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Ranking the Penguins Top 15+ Forwards in their system

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS PROSPECTS
JUNE 2014 RANKINGS – FORWARDS
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
Leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft and subsequent Player Development Camp, Inside Pittsburgh Sports offers a review of the team’s current prospects. A mediocre group at best, the Penguins lack any top end talent at the forward ranks and little to no sure fire NHL prospects.  The group highlighted by 2012 3rd round pick Oscar Sundqvist, there’s little separation between the top 1-3 prospects to the next 8-10 prospects.
Below are the Inside Pittsburgh Sports current rankings of the forwards in the Penguins’ system.

#1 – Oskar Sundqvist (age: 20)
2013-14 Recap
Recorded 6 goals, 10 assists, and a +6 rating in 51 games in the Swedish Elite League. Added an impressive 4 goals and 2 assists in 13 post-season games. 2013-14 was his first full year of pro hockey after just 14 games in 2012-13. Kept his PIMs to just 16 despite a physical style that is uncommon in Europe and had previously earned him a reputation of being undisciplined.
2014-15 Outlook
Pittsburgh rightfully views him as one of their top forward prospects and made sure to ink him to an entry-level deal in May to retain his rights. Likely to return to Sweden for another season after signing a three-year contract there prior to last season, which contains an out-clause if he chooses to move to North America. Needs to continue his progression and add more bulk to his 6’3” frame in preparation for the more-rugged North American game.
DePaoli’s Scouting Report
There’s no consensus No. 1 forward prospect in the Penguins system but when it comes to a players ceiling, Sundqvist tops the list, though he is far from a sure fire prospect. A versatile player who can play all three positions, Penguins officials feel Sundqvist’s potential could be a two-way third line player. Has great size at 6-foot-3, needs to continue to get stronger and knows how to use his size for a young player. Protects pucks well with his body and is a smart offensive player.

#2 – Jayson Megna (age: 24)
2013-14 Recap
Made a huge leap in 2013-14, earning him time in the NHL. Solid AHL totals with 9 goals, 6 assists, and a +13 rating in 25 games. His plus/minus, in particular, was considerably improved from a -12 the year prior. Put up 5 goals and added 4 assists in 36 games with the Penguins, providing timely, secondary scoring and an ability to make things happen in all 3 zones. Slow finish in the AHL, including just 3 points in 13 playoff games, was his only drawback on the season.
2014-15 Outlook
Will get every opportunity to secure a permanent spot on the NHL roster in training camp. Potential departures of several forwards will create roster space, but Pittsburgh also likely to make off-season moves and free agent signings to fill some openings. Also fit well into Dan Bylsma’s system, and Mike Johnston will implement a fast pace system. Continued improvements into next season could project him as a reliable, two-way forward on the third line.
DePaoli’s Scouting Report
Excellent skater who plays with a pace and gets in hard on the forecheck. Type of player who should excel in a bottom-6 role in today’s NHL and has shown signs of being able to.

#3 – Anton Zlobin (age: 21)
2013-14 Recap
A shoulder injury kept him off the ice for 2013 Development Camp, Rookie Tournament, and training camp. Began his season in Wheeling, but quickly promoted to WBS after 11 points in 10 games with the Nailers. Posted 8 goals and 19 assists in 46 games with WBS and led team’s forwards with a +15 rating. Blossomed in the AHL playoffs with 6 goals and 4 assists in 15 games. Exhibited a well-rounded game after previously being noted only for his offensive dimensions.
2014-15 Outlook
On pace to eventually work his way into the NHL, possibly as early as this season. Projection as a possible Top 6 forward will require more work and patience, which means more AHL time. Penguins’ front office is very high on him and want to devote extra resources to his continued development. Could ultimately be a good fit on a line with Evgeni Malkin if his scoring touch from juniors catches back up with him.
DePaoli’s Scouting Report
Zlobin remains arguably the Penguins most intriguing forward in their system. He’s a boom or bust type prospect. Has a great shot, possessing potential NHL talent and ability to play with skilled players down the road but most importantly has become a player the WBS coaching staff has started to trust due to Zlobin’s much improved defensive play and responsibility in his own end. Big year coming up for him to see if he builds off this year and takes that next step.

#4 – Josh Archibald (age: 21)
2013-14 Recap
Completed an outstanding junior season at U. of Nebraska-Omaha, amassing 29 goals and 14 assists in 37 games. 2nd in NCAA in goals. Team captain as a junior, a role that caused him to skip the 2013 Penguins Development Camp. Signed tryout contract with Pittsburgh in March, getting 7 regular-season and 2 playoff games with WBS. Scored in his second pro game and again in his first playoff game, but had no other points.
2014-15 Outlook
Decision to forego his senior year will put him into pro hockey this season. Natural goal scorer with good speed, solid work ethic, and aggressive style. Has many of the tools the Penguins need in their Bottom 6, but too unrefined to get NHL consideration for at least another year or two. Likely goal is to land a steady spot with WBS.
DePaoli’s Scouting Report
He fits the profile of the type of player the Penguins try to draft. Excellent skater, plays with pace and a lot of competitiveness. Has some key qualities, speed, aggressiveness, ability to finish, where it wouldn’t be a shock to see him develop into a third line NHL player in a few years.

#5 – Scott Wilson (age: 22)
2013-14 Recap
Dropped to 19 points in 31 games after posting 38 points in 41 games his previous season at UMass-Lowell. Various injuries hampered his season, but output of only 7 goals is still quite alarming. Joined Wilkes-Barre at the end of the season, dressing for 1 game without making the scoresheet.
2014-15 Outlook
Chose to sign an entry-level contract after his junior year at UMass-Lowell so will play at the professional level this season. Once a lock to land in WBS, he may fall to Wheeling if he still needs a chance to recapture his game.
DePaoli’s Scouting Report
Down season aside, team officials felt Wilson was developed enough to turn pro. A good mix of skill, grit, two-way ability. Has some finishing ability and he makes up for his ideal lack of size for being a tenacious hitter. Has aspects of his game that the Penguins feel will translate to the pro hockey level

#6 – Conor Sheary (age: 22)
2013-14 Recap
Signed tryout contract with Wilkes-Barre as an undrafted free agent after completing his senior season at UMass-Amherst. Put up a modest 9 goals and 19 assists in 34 games at UMA. Surprised everyone with a tremendous post-season in the AHL, tallying 6 goals and 5 assists in 15 games, including 6 points in a span of 5 games in the second round. More polished than expected from an unheralded college player.
2014-15 Outlook
Made such a huge splash in the AHL playoffs that he jumps high up the list of forward prospects in the system. Undersized at 5’8”, but quick and cunning in his approach. Will be watched carefully this summer to determine if he’s a flash-in-the-pan or a legitimate prospect to produce at the pro level, but team management seems to think very favorable of him already and feel he is a Brian Gibbons type.

#7 – Jean-Sebastian Dea (age: 20)
2013-14 Recap
Had another outstanding offensive campaign in the QMJHL with 49 goals in 65 games. Drop in assists from 40 to 26 and plus/minus from +21 to +4 from previous season is a concern but partially attributed to lower-scoring team. Recording 112 goals in past 148 games (including playoffs) in the QMJHL speaks directly to his vast offensive talents. Played just 1 game with WBS after signing an entry-level contract and did not dress for any playoff games.
2014-15 Outlook
Small stature (155 lbs and not nearly the 6’0” for which he is listed) may hold him back from making any immediate impact in pro hockey, but too talented to be overlooked. Likely to play out another year of juniors, where he can improve his size and his all-around game in preparation for a full season with WBS in 2015-16.

#8 – Adam Payerl (age: 23)
2013-14 Recap
Drew rave reviews after a surprising performance in both the 2013 AHL playoffs and 2013 Penguins Development Camp, but returned to Earth over the winter. 5 goals and 6 assists in 43 AHL games, which was disrupted by an upper-body injury in November. Only a 1 point improvement over the previous season in 1 less game. A goal and an assist in the AHL playoffs. But still earned 2 games with the NHL club late in the season, registering 2 PIMs and a -1 rating.
2014-15 Outlook
Inconsistencies will put him back in Wilkes-Barre, where a breakthrough year will be needed to keep him on the Penguins’ radar. That starts with another productive Development Camp. Ideally, Payerl becomes the type of gritty power forward the Penguins need on their fourth line. At best, that is still a half a season away, but likely longer.

#9 – Tom Kuhnhackl (age: 22)
2013-14 Recap
Poised for a break-thru campaign but instead went the other direction. Played 48 games with Wilkes-Barre – scoring 8 goals – before being demoted to Wheeling. Fueled a strong late-season and post-season run for the Nailers with 13 goals in 26 combined games. Returned to WBS to play 2 games in the AHL playoffs, failing to register a point.
2014-15 Outlook
All the tools but still needs a toolbox. Injuries are no longer a distraction but the Penguins can no longer afford to hold back other wingers over him. Will likely get another shot with WBS this season, where he needs to show progress. Final year of his contract, so a lack of production could cast him out of the system.

#10 – Jake Guentzel (age: 19)
2013-14 Recap
Had an impactful freshman season at the U. of Nebraska-Omaha, compiling 7 goals and 27 assists in 37 games. Finished season with a 6-game point streak. Offensive production matches the tremendous totals he had in the USHL the year prior (73 points in 60 games) and the puck and skating skills he displayed at the 2013 Development Camp.
2014-15 Outlook
A lock to return to UNO for at least one more season, if not longer. Focus will be on adding bulk and strength to his small frame. Scoring ability has potential to make him a force every night and an elite forward in college hockey. Has a chance to make a big move on the prospect board over the next year.

#11 – Teddy Blueger (age: 19)
2013-14 Recap
Had 4 goals and 22 assists in 40 games as a sophomore at Minnesota State. Disappointing goal total after 6 goals the previous season and after scoring 3 goals in his first 6 games to start this season. 9 points in his last 8 games gives some tangible hope for improved offensive output. Continues to bulk up, which was previously a notable hindrance in his game.
2014-15 Outlook
Likely to play out his final two seasons at Minnesota State before being offered a pro contract. Untapped offensive potential needs to emerge at some point for that to happen. Penguins can afford to remain patient with him at age 19 but would like to re-establish the confidence that caused him to be chosen in the 2nd round in 2012.

#12 – Dominik Uher (age: 21)
2013-14 Recap
Racked up 7 goals and 16 assists in 68 games with Wilkes-Barre after posting just 7 points in 53 games the year prior. Moderately inconsistent through the middle of the year but found ways to contribute every night, finishing as a +9. Playoff performance tailed off with only 1 goal and no assists in 12 games.
2014-15 Outlook
Further substantial improvements to his game will earn him a more-prominent role with WBS this season. Not likely to get much of a look for an NHL spot yet, but trending in that direction as a reliable player to fill holes as a call-up. Final year of his contract, so also working towards an extension.

#13 – Bryan Rust (age: 22)
2013-14 Recap
Completed his senior year at Notre Dame with 17 goals and 16 assists in 40 games. Goal total was a career-high since joining the US National Development Team in 2008. Joined Wilkes-Barre late in the season but had no points in 2 regular-season games and 1 playoff contest. Improved and refined all aspects of his game to be a solid, two-way winger.
2014-15 Outlook
Poised to begin his first full season in pro hockey, with WBS being his likely destination. Will need to make his mark in pro hockey as a rugged and reliable winger. Offensive skills have leveled off a bit too much to be a true Top 6 forward, but a checking-line role suits him well with his improved play in the defensive zone.

#14 – Carter Rowney (age: 25)
2013-14 Recap
Earned a spot in the Pittsburgh system with a strong showing last summer. Played half the season in Wheeling, where consistent production and two-way play earned him a call up to Wilkes-Barre. Posted 13 goals, 31 assists, and a +23 rating in 39 games in the ECHL. Added 2 goals and 2 assists in 24 AHL games but was a -2. Dressed for 7 of 17 playoff games for WBS, recording 2 assists.
2014-15 Outlook
Strong showing in his first full pro season sets him up for ample opportunities in WBS this season. Great size (6’2”, 208) and contributions at both ends could push him beyond any previously foreseen limitations. Now at age 25, he needs another big step forward this season to ever get NHL consideration.

#15 – Matia Marcantuoni (age: 20)
2013-14 Recap
Good offensive output in the OHL in 13-14 after a down season in 12-13, but a wretched -30 rating this past season is the number that stands out the most. Produced 15 goals and 17 assists in 54 games. Played in 1 game with Wilkes-Barre late in the season after invoking the entry-level contract he signed in October.
2014-15 Outlook
A roller-coaster OHL career leaves plenty of questions about where he will land in his first year at the pro level. Tremendous speed is his biggest asset. Best projects as a high-energy, checking-line player that forechecks hard and stirs the pot, but will need to improve his defensive play to fulfill that promise in the Penguins system. Penguins love his speed.

#16 – Blaine Byron (age: 19)
2013-14 Recap
Encouraging freshman year at Maine, netting 8 goals and 8 assists in 32 games.
2014-15 Outlook
Will return to Maine for his sophomore year and likely to play at least through his junior season there. Continued improvements to his all-around game and physical strength could see him emerging as a very promising prospect.

#17 – Troy Josephs (age: 20)
2013-14 Recap
Completed his freshman season at Clarkson with 2 goals and 3 assists in 33 games.
2014-15 Outlook
Will play out all of his remaining eligibility at Clarkson, where he will be viewed as a long-term project for the Penguins.

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Dave Fryer

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