Penguins can’t count on prospect pool to produce impact players
If the Pittsburgh Penguins are to return to the type of championship form they showed in 2016-17, their prospects will have to play a role.
During those back-to-back Stanley Cup seasons, homegrown talents such as Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and others made significant contributions.
Frankly, it seems unlikely the team’s current crop of prospects will make that kind of an impact at the top end. There doesn’t look to be a No. 1 goalie or 40-goal scorer in the bunch.
But at the bottom end, there’s a wide variety of prospects, especially on the wings, capable of providing an injection of youth in the next year or two.
The prospect closest to NHL-ready is probably Providence winger Kasper Bjorkqvist.
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound left wing from Finland is a physical specimen on par with the fittest members of the NHL roster. He’s also a leader in Providence’s locker room.
He plays a two-way game with a bit of an edge. In college, he slowly has been erasing doubts about his offensive ceiling. He had 17 goals and 30 points in 42 games this season for a team that advanced to the Frozen Four.
“The biggest thing is for him to believe in the offensive part of his game,” assistant general manager Bill Guerin said. “He’s so responsible. He has to make sure he believes he can produce.”
Getting Bjorkqvist under contract should be priority for the Penguins this summer. If he returns to college for his senior year, he could become a free agent Aug. 15, 2020.
The fastest-rising forward prospect is Hollidaysburg native Sam Lafferty.
When he turned pro before this season, expectations for the 6-1, 195-pound Brown graduate were low. He looked like the kind of prospect who would have to work on his game at the AHL level for a few years before trying to wedge his way onto an NHL roster.
By the end of this season, he was centering Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s top line and leading the team’s forwards in scoring with 49 points in 70 games.
“He’s really come out of the gates,” Guerin said. “The things that stand out are his competitive nature and his speed. Those are the things that really surprised us.”
The rest of the team’s forward prospects are remarkable in their versatility.
Nikita Pavlychev is a giant, 6-7 center coming off a 14-goal junior season at Penn State.
Jordy Bellerive is a 5-11 sniper who recovered from burns suffered in a campfire explosion last summer to record 33 goals and 83 points in 68 games for Lethbridge of the WHL. He’s set to turn pro in the fall.
Anthony Angello is a 6-5, 210-pound traditional power forward who had 16 goals in 65 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Justin Almeida is an undersized, creative center who led the WHL with 78 assists last season, totaling 111 points in 64 games for Moose Jaw.
On defense, the Penguins don’t have a player knocking down the door to the NHL.
Ethan Prow had an AHL all-star season, recording 18 goals and team-leading 50 points in 74 games in Wilkes-Barre. But, he’s 26 and not a great skater. The Penguins never have show urgency to get him an NHL taste, and now he’s set to hit free agency in July.
The blue-line prospect the team is most excited about is 19-year-old Calen Addison, a 5-10, right-handed offensive threat who had 65 points in 67 games with Lethbridge last season.
“He’s one of these kids that is the new-age defenseman,” Guerin said. “We used to call them undersized. Now he’s mobile and agile.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .