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Penguins GM Rutherford 'feels good' about Penguins young prospects

| Thursday, March 9, 2017, 7:24 p.m.
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Penguins forward Jake Guentzel skates against the Islanders on Nov. 30, 2016 in Brooklyn.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel sets up beside Sabres goaltender Andres Nilsson in the third period Sunday, March 5, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

General manager Jim Rutherford avoided dealing away young players for rentals at the last two NHL trade deadlines, and as a result, he's pleased with the population of the Penguins' prospect pipeline.

At the top, Jake Guentzel is making an NHL impact in his first pro season, and Daniel Sprong, who had four goals and three assists in his most recent Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game Wednesday night, has given tantalizing glimpses of his future.

There are few blue chippers beyond that, but the system has plenty of potential role players with the tools to thrive if put in the right situation like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl did last season.

“I feel good about our prospects, and not only about them, but I feel good about how they get here,” Rutherford said. “We always have a good coaching staff in Wilkes-Barre. With Billy Guerin and Mark Recchi, we have a very good development system. The players have stuck to the plan that those guys have put together, and because of that, we've been able to get some very good young players here.”

Here is a look at the organization's top 10 prospects age 23 and under. Players are listed with position, age, height, weight, 2016-17 team, games played, goals, assists and points.

1. JAKE GUENTZEL

LW, 22, 5-11, 180

2016-17: Penguins (NHL) 28, 9-8—17

He doesn't have the eye-popping high-end skill that Sprong does, but everyone in the organization raves about Guentzel. He's got great speed and hockey sense and isn't fazed by playing with top players. His lack of size is a concern, but it doesn't seem to be a deal-breaker. “He gets knocked down, but the next time, he's going right back in there and utilizing his smarts to somehow win that one-on-one battle,” associate GM Jason Botterill said.

2. DANIEL SPRONG

RW, 19, 6-0, 180

2016-17: Charlottetown (QMJHL) 26, 30-20—50

It's dangerous to put too much stock in a 19-year-old's stats in juniors, but Sprong's jump off the page. And his natural gifts are off the charts. “The things he needs to improve on are things our coaches really believe they can help players with,” Botterill said. “Shooting the puck, finding the net, the knack to score goals — that's something that's a little more difficult to learn.” Sprong likely will join Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when his junior season is complete. An NHL call-up from there is unlikely but possible.

3. DERRICK POULIOT

D, 23, 6-0, 208

2016-17: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 33, 5-9—14

The Penguins haven't given up on the slow-developing Pouliot for two main reasons. First, he has all the physical tools to be a prototypical pace-pushing modern defenseman. Second, they cite Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres as other defense prospects who didn't click until their fourth season. Pouliot is a third-year pro. “Because of where Derrick was drafted and having some success in the National Hockey League that first year, things have maybe not gone as planned, but when he's on, we still view him extremely positively,” Botterill said.

4. TRISTAN JARRY

G, 21, 6-2, 185

2016-17: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 23-13-0, 2.29, .920

After sputtering down the stretch last season, Jarry has upped his competitiveness and consistency this year. He's in line to be Matt Murray's backup in the fall.

5. OSKAR SUNDQVIST

C, 22, 6-3, 210

2016-17: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) 53, 16-23—39

The Penguins asked Sundqvist to work on his offensive game in Wilkes-Barre this season, and he complied, especially in the first half of the year. He's on track for full-time NHL duty soon.

6. FILIP GUSTAVSSON

G, 18, 6-2, 184

2016-17: Lulea (Sweden) 4-10-0, 2.70, .912

Gustavsson hasn't played as much as the Penguins would have liked, whether in Sweden's top league or in the World Junior Championships, but they remain enamored with his positioning and mental make-up.

7. CONNOR HALL

D, 18, 6-3, 190

2016-17: Kitchener (OHL) 17, 1-2—3

Shoulder surgery ended his season, but Hall has a combination of puck-moving ability and ornery edge that is hard to find in defensive prospects.

8. DOMINIK SIMON

RW, 22, 5-11, 175

2016-17: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)56, 9-26—36

After 25 goals as an AHL rookie, Simon hit a sophomore slump. He has to figure out how to make his offensive game work against top competition like Guentzel, Sheary and Rust did before him.

9. ANTHONY ANGELLO

C, 21, 6-5, 205

2016-17: Cornell (NCAA) 29, 10-6—16

His numbers aren't as impressive as his 24-point freshman year, but 6-foot-5 centers who can handle the puck don't grow on trees.

10. JEFF TAYLOR

D, 22, 5-11, 181

2016-17: Union (NCAA) 34, 9-22—31

Puck mover bounced back from a poor junior year to rank in the top five in college hockey in defenseman scoring. He fits the Penguins system well.

THE NEXT 10

11. Kasper Bjorkqvist, RW, Providence (NCAA). 12. Teddy Blueger, C, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL). 13. Thomas DiPauli, C, WBS. 14. Ethan Prow, D, WBS. 15. Troy Josephs, C, Clarkson (NCAA). 16. Sean Maguire, G, Wheeling (ECHL). 17. Blaine Byron, C, Maine (NCAA). 18. Nikita Pavlychev, C, Penn State (NCAA). 19. Niclas Almari, D, HPK Hameenlinna (Finland). 19. Sam Lafferty, RW, Brown (NCAA).

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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