, and isn’t afraid to throw a hit or two despite his size…(and, just like Kunitz, has had goals disallowed due to phantom goalie interference. Some of the similarities aren’t exactly happy ones!)
After injuries throughout the last year, Di Pauli could use one without injuries plaguing his season to show that he can really shine in the roles he’s given (which includes the powerplay, where he has one assist.)
Jan Drozg — LW/RW
One of the more recent draft picks for the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2017 5th round pick Jan Drozg is currently playing in his first full season on North American ice, and the Slovenian forward isn’t doing half bad. With the QMJHL’s last place Shawinigan Cataractes, Drozg has 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points over 36 games, with his point total being 3rd highest on the Cataractes’ roster.
Additionally, Drozg was selected to play for Slovenia in the World Junior Championships’ Division 1B, where he and Slovenia won the Bronze medal. Additionally, with 5 goals and 4 assists for 9 points over a 5 game span, Drozg was named top player of the entire Division 1B tournament.
Adam Johnson — LW/C
One of the few players that played well enough to be considered for Pittsburgh’s opening night roster due to training camp performance, newly signed Adam Johnson is fresh off his sophomore season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he scored 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points in 41 games. That’s what garnered the attention of the Penguins and earned Johnson a two-year entry level contract.
Now, in his first full season of professional hockey (with the baby Penguins), Johnson has 4 goals and 14 assists for 18 points over his first 31 games as he’s been shifted throughout the lineup. Although, something to consider is Johnson’s 7.1 shooting percentage, so maybe Johnson isn’t exactly on the lucky side when it comes to getting pucks into the net.
Johnson has been utilized on WBS’ power play as well, where he has one power play goal and two power play assists.
There has been talk of eventually calling Johnson up, where he’d likely be in consideration to help solve Pittsburgh’s apparent center depth problem. Although, Johnson has primarily been playing wing with WBS, so if a left winger is needed by Pittsburgh, Johnson could be in consideration for a call-up regarding that as well.
Troy Josephs — C/RW
Troy Josephs’ first full year of professional hockey begins with the Wheeling Nailers, and he’s making a pretty strong impression with his opportunity. In his first 18 games, Josephs has 5 goals for 14 points, which is admirable considering he’s recently returned on December 2nd from an injury-plagued year.
Josephs has primarily been utilized in a defensive-center role, as well as on the penalty kill where he has one short-handed assist.
Sam Lafferty — LW/C
I just feel bad for senior forward Sam Lafferty. I really do. A sensational talent that has had to play on a…lets say “less than sensational” Brown University team, that is currently 5-10-3.
Last year was a phenomenal season for Lafferty, where he had 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points in 31 games for Brown, and that earned Lafferty the honors of being named to the 2016-17 NCAA All-Ivy Second team.
This year, however, Lafferty has 4 goals and 5 assists over 18 games. It’s hard to say what exactly is causing Lafferty to (relatively) struggle, but after this season is over is where things get interesting for him. The dish master (my personal nickname for him…shut up) is a senior forward as previously mentioned, and he has a decision to make. He’s unsigned. So, does he stay within the organization that drafted him four years ago and try his luck in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton next year (or, by some unforeseen circumstance, Pittsburgh)? Or, does Lafferty bet on himself and test free agency among others? Or are the Penguins even interested in signing Lafferty? I definitely would be, but my name is Cassy, not Jim Rutherford.
Sam Miletic — LW
Another signing from the prospect tournament, and another smart idea to invite him to the prospect tournament. Scouting team did good, here.
After a mediocre first year in the OHL and a much better sophomore year, Miletic’s third OHL season is nothing short of fantastic. Over his first 38 games (the first 35 with the London Knights, and the last 3 with the Niagara Ice Dogs after he was traded for draft picks), Miletic has 20 goals and an ASTOUNDING 41 assists for 61 points. That’s just insane.
Miletic didn’t score a hat trick like Bellerive did in the prospect tournament, but he certainly did enough to earn a three-year entry level contract and, well…another undrafted prospect (that was ranked 178th by draft eligible prospects by the International Scouting Services) has found a potential home with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Linus Olund — C
Another recent draftee, 2017 5th round draft pick Linus Olund has spent his time with the currently 9th placed Brynäs IF, where he has 6 goals and 9 assists for 15 points over 34 games. However, he’s also playing in the Champions Hockey League for Brynäs IF, where the Gävle native has 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points over 9 games.
Olund models his game after Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom, yet his favorite player is Jonathan Toews…take from that what you will.
Nikita Pavlychev — C
Nikita Pavlychev, undoubtedly the tallest forward in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, is currently in his sophomore season with Penn State. As Penguins prospects usually do, Pavlychev has defied the sophomore slump and has greatly improved his offensive production.
Compared to the 13 points Pavlychev scored in his 36 game freshman season, he currently has 8 goals (career high) and 4 assists for 12 games over a 24 game span. Not elite but any means, but it is certainly an improvement for Pavlychev.
The tall Russian forward is coming off a NCAA B1G championship win with Penn State, and there’s no question he’d like to repeat that success (and perhaps more) in an attempt to be an NCAA champion.
Dominik Simon — LW/C/RW
Well, this certainly didn’t turn out how we expected, did it? Let’s start from the beginning-ish.
Dominik Simon started the 2017-18 season with the Baby Penguins, shifting throughout the lineup (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines were all places Simon found himself) where he scored 4 goals and 13 assists for 17 points over 21 games. Simon was an important fixture on the power play, where he had 2 power play goals and 3 power play assists. His shooting percentage was also a lowly 7.7, so perhaps that factored into his low goal total.
Due to injuries in Pittsburgh, however, Simon was recalled a few times before eventually sticking up there, where he currently finds himself on Pittsburgh’s first line with Sidney Crosby and Daniel Sprong (more on him after this.) This includes his first goal in the National Hockey League, which came against Henrik Lundqvist. Not a bad choice, considering Simon’s first assist also came against the “King.”
Over his 11 games in the NHL this year, per Corsica, the following at 5v5 situations can be told about Simon: a corsi-for percentage (CF%) of 57.76, a points per 60 of 1.87, and a drastically (almost worryingly) high expected goals for (xGF) of 7.03. That should be enough to tell you that Simon isn’t exactly the luckiest player when it comes to scoring, and hopefully his luck turns soon. Now, there’s the question of how long Simon will stay up, considering he’s technically a replacement for players like Bryan Rust and Carter Rowney…well, with how he and Sprong (again, later) are playing, can you really justify taking either player out of the lineup? I really do not think you can. Just a great surprise Simon has been, and hopefully his puck luck turns around…now, who was I promising more about before?
Daniel Sprong — RW/LW
Okay, so after Sprong obliterated the QMJHL in his final year with the Charlottetown Islanders, it was pretty obvious that he was gonna obliterate the AHL under Clarke Donatelli’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this year. WOW, WHAT A SURPRISE, he went and did that. In 29 games, Sprong had 18 goals for 28 points (which, even in Pittsburgh, still leads WBS) and consistently played on WBS’ top line, and was consistently trusted with power-play duties on the first unit.
Now, there is a lot of talk how Sprong’s work in the defensive zone and away from the puck leaves something to be desires, and that is fair criticism, but not to the degree he is getting it. The flaws in his defensive game are vastly overstated and with the state the Penguins are in, they aren’t big enough to prevent him from helping the Pens, nor (do I think, at least) that they will hinder his development as an NHL player by letting him get NHL time right now. And that is exactly what Pittsburgh management did about a week ago after Sprong got his second AHL hat trick in about 3 months of playing time there: promote him to the NHL (not to mention he received rookie of the month honors in the AHL for December, AND was named to the AHL All-Star Classic roster.)
Now Sprong is in the NHL, where he’s played four games so far. For the first three of those four games, he was on the third line with Sheahan for the most part. Sprong looked fine, and there wasn’t any outstanding flaws to be seen. But in his fourth game against the divisional rival New York Islanders, head coach Mike Sullivan put Sprong (and Dominik Simon) on the first line with Sidney Crosby. And you know what? By golly, it worked.
Daniel Sprong had two goals and an assist while looking straight up dominant doing so.
Thus far in the limited sample size we have of 2017-18 NHL player Daniel Sprong, which is 8 games, per Corsica, we can see that he’s clocked in the following at 5v5: a 1.91 points per 60 (his primary points per 60 is identical, as all of his points are primary so far); an ASTOUNDING adjusted CF% of 63.02; and an xGF of 5.35. In all situations, Sprong has points per 60 of 1.97 and an xGF of 5.59.
There was a lot of talk while the Penguins were struggling to score about Daniel Sprong, and a lot of it was that he wasn’t the answer to the problem. Well, I agree in that Daniel Sprong will not fix the Pittsburgh Penguins…by his lonesome. I disagree that he isn’t part of the solution. Daniel Sprong has an elite skillset that is hard to find, and I think he has a very bright future on the wing of Sidney Crosby as a violent shooter — maybe the best shooter Crosby has ever had on his wing — and will definitely amass quite an amount of goals if he keeps this up. His sample size under Mike Sullivan backs that hypothesis up pretty darn well. Okay, onto the next prospect, the Daniel Sprong Is Good portion of this report has unfortunately ended.
Freddie Tiffels — LW/C
After finishing his junior season in Western Michigan University and signing with the Penguins, Freddie Tiffels has been spending his first full professional season with the baby Penguins and the Wheeling Nailers.
In the AHL, Tiffels has 1 goal and 1 assists over a 10 game span. His ECHL sample size looks much better though, where he has 4 goals and 8 assists for 12 points over a 15 game span. Tiffels has been used sparingly on the power play, with one of his assists coming on it.
One hopes that things start to look brighter for Tiffels, and the German forward can find his way back to the AHL and find consistency there…then hopefully the NHL thereafter.
Niclas Almari — LHD
Coming hot off of being a champion with HPK in the Jr. A SM-liiga, where he also had the most assists AND points by a defensemen, Niclas Almari has carried his great play into the new season and is definitely trying to prove that he has a future as an NHL-caliber defenseman.
Thus far, Almari has played in two leagues: Liiga and Mestis. With Liiga’s HPK, as a rookie, Almari has played 22 games in which he’s scored 1 goal and 3 assists for 4 points. Additionally, Almari has continually been deployed against the opposition’s toughest competition, and has seemingly gained the trust of the coaching stuff for HPK due to his outstanding play. With LeKi of Mestis, Almari has 4 assists in 12 games.
Additionally, Almari got to play for HPK in the Spengler Cup, where he played 3 games and notched one assist. He also got to play 5 games for Finland’s junior team, internationally.
At the moment, Almari is currently on loan from HPK to Espoo United in Mestis, where he has yet to play a game.
Corey Pronman of The Athletic cites Almari as being a good two-way defenseman that can move the puck “OK.”
Lukas Bengtsson — RHD
After Lukas Bengtsson’s first AHL season last year was cut short due to postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), he was undoubtedly looking to kick things off on the right foot in the 2017-18 season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. And initially he did, with 9 assists in his first 20 games with the team. Though, things haven’t looked so great since then.
Both illness and injury (both unrelated to Bengtsson’s battle with POTS), the Swedish defenseman has been limited to just 20 games. However, in those 20 games, Bengtsson shined as a reliable, offensively-oriented puck mover that skates fantastically, not to mention he makes it look as though he’s been skating on North American ice forever.
When Bengtsson comes back to the lineup, I have no doubt he’ll continue his pace as one of the, if not the best defenseman the baby Penguins currently have.
Something Bengtsson said before the season started stuck with me, and even now, it sticks with me as a quote that you should all associate with him.
“If I did this good with the disease without knowing, how good can I be now, when I know? I’m really excited.” (Thank you to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for giving us this gold.)
Oh, also, extremely encouraging words from Josh Yohe of The Athletic in one of his question and answer pieces: “This is going to be an NHL player. Good skater, good offensive instincts, right-handled. And his defensive work is pretty sound. I was so impressed with him during training camp. I can tell you from conversations I’ve had with people in the front office that the Penguins are particularly big on this kid.”
Dane Birks — RHD
After missing his freshman year due to academic issues, Dane Birks has been progressively getting better in every season he’s played with Michigan Tech, and his senior year is no different. In 25 games, Birks has 4 goals (career high) and 9 assists (career high) for 13 points (career high.) Though, the question of whether Pittsburgh will want to sign him is one that should be asked, and we’ll soon know the answer.
Birks was a WCHA champion with Michigan Tech last year, though they did not win the NCAA championship.
Connor Hall — LHD
After Connor Hall’s 2016-17 season with the Kitchener Rangers was prematurely ended due to shoulder surgery, he’s looking to help the Rangers win the OHL championship — and eventually the Memorial Cup — this year and his health hasn’t held him back thus far. Through 37 games, Hall only has 8 assists, but offensive production isn’t Hall’s strong suit.
Hall is more of a shutdown defenseman that can throw a big hit when needed, and his size and reach definitely assists him in those efforts. Perhaps Hall isn’t a perfect fit for the current system the Pittsburgh Penguins are utilizing, but he is in no way a bad hockey player.
Ryan Jones — LHD
Ryan Jones is currently in his sophomore year with the University of Nebraska-Omaha (where Jake Guentzel played NCAA hockey), and 20 games into his season he’s already matched, and surpassed, his point total from his entire freshman year. Jones currently has 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points.
Zachary Lauzon — LHD
The first pick of the 2017 draft for the Penguins, 51st overall pick Zachary Lauzon is a shutdown defenseman that is currently in his fourth year with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Due to this being his fourth year of junior play, Lauzon will be eligible to play in the AHL next year per the (really fucking stupid) CHL Transfer Agreement, despite not being 20 years old by the time the 2018-19 season will begin. There’s an extremely likely chance that Lauzon will be on the baby Penguins next year (that’s another discussion for another time and I’m admittedly getting WAY ahead of myself), but let’s talk about the progress of the 2017-18 season for him.
An injury kept Lauzon out for a big chunk of the year, but upon his return the Huskies management said that the Huskies have one of the best defensive cores in the QMJHL, per Jean-François Vachon of La Frontière.
Lauzon only having two points in the 11 games he’s played with the Huskies this year may come as alarming, but I wouldn’t be too surprised. Lauzon is more of a shutdown defenseman, with The Athletic’s Corey Pronman admitting he has a low offensive potential, but has a good physical play aspect and skates well.
Joseph Masonius — LHD
Coming off a lackluster sophomore season with the University of Connecticut, Joe Masonius has seemingly rebounded in terms of offensive production, even though Masonius isn’t exactly known for his offense. In 17 games played so far, Masonius has 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points.
Something a bit worrying is his 41 PIMS, hinting toward the fact that he may need to work on his discipline. Hopefully it’s something that’s worked on before UConn gets closer to the end of the regular season.
Antti Palojarvi — LHD
A 2017 6th round pick for the Penguins, Antti Palojarvi has spent his entire season with Lukko’s U20 club in the Jr. A SM-liiga thus far, scoring 2 goals and 7 assists in 31 games played.
Nothing particularly sticks out about Palojarvi (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) in relation to the other prospects in the Penguins organization, but…everyone thinks he looks really young.
I’d be hard pressed to disagree, honestly.
Andrey Pedan — LHD
The concrete return in the Derrick Pouliot trade, Andrey Pedan was, to me, wasn’t exactly the saving grace of the baby Penguins…in fact, when on a pairing with Lukas Bengtsson, I compared it to the Kris Letang-Rob Scuderi pairing from the past.
I was definitely a bit hasty in making that comparison.
In 32 games, Pedan has been a reliable puck-moving defenseman for the Pens, and recently scored a hat trick (?!?!?!?!) to clinch himself the honors of being the CCM/AHL Player of the Week, spanning from January 7th to January 14th. Overall, Pedan currently has 5 goals and 11 assists for 16 points, 2nd in points among Penguins defensemen.
While Pedan doesn’t necessarily have the upside that we thought Pouliot would (and may still have based on some impressive play in Vancouver), Pedan will be a good AHL defenseman for the baby Penguins and perhaps an option for a recall to Pittsburgh, if needed.
Clayton Phillips — LHD
Clayton Phillips’ 2017-18 season has been a pretty wild one.
Starting the season with the USHL’s Fargo Force, Phillips played 3 games and scored 1 goal as well as notched 2 assists for 3 points in that span. Phillips was playing great, but wasn’t particularly getting along with head coach Cary Eades (not the first time a player had a disagreement with Eades), and was eventually traded to the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, where Phillips played 13 games and scored 4 goals as well as notched 5 assists for 9 points.
Additionally, Phillips played 5 games World Junior A Challenge, where he notched 2 assists. The GM of Team USA in the WJAC, Marc Boxer, told The Athletic‘s Corey Pronman that Phillips is a fantastic skater who could move the puck and, additionally, was one of the most talented players in the entire USHL.
Apparently the Minnesota Golden Gophers thought that too, as Phillips left the USHL and decided to enroll with the University of Minnesota for the second half of the season. He’s played 5 games with the team so far.
In my opinion, Phillips is easily one of the most exciting players in Pittsburgh’s development system. An explosive skater that has a knack for offensive is almost too good to be true when it comes to the Penguins defensive prospects. Phillips may be a long term project, but early signs say it’ll fully be worth it…let’s continue to watch his development and see! It’s gonna be a fun ride and hopefully have an even more fun next chapter.
Ethan Prow — RHD
Once a Hobey Baker candidate, Ethan Prow’s first year of professional hockey was a somewhat disappointing one in terms of offensive production — or in terms of just making himself stick out — but he’s doing a bit better in both regards in his second go.
The 25-year-old defenseman has spent most of his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, a 14 game span where he’s scored 1 goal and 7 assists for 8 points (with a worryingly low 5.6 shooting percentage.) Prow has been heavily utilized on the power play, as 4 of his 7 assists have come on the power play.
In Wheeling, Prow has only played 3 games. He was soon recalled back to WBS after this short stint.
While the production he’s shown is better than what he did in his first year (or at least what it was on pace for), it isn’t quite what he showed promise for during his time at St. Cloud University. Things are looking bleak, but here’s hoping things get better for him.
William Reilly — RHD
Drafted with the 217th pick — the last selection of the 2017 NHL draft — “Mr. Irrelevant” for the Penguins was defenseman William Reilly. Currently a sophomore with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Reilly has played 24 games in which he’s scored 7 goals and 5 assists for 12 points.
He’s only 3 points away from reaching his point total from freshman year, and has 11 games to reach it. Things are definitely looking good for Reilly on the offensive front.
Reilly went undrafted in 2015 and 2016, but the Penguins have a knack for developing overagers into successful players (see: Dominik Simon) so don’t let that let you doubt the kid.
Jeff Taylor — LHD
Jeff Taylor is the defenseman that would theoretically fit perfectly into Mike Sullivan’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Offensive dynamo (which is backed up by the fact he’s the 2nd highest scoring defenseman in Union College’s history), played in a similar system to Sullivan’s in Union, and skates extremely well. He’s also been around the Penguins for a while, having been drafted in 2014 by the Pens and having attended all of the training camps since. Though, now he’s done with Union and is playing professional hockey. And it isn’t the best deal for him so far.
He’s played in both Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Wheeling, having played 3 games for the baby Pens (with 1 assists) and 14 for the Nailers (with 2 goals and 6 assists.) I really like the kind of game Taylor plays, and I think Sullivan would (and probably does) too. Once again, here’s hoping things look up for Taylor. His success would mean a lot for the future of Pittsburgh.
Dylan Zink — LHD
Similar to Ethan Prow, the 25-year-old Dylan Zink sadly isn’t displaying the offensive prowess he did in the NCAA, at the professional level.
Zink has played 5 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this year, but the majority of his season has been spent with the Nailers where he’s played 31 games, scoring 3 goals and 9 assists in that span.
Zink’s style of play would have fit in with the Penguins, which makes this all the more bittersweet.
Alex D’Orio — G
Another one of the prospect tournament invitees, Alex D’Orio impressed Penguins brass enough to earn himself a three-year entry level contract.
D’Orio opened the year with the St. Johns Sea Dogs on a very good note, as he had a save percentage of .927 and a goals against average of 2.62 in the month of September. However, since then, things haven’t been so great for the 18-year-old goaltender.
Thus far, over the 28 games D’Orio has played, he has a 3.60 goals against average and a .895 save percentage, which is well below average goaltending. Though, it’s hard to fully blame D’Orio as the Sea Dogs are second to last place in the entire QMJHL. D’Orio’s record with the Sea Dogs is 6-16-4.
Filip Gustavsson — G
Filip Gustavsson is having a pretty great year, all things considered.
This season, Gustavsson has played in two leagues: SuperElit and the SHL. For SuperElit’s Luleå HF J20, Gustavsson has played 7 games, in which he has a 1.71 goals against average, a .925 save percentage, and 2 shutouts. For the SHL’s Luleå HF, Gustavsson has played 11 games in which he has a 2.8 goals against average and a .893 save percentage. However, it’s Gustavsson’s international play this year that is wowing people.
In the World Junior Championships, Gustavsson played 6 games with a 1.81 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. These efforts earned Gustavsson and Sweden a silver medal, as well as earning Gustavsson the accolades of best goals against average in the tournament, best goaltender in the tournament, and being named to the All-Star Team of the players in the tournament.
Recently asked about him, The Athletic‘s Josh Yohe said that the Penguins love Gustavsson. Yohe said he sees Gustavsson as a composed, technically impressive goaltender with a definite NHL future.
Tristan Jarry — G
Before the season started, before training camp as well, I thought the Penguins would begin the year with Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry in net…that was until they signed Antti Niemi to be the backup goaltender for Matt Murray.
So, Jarry started his season with Casey DeSmith in the AHL, as the starter for the baby Penguins. Jarry only played five games for WBS, where he a 3.18 goals against average and a .897 save percentage…though, admittedly, the entirety of the WBS team didn’t exactly burst out the gate with success either. So, Pittsburgh stuck with Antti Niemi as Murray’s backup.
We all know how that went.
Some waiver claim later, Tristan Jarry was backing up Matt Murray, and boy has he ever exceeded expectations. With a current record of 9-3-2, Jarry has a save percentage of .923 (which is #1 among rookies with at least 15 games played, per NBC). At 5v5, per Corsica, he has a low danger save percentage of 97.59, a medium danger save percentage of 91.6, and a high danger save percentage of 78.95.
For now, Tristan Jarry is serving as Pittsburgh’s starter with Casey DeSmith as the backup.
This was the 2017-18 Pittsburgh Penguins mid-term prospect report! I hope you all enjoyed it! Here’s to a successful second half for the Pittsburgh Penguins and all prospects within the organization.