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(PHN Extra) PHN’s Top 10 Penguins Prospects List; Nos. 6-10

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Thomas DiPauli: Courtesy of WBS Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have several prospects knocking on the door for NHL ice. However, after 12 straight playoff seasons and nearly annual trades which surrender their first-round draft choice, the Penguins 2018-19 prospect pool is not deep. Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Top 10 Prospects list includes only one defenseman and the Penguins are without a defenseman prospect who projects to the NHL before 2020-21.

The bottom half of the Top 10 Prospects list does include several large forwards who fit the Penguins recent push for size and physicality and could become bottom-six forwards at the NHL level. Though none of the players from No. 6-10 are likely to be ready for the NHL this season, next season a couple of the young forwards could make serious bids to reach their dreams.

Pittsburgh Hockey Now used video, scouting compilations, public discussions with the Penguins development staff and some private discussions with knowledgeable sources willing to share player insights. The ratings are based on a subjective mix of estimated time to the NHL and overall potential. The NHL projection date is the first time we project the player to play in the NHL, not necessarily when he will earn a regular roster spot.

10. Kasper Bjorkqvist, 6′-1″, 198 pounds. RW (Providence College)

This summer, PHN has asked Providence Friars head coach Nate Leaman, Providence media and Penguins Director of Player Development Scott Young about Bjorkvist. Young touted Bjorkqvist’s physical workout regimen, “Have you seen him in a t-shirt?”

Leaman touted Bjrokvist’s work to improve his speed and edge work, on which his NHL potential hinges.

Bjorkvist is a physical, gritty forward who likes to go to the front of the net. He has drawn some comparison to the Penguins Patric Hornqvist, though he is not seen as a top-six NHL forward. Bjorkvist took a large step forward in his sophomore year. After only nine points as a freshman, Bjrokvist scored 23 points (16g, 7a) in his second season.

Bjorkqivst is likely to finish four seasons at Providence College before turning pro. He must continue to improve his skating to play at the NHL level.

NHL Projection: 2021-22

9. Linus Olund, 5′-11″, 185 pounds. Center (Brynas, SweHL).

Olund, 21, is a Swedish center which good stick handling skills, whom the Penguins signed to his three-year entry-level deal in April. Olund (pronounced O-loond) just finished his third full season in the Swedish Elite League. Already playing against men, the young center scored 23 points (8g, 15a) in 51 games. He was strong in the playoffs, too. Olund scored five points (2g, 3a) in eight playoff games.

He reported to the WBS Penguins after signing his ELC in April. He did not play in any games, however, PHN was cautioned against overlooking Olund, “Don’t sleep on Olund” said one source. Despite facing an adjustment to the smaller North American ice surface and new culture, optimism surrounds Olund.

Olund was the Penguins fifth-round selection in 2017 (155th overall). He possesses a strong two-way game with a slick shot and good skating ability. The Penguins may have gotten a steal in the fifth-round. His first year in North America figures to be an adjustment period, but he could be much higher on the list, next year.

NHL Projection: Mid-season 2020-21

8. Anthony Angello, 6′-5″, 210 pounds. Center (Cornell, WBS Penguins)

PHN was told publicly and privately, the Penguins development team is excited for Angello. He fits the Penguins lurch towards larger, stronger, physical players who can skate. As a junior last season, Angello was a driving force behind Cornell’s 11-game unbeaten streak and ascension to the top of the NCAA polls. he scored 26 points (13g, 13a) in 33 games and anchored the “JAM” line with Jeff Kubiak and Mitch Vanderlaan.

Angello, 22, played a couple regular season games for the WBS Penguins, and two more playoff games. He scored a pair of playoff goals by driving to the net. He possesses intangibles like a strong hockey IQ and is an intense player. He projects as a solid fourth line contributor at the NHL level. He was the Penguins’ fifth-round selection (145th overall) in 2014.

NHL Projection: Mid-season 2019-20

7. Calen Addison, 5′-11″, 179 pounds. Defenseman (Lethbridge, WHL)

Addison, 18, was the Penguins’ first 2018 second-round selection. Addison is a slick skating offensive defenseman who put up big numbers in his second WHL season. He scored 65 points (11g, 54a) in 68 games and was largely credited with carrying the Lethbridge Hurricanes to the WHL playoff despite the Hurricanes being sellers at the trade deadline. Addison’s surge continued in the playoffs, too. He posted 19 points (7g, 12a) in just 16 games.

As a touted second-round pick, Addison’s ceiling is easily the highest on this list, though it could be four years or more before he hits NHL ice. The Penguins hope Addison will be a top-four defenseman able to run the power play. He was not a dominant force at the recent Penguins rookie camp and will need to continue to fill out his 5-foot-11 frame to play at the highest level.

Addison is also the only defenseman on PHN’s Top 10 Prospects list. The Penguins cupboard is bare, so when Addison is ready, he will have a clear path in front of him to the NHL.

NHL Projection: 2021-22

6. Thomas DiPauli, 5′-11″, 178 pounds. Forward (WBS Penguins)

DiPauli, 24, is the wild-card on the list. He battled through steep adversity in his first two seasons. The Notre Dame product opened a lot of eyes with a strong 2016 training camp, but a lingering back issue that required surgery and subsequent injury issues robbed him of his first professional year and limited him to 58 games last year. Sadly, DiPauli lost his father, suddenly, which also affected his second professional season.

DiPauli is fast and provides the WBS Penguins with a tenacious forecheck, much like former Notre Dame teammate Bryan Rust. DiPauli can be relentless, too. At 24-years-old, DiPauli’s time is now. With a strong start to the season, he will be a contender for NHL ice, should the Penguins have injury issues. He is blocked at center, as he would currently be no better than eighth on the depth chart, behind Teddy Blueger and the crop of NHL centers.

Watch the forecheck and nifty move in the video.

NHL Projection: 2019-20

 

(PHN Extra) Top 10 Penguins Prospects List: Hallander to Jarry, Nos. 1-5

Pittsburgh Hockey Now used video, scouting compilations, public discussions with the Penguins development staff and some private discussions with knowledgeable sources willing to share player insights. The ratings are based on a subjective mix of estimated time to the NHL and overall potential. The NHL projection date is the first time we project the player to play in the NHL, not necessarily when he will earn a regular roster spot.

*Pittsburgh Hockey Now made the subjective decision to exclude Daniel Sprong from the prospects list because his two-year contract is a one-way deal. If PHN included Sprong, he would have been ranked No. 2.

5. Filip Hallander, 6′-1″, 190 pounds. LW (Timra IK, Swe-1)

The Penguins traded up in the 2018 NHL draft to snag Hallander. After the Penguins picked Calen Addison with the 55th pick, they quickly swung a deal with the Colorado Avalanche to get back on the clock with the 58th pick. Hallander, a tough Swede who plays a strong two-way game, was their target.

Hallander, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, has been a part of Sweden’s national junior teams each season since was was 16-years-old and figures to be a part of this year’s Swedish World Junior Championship club and play in the Swedish Elite League. Scouts use words like “feisty” and “competitive” to describe Hallander, who suffered a knee injury last season, which limited his productivity. As a result of the injury, scouting reports vary on his skating ability.

Hallander, 18, scored 20 points (9g, 11a) in 40 games last season but was a stand-out in the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament. Hallander scored four points (3g, 1) in five games. His path to the NHL could be short as his aggressive style will transfer well to the smaller North American ice surface.

NHL Projection: 2020-21

4. Jordy Bellerive, 5′-10″, 196 pounds. Center (Lethbridge, WHL)

Bellerive, 19, came to the Penguins rookie camp as an undrafted free agent. After the camp and rookie tournament in which he scored a hat trick against the New Jersey Devils rookie team, he left with a contract and fans wanting to see more. According to Dobber Prospects, Bellerive is an “antagonistic” center. His frame is easily projectable to the NHL, and his point totals skyrocketed each season from 36 points (11g, 25a) in 2015-16 to 92 points (46g, 46a) in 2017-18.

Bellerive was injured in June by a fire at a party, and did not attend the Penguins development camp and was forced to withdraw from Team Canada’s World Junior Summer Showcase, held this week. His recovery is reportedly going well, though a timeline for his return to Lethbridge has not been defined.

Bellerive could make a splash with the Penguins. He is a good skater with some offensive upside but plays with an edge. He has significantly improved each season.

NHL Projection: Mid-2021-22

3. Teddy Blueger, 6′-0″, 185 pounds. Center (WBS Penguins, AHL)

Blueger, who will turn 24 this month, was set to challenge for an NHL sweater at training camp, but the Penguins stockpile of fourth line centers likely means the Latvian native will begin his third professional season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Blueger plays with speed and tenacity. WBS Penguins broadcaster Nick Hart happily relayed the story to PHN of Blueger’s dedication.

“After the (WBS) Penguins playoff loss to the Checkers, coaches went around the room shaking hands. Players were hugging and saying goodbye. But then Blueger hit the gym that night to work out,” said Hart.

Growing up, Blueger idolized Penguins star Sidney Crosby and emulated Crosby’s work ethic. Folks around the WBS Penguins really like Blueger, who was the Penguins second-round choice in 2012 (52nd overall).

At the 2017 Penguins training camp, Blueger was amped. He displayed speed and a tenacious forecheck but was perhaps a little too excited for his big opportunity. Blueger wasn’t strong positionally in camp and got caught chasing pucks. However, his energy and speed were undeniable. Last season in the AHL, Blueger scored 21 goals last season with 24 assists in 70 games.

NHL Projection: Mid-2018-19

2. Zach Aston-Reese, 6′-0, 204 pounds. Forward (WBS Penguins, Pittsburgh Penguins)

Aston-Reese, 23, is the second undrafted player in the top-five of PHN’s list of Penguins prospects. He played out his college career at Northeastern and scored 63 points (31g, 32a) his senior season. After his senior season in 2016-17, he signed with the Penguins as a free agent and immediately contributed to the WBS Penguins. Aston-Reese scored eight points (5g, 3a) in his first 10 professional games.

Last season, the stocky winger with a taste for the front of the net, scored 29 points (9g, 20a) in 41 games before getting the call to the NHL. Aston-Reese is strong on the wall and likes to go to the net. He still lacks in the skating department but has improved. He scored 6 points (4g, 2a) with the Penguins in the regular season. Aston-Reese had one assist in nine playoff games before Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson ended his season with a vicious hit to the head in which Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw and concussion.

Aston-Reese will need to improve his skating to become a top-six NHL winger, but he could lock down a roster spot this season in the Penguins bottom-six crew.

NHL Projection: 2018-19

1. Tristan Jarry, 6′-2″, 194 pounds. Goaltender (WBS Penguins, Pittsburgh Penguins)

Jarry lost his rookie status when he appeared in 26 games last season, however, the 23-year-old goalie is still fighting for space at the NHL level. Jarry is a hybrid big goalie who plays athletically. His ceiling is that of an NHL starting goaltender, and he is close to achieving it. In a different situation, he would be putting the finishing touches on his form to be ready to assume control of the Penguins net, but in Pittsburgh, he is blocked behind two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray.

In the NHL, Jarry posted similar baseline numbers to Murray, last season. The pair had nearly identical save percentages (.908 for Jarry, .907 for Murray) but Jarry had a lower goals against average (2.77) compared to Murray’s 2.92. Jarry also boasted a well above average quality save percentage, according to Hockey-Reference.com. Jarry’s QS was .609, and the NHL average is .530.

Last month, Jarry finally signed his contract offer which was a two-year deal for $675,000. This season, Jarry’s deal is a two-way deal, but next year it becomes an NHL contract. If Murray stumbles, Jarry could push him for playing time, as Philip Grubauer did to Braden Holtby, last season in Washington. Jarry also seems a likely trade candidate pending Casey DeSmith’s ability to back up Murray.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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