The Pittsburgh Penguins are a perennial powerhouse in the NHL.
However, this reality could come to an abrupt end in the near future.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, their core of star players is slowly beginning to age while little help is on the way in the form of elite young prospects. Sure, the likes of Daniel Sprong and Tristan Jarry will play significant roles for the franchise in the coming years, yet a lack of numerous quality prospects within their farm system could pose a serious risk to Pittsburgh’s long-term sustainability.
Stanley Cups: Five
2017-18 Record: 47-29-6; 100 Points
2017-18 Top Scorer: Evgeni Malkin; 42G, 56A, 98PTS
Farm System Grade: C-
Top 10 Prospects:
- Calen Addison
- Filip Hallander
- Zach Aston-Reese
- Filip Hallander
- Juuso Riikola
- Jordan Bellerive
- Teodors Blugers
- Adam Johnson
- Kasper Bjorkqvist
- Justin Almeida
The State of the Penguins’ Farm System
The Penguins’ farm system isn’t in a great state.
In fact, Pittsburgh’s prospect pool is amongst the weakest in the NHL today.
Standing atop the Penguins’ farm system is Calen Addison, the 53rd overall choice in the 2018 NHL Draft. Currently skating for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL, Addison is a slick, puck-moving defenceman with natural offensive instincts. Although his defensive game remains a work in progress, Addison’s two-way game makes him a prospect of solid upside for Pittsburgh.
In addition to Addison, the Penguins boast an uber-talented ‘Swede in Filip Hallander. Also nabbed by the franchise in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft, Hallander is a competitive two-way forward who can be counted upon to make an impact in all three zones. Known for his strong shot and ample puck-moving abilities, Hallander is already skating for Timra IK at the SHL-level at the age of 18-years — although his NHL arrival remains more than a few years away.
Shoring up the primary class of Pittsburgh prospects is Zach Aston-Reese — a sizeable and strong forward who is arguably NHL ready as of this season. With 16 regular season games and an additional nine playoff contests with the Penguins already under his belt, Aston-Reese has displayed the physicality and vision necessary to skate at the next level. Although he began the 2018-19 season at the AHL-level, don’t expect his latest stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to last long.
Following these three prospects in particular, the Penguins experience a significant drop-off within their farm system. Now, this is not to say that the likes of Lukas Bengtsson, Teodors Blugers, and Adam Johnson won’t become everyday NHL players, but rather that this group of secondary prospects remains years away — if not longer — from making an impact in Pittsburgh.
Amplifying the poor state of the Penguins’ prospect pool is the fact that the team is rather limited heading into its future from a positional standpoint. Yes, the franchise boasts a decent mix of forwards, but Pittsburgh arguably lacks a standout defence prospect while standing remarkably thin in-goal. If the Penguins wish to improve their farm system in the immediate future, focusing on positional versatility at the annual NHL Draft would be a promising start.
Also, holding onto their 2019 first round draft choice would be wise, too — Pittsburgh hasn’t selected a prospect in the first round since nabbing Kasperi Kapanen at 22nd overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.
One Penguins Prospect to Watch
Since both Daniel Sprong and Tristan Jarry are no longer considered NHL rookies, let’s take a moment to analyze one Penguins prospect poised to leave a lasting impression in his inaugural campaign.
Despite standing as somewhat of a wildcard heading into the 2018-19 NHL season, Juuso Riikola is a young defenceman who could become a pleasant surprise for Pittsburgh this year. Although he is slightly older than most NHL rookies at the age of 24-years, Riikola boasts considerable poise and confidence given his six years of experience playing at the Liiga-level in Finland.
Well-known for stellar two-way game, Riikola is an excellent skater who uses his speed and agility to his advantage. Capable of rushing the puck up ice as well as joining his team’s attack, Riikola can provide an offensive punch from the blue line owing to his innate offensive instincts.
What’s more is that Riikola uses these same skills to dismantle plays devised by his opposition in the defensive zone. Quick to smother opposing forwards, Riikola uses an active stick to dislodge the puck before transitioning possession to his teammates. And, given he is playing for the Penguins, Riikola’s ability to do so should supplement Pittsburgh’s attack while padding his personal point total in the process.
As a defender capable of competing in all three zones and one not afraid to take calculated risks, Riikola could prove to be a long-term addition to the Penguins’ blue line.