It started, seemingly, with Bryan Rust and Brian Dumoulin. Matt Murray went from who to Stanley Cup Champion in a few weeks. Next rushed in Jake Guentzel (JG) who did the same thing. It’s the story of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Especially the Penguins under General Manager Jim Rutherford and Head Coach Mike Sullivan. The influx of youth is always one call away.
So who will it be this year? Which Penguins prospects are likely to make the leap when injuries come calling and who is most likely to generate buzz in and around the AHL all year?
Guys You’ll Probably See
If the Pittsburgh Penguins had any room you would probably be seeing Teddy in Pittsburgh right now. The Latvian center isn’t huge and he isn’t flashy but he plays perfect Penguins hockey. He’s often out-classing those he’s up against in the AHL which could make his year fun to keep tabs on. Look for him if a center or two goes down. He’s already shown he knows how to hold his own in draws.
This may be a cop-out since there’s a chance he’s going to start the year in Pittsburgh due to some other players being injured… Riikola is arguably the organizations fourth-best defender. His skating is magical and he displays moves we haven’t seen at the blueline since Gonchar was a player. If there are injuries he should play in Pittsburgh. If there aren’t he’ll be in Wilkes. Because he’s making the leap from Europe it will be key for him to play regularly. Plus, he’s waiver exempt so they can be flexible with him. One thing is for sure, he’s looked NHL-ready so far. Unfortunately, like Blueger, there just isn’t a spot for him in Pittsburgh and it doesn’t help either to sit.
If a big PK player goes down you may just see Johnson get a recall. He’s just a monster out there on the disadvantage. Every single PK in Saturday’s pre-season game against Hershey he was taking the puck back up ice. If not for a few wild saves he’d have gotten at least two shorties. His positional awareness was on display and he was excellent at reading weak points to exploit then kicking it into gear and getting down ice quick. I’m pretty sure goalies will have nightmares of 24 swooping in on them on the PP all year.
Miletic had three goals in two games of the pre-season. In the opener, he scored the GWG. He then notched a pair of goals in his second exhibition game, deked the goalie out of his gear just to clang iron, and drew a big penalty before taking home first-star honors. If I had to compare him to a current Penguin I’d pick Bryan Rust. I can’t name one thing yet that he’s noticeably better at than everyone else (maybe skating but so many of the WBS skate so well) but he just does every little thing so solidly.
Guys You May Not See But Will Definitely Hear About
Sam 2 as I’ve decided we’re calling him (as he was the second Sam on the team) has that intriguing combination of snarl and finesse you just can’t get enough of in the NHL. Early in the first period, I watched the AHL rookie knock a Hershey Bear off the puck so hard I was surprised it wasn’t a cross-checking penalty. The fact he’s still a rookie was noticeable as he got knocked off the same puck by another player moments later but you can tell there’s something there because he immediately acquitted himself to getting it back. Has a nice shot on him as well that is almost reminiscent of Phil’s.
Angello is a very large fellow. On the ice, he can be just physically intimidating at times but he’s also a surprisingly good mover and deceptively quick at times. He has a nose for being a pain in the neck (think Patrick Hornqvist) but also for scoring. He can put the puck in the net too so keep an eye on how his scoring develops in the pros.
Just over from Europe Olund is as advertised. He had two pre-season goals and looked fine on the smaller ice. While he didn’t pull a Riikola, look for him to adjust and you could see those goal numbers go up. These three (Angello, Lafferty, and Olund) will be massively important to a WBS Penguins forward corps without Dea and Sprong.