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The Penguins Must Win Now, There is No Tomorrow

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Jake Guentzel (left) and Sidney Crosby (right): (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

The door figuratively closed behind Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel, the last Penguins draft pick and prospect to come through the system with legitimate and unquestioned top-six potential. Fortunately, the Penguins have two Stanley Cups to display as the reason for their mud puddle-shallow prospect pool but two weeks of watching the next batch of Penguins prospects should provide a clear message: The Penguins must win now.

The Penguins championship window is wide open with a deep and talented NHL roster, centered around all-time great Sidney Crosby. The Stanley Cup will be a real and tangible goal for the next three seasons but it’s also time to consider the future. Perhaps the Penguins will begin to deal NHL players instead of their future to address needs.

Surely you saw the poor Detroit Red Wings, Wednesday night.

There are legitimate forward prospects remaining in the Penguins NHL camp, but they’re bottom-six material. Teddy Blueger, 23,  is an NHL player in most other organizations but as a fourth line center. Anthony Angello, who just finished four years at Cornell, could soon play in the NHL but is a grinder in waiting.

The same goes for the converted center, Adam Johnson. His speed has shown well in camp, but he had just 31 points last year with the WBS Penguins. Two weeks ago, Johnson flashed skill with slick goals in the rookie tournament but hasn’t shown impact skills at the professional level.

The Penguins results in that rookie tournament were…not good. They trailed by at least four goals in all three games.

There is some hope surrounding the Penguins 2018 second-round draft picks, Swedish power forward Filip Hallander and defenseman Calen Addison. Addison showed well in Penguins training camp. He has speed, is creative offensively, and smooth with the puck. However, his defensive game still needs an overhaul and the Penguins sent Addison back to juniors, yesterday. He figures to be three years away from potentially making the NHL roster.

Hallander, 18, dealt with a lingering knee issue which kept him out of Swedish national team activities, this summer. This season, he appears to be playing with Timra IK in the Swedish Elite League. He has one goal in the club’s first two games. However, Hallander has not yet participated in any North American activities, and like Addison figures to be three years away from NHL action and at least another year of being able to make a legitimate projection on his future.

Hidden Gems?

The Penguins do have several later-round picks with offensive potential who could someday make a splash, including Sam Miletic and Justin Almeida but those players have a long road ahead of them and not sure-things.

The Penguins highest-ranking college project Kasper Bjorkvist, currently a junior at Providence College, doesn’t project as a top-six winger in the NHL, either. PHN spoke with Providence College coaches and Providence media about Bjorkqvist, this summer. Our impression is that Bjorkqvist is a developing player who is likely to spend all four years in college and needs additional work on his skating before he gets a crack at the NHL.

Jordy Bellerive, 19, who was also sent back to his juniors team (Lethbridge) yesterday, is another intriguing prospect though his offseason recovery from a horrific campfire accident has slowed his progress. Bellerive is solidly on the Penguins radar but his ceiling is yet to be determined.

The Penguins won Stanley Cups by hitting on mid and later round picks. Guentzel was the Penguins 2013 third-round pick and the traded-to-Buffalo Conor Sheary was an undrafted free agent signing in 2014.

There is always the hopeful tale of Bryan Rust, who was the Penguins 2010 third-rounder. Rust became a lineup regular seven years after being drafted (the previous six years included four years at Notre Dame and two seasons split between the AHL and NHL).

And somewhere in this mix lies the future of struggling prospect Daniel Sprong, who is no longer waiver exempt and is currently underwater in his make-or-break moment.

The Penguins are not in immediate danger of becoming a bottom dweller, but the end can sneak up on teams. It’s time for the Penguins to do a little retirement planning and protect their future. Winter is coming.

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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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