Every NHL team has a pile of prospects. If you don’t, well, you’re screwed. The Pittsburgh Penguins are no different. For the sake of all of our sanity, we should break prospects down into three buckets. Players on NHL deals, players on AHL deals, and others.
Others, in this case, include unsigned draft choices (usually called UDCs at development camps) and College or Major Junior free agents the team invites to their summer showcases with the idea being maybe they’ll get a deal (think Adam Johnson or Sam Miletic).
Players can move from bucket to bucket with the most ideal one being Players on NHL deals because they’re the ones who can be called up to the show. Examples of this recently include Conor Sheary who went from an ATO/AHL only deal to a two-way AHL/NHL deal and then to a one-way, NHL only deal. Now, within each bucket, there are different circumstances and types of contracts which can make things more confusing.
However, if you’re just looking to assess the prospect pool for need and break down who is set to move tier to tier? These three buckets are the place to start. So that’s what we’re doing today. Just going over who the Penguins have or have to make a decision about this summer with regards to their prospects. Look out for some more in-depth looks at players and situations throughout the off-season, this is just the start.
Players on NHL Deals (expiry status)
Justin Almedia (signed)
Anthony Angello (signed)
Linus Olund (signed)
Sam Lafferty (signed)
Jordy Bellerive (signed)
Sam Miletic (signed)
Ryan Haggerty (signed)
Jan Drozg (signed)
Jake Lucchini (signed)
Alex D’Orio (signed)
Tristan Jarry (signed)
Chris Wideman (UFA)
Kevin Czuczman (UFA)
Thomas DiPauli** (UFA)
Ethan Prow** (UFA)
Chris Summers (UFA)
John Muse (UFA)
Blake Siebenhaler (RFA)
Macoy Erkamps* (RFA)
Juuso Riikola* (RFA)
Joseph Cramarossa* (RFA)
Joseph Blandisi* (RFA)
Adam Johnson* (RFA)
Jeff Taylor* (RFA)
Calen Addison (Signed on NHL deal – ineligible for the AHL)
* = arbitration eligible
**=group VI UFA
Of the six UFAs in this bucket, four are defensemen. John Muse, the only goalie, did not impress me at all this season. I’d like to guess he won’t be back. Why would he? He didn’t have a great experience with the team being assigned to Wheeling for most of the season. Additionally, I like D’Orio, who will be a rookie next season so I’m not sure they need Muse. Ethan Prow and Thomas DiPauli will become UFAs by the nature of their age and years of service. The team’s invested time in Prow already so, in my opinion, it makes sense to bring the second-team AHL All-Star back. And DiPauli had what one may call a lost season this year due to injuries so I imagine the team and he will work something out, should he want to, to continue being a part of the organization. I think one of Summers, Czuczman, or Trotman coming back is also pretty likely to give the team someone they can depend on if the blue line in Pittsburgh gets the plague again. But, if they’re replaced with rookies, it wouldn’t shock or upset me. A lot of WBS issues this year came down to too many meh career AHLers and not enough great young rookies, look for that to change.
The RFAs here are trickier. But we should know rather quickly who the team is looking to retain as they’ll extend qualifying offers to them. Furthermore, I expect a couple of these guys to be back. Specifically Johnson, and Riikola. Riikola is a unique case as he spent most of his season in the NHL only departing late in the year – I think he would probably have been better served in the AHL this year but injuries to Schultz, Letang, and Maatta made him necessary up in the NHL.
Not listed are Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, and Marcus Pettersson, because they finished the year in the NHL. But technically all three are still prospects. All three are pending RFAs. The team loves them all and I expect them to work to deals with each of them. Tristan Jarry finds himself in a unique position as well. Next year, though he is still under contract, he will begin to need waivers to move from the NHL to the AHL. So keep an eye on him (or Casey DeSmith) this summer especially as the NHL team will likely look to make some changes given the way the playoffs has gone.
Players on AHL Deals
Chase Berger (signed)
Brandon Hawkins (signed)
Michael Kim (signed)
Matt O’Connor (coming off an ATO)
Jon Lizotte (coming off an ATO)
This is a big pool of mostly unsigned players that I imagine will largely remain undecided until later in the summer. Berger, Hawkins, and Kim will be on the WBS team next year. As will some of the NHLs draft choices like Drozg and Bellerive. That means the names not marked as signed here will be largely hit or miss depending on what demands the roster has. I’d expect Burton and Abt to return though as both are great players when kept in appropriate roles. Both Jon Lizotte and Matt O’Connor were on ATOs to end the season with WBS. Depending on how the goalie situation plays out I’d look for O’Connor to be back and while I was not impressed by Lizotte’s on-ice movement he’s still young, has a bomb of a shot, and could get an AHL deal if they have the roster space. The final name I want to mention here is Hirano, the Japanese born and trained player is such a great story. His single AHL game to end the season produced a point and he had a respectable total in Wheeling this year, I’d like to think he’ll return as well.
Others (Draft Class, where they played last year)
Filip Hållander (2018, Timrå IK, SHL)
Liam Gorman (2018, BU, NCAA)
Zachary Lauzon (2017, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL)
Clayton Phillips (2017, Minnesota, NCAA)
Antti Palojarvi (2017, Lukko, Liiga U20)
William Reilly (2017, RPI, NCAA)
Ryan Jones (2016, Nebraska-Omaha, NCAA)
Kasper Bjorkqvist (2016, Providence, NCAA)
Nikita Pavlychev (2015, Penn State, NCAA)
These players (and any they may draft in 2019) are all up in the air. The only one actually signed is Filip Hållander but I haven’t seen news if he’s expected to come to North America in 2019 or stay on loan in Europe. Perhaps they will not decide until after the draft. Stay tuned on that.
The other interesting names are the three oldest players on this list. Jones, Bjorkqvist and Pavlychev are all college hockey players who just finished their junior years. These players, however, may be looking to finish their degrees. Bjorkqvist went to the Frozen Four with Providence College and is rumored to want to remain with the school for another year. Pavlychev had an offensive break out season of sorts and played in the Big Ten Championship game for Penn State. Ryan Jones, playing at the alma mater of fellow Penguin Jake Guentzel the University of Nebraska-Omaha, is the lone defenseman here and also appears to want to finish his senior season. There’s no problem with this path as it’s the one current Penguins forward Teddy Blueger recently took. But it would be a surprise for any of them to go pro this summer.
Meanwhile, Lauzon, unless he pulls an Olli Maatta, will be heading back to his junior team next year in the QMJHL even if he signs this summer, due to transfer rules. And European Antti Palojarvi is in the same situation as Hållander. While he doesn’t have a deal, he still would need to be brought over and would need to be out of any contract in his home country of Finland.
The final note here is to keep an eye on that first round Penguins pick. The Penguins have not made a selection in the first round that has developed and played with the team since Olli Maatta. And this year that pick could be pretty high. Keep an eye on who they take and how they impact the overall look of the team’s prospect pool. Additionally, don’t be surprised if some “smaller” parts from the NHL club get moved this summer to add to the draft picks. After a season that was in many ways underwhelming, a reset should be expected and how that impacts the prospect pool and the way Guerin puts his line-up together for 2019-2020 will be interesting.