Connect with us


Who to Watch on Penguins Prospects Tourney Roster; Players Fight for Spotlight



Pittsburgh Penguins prospects

The Pittsburgh Penguins had 32 players attend their development camp in early July. The Penguins filled out a surprisingly competitive camp from recent first-rounders Owen Pickering and Brayden Yager to 24-year-old Jagger Joshua and four goalies. Yet there is a significant turnover and some missing talent as the Penguins begin the Prospects Challenge at LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo on Friday.

If you make the trip north, make sure to bring a sweater. Or a parka. LECOM Harborcenter is a cold — very cold — rink, but they serve Tim Hortons coffee.

2022 first-round pick Owen Pickering (21st overall) is injured and won’t play. However, 2023 first-rounder Brayden Yager (14th overall) might be the star attraction.

The other star attraction will be top goalie prospect Joel Blomqvist. The 2020 second-rounder (52nd overall) from Finland flashed some skills in development camp and at the end of the last two Wilkes-Barre/Penguins seasons. He committed to playing in North America this season, and a bit of the Penguins future could rest with him.

2019 first-round pick Sam Poulin is also on the team. He missed most of last season while on a mental health leave. Poulin has little to prove in this tournament. He’s been participating in the Penguins captain’s skates at the UPMC Lemieux Complex, but the tournament is another opportunity to get into game shape and re-establish his timing.

For prospects like Yager and Blomqvist, the Prospects Challenge doesn’t represent a make-it or break-it moment. Yet for Yager especially, he could, in theory, push for a roster spot beginning with the tournament.

The Pittsburgh Penguins do have space for a fourth-line center. It’s highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened, and a 14th overall pick in a deep draft should be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later.

Otherwise, the Penguins’ roster relies on older players and new faces looking to catch on with an organization. Because the Penguins have a plethora of older players, they might be competitive. It could be a good showcase for Yager and Blomqvist, which makes this worth paying attention to.

Undrafted Forwards Battling for Spotlight, Contracts

More than a half dozen players were not in development camp and are not signed but with the Penguins prospect team.

Pano Fimis, 19, played last season in the OHL with Erie and Niagara. He’s an undrafted free agent. He netted 16 goals and 47 points in 55 games last season.

Avery Hayes, 19, also played in the OHL last season. The 5-foot-11, 174-pound forward had an impressive 77 points with 43 goals in 65 games.

Max Namestnikov, 19, had 39 goals in 65 games with Guelph and Sarnia but is 5-foot-8. He’s the younger brother of NHL veteran Vladislav Namestnikov.

Evan Vierling, 21, has completed his juniors eligibility. Last season, he had 35 goals in 60 games for the Barrie Colts (OHL).

Patchwork Defense

The defense crew has several undrafted players, too. In fact, there are only four Penguins prospects among the eight defenders and six undrafted free agents.

The only Penguins draft pick among the eight is 2021 fifth-rounder Isaac Belliveau, who will turn pro this season. Bellieveau sprouted to 6-foot-2 shortly before his draft year but stopped growing. His prospect status is tenuous.

Mathias Aguilar (Rimouski), Andre Anania (Sudbury), and Ty Higgins (Acadie-Bathurst) are undrafted free-agent defensemen who weren’t in development camp. Rostered d-man Cole Moleberg was a seventh round by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018. He’s in camp looking for a job and played in the ECHL last season.

None figure to make a serious challenge for an NHL contract, but perhaps one or two could earn a minor league deal.

Penguins Prospects NOT with Team

A handful of interesting prospects who attended development camp are not with the team or able to play in the tournament.

Pickering is injured for the second consecutive summer. The young man is working hard to add muscle to his lanky frame but hasn’t yet had an unfettered off-season to show the Penguins organization his progression.

Also on the injured list are the 2022 sixth-round pick from the Sudbury Wolves, defenseman Nolan Collins, and Raivis Ansons, who played 44 games with the WBS Penguins last season.

College players cannot participate in the challenge because school has started. NCAA rules make it implausible for prospects to show up.

So, college players who were at the July camp, including 2021 second-rounder Tristan Broz (58th overall, Denver), 2022 fifth-rounder Zam Plante (150th overall, Minnesota-Duluth), 2022 sixth-rounder Luke Devlin (182nd overall, Cornell), Luca Fantilli (Undrafted, Michigan), and 2021 seventh-rounder Daniel Laatsch (215th overall, Wisconsin) won’t be at the prospects tournament.

It’s disappointing again not to see Tristan Broz or the much-improved Luke Devlin against better competition. Devlin is 6-foot-3 and has added significant muscle with his already quick skating. PHN has identified him as a potential diamond in the rough. Broz told PHN in July he was pushing the Penguins to turn pro. However, he was forced to settle for another season of classes, parties, and a vibrant college social life.

The Penguins did not bring their European prospects over for the three-game tournament. Finnish defensemen, 2023 third-rounder Emil Pieniniemi and seventh-rounder Kalle Kangus are absent.

Older “Prospects”

To fill out the roster, the Penguins are taking several players well past their 22nd birthday. Forward Jagger Joshua, 24, finished his collegiate career at Michigan State and played seven games for the WBS Penguins at the end of last season. He had no points but 15 penalty minutes.

Defenseman Jack St. Ivany, 24, played 63 games with the WBS Penguins last season. He signed with the Penguins as a college free agent after completing two seasons with Yale, then two more at Boston College. He was a 2018 fourth-round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers but did not sign.

Corey Andonovski, 24, played three seasons at Princeton before a full season with the WBS Penguins last year. He had 19 points in 62 games.

Sam Houde, 23, is another older “prospect” on the roster. Houde was the Montreal Canadiens 2018 fifth-round pick but never signed with the organization. He had 20 points (12-8-20) in 65 games for the WBS Penguins after splitting the previous season between Wheeling of the ECHL and WBS.

Justin Lee, 23, completed his college career at Denver and played eight games at the end of last season for WBS.

Poulin, Ty Glover, Dillon Hamaliuk (acquired from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson trade), Moberg, and goalie Taylor Gauthier are all 22.

Hamaliuk was the San Jose Sharks second-round pick (55th overall) in 2019. However, he has played just 50 professional games over the last two seasons, 44 at the AHL level in 2021-22 and just six last season in the ECHL.

If you’re looking for a real diamond in the rough in the tournament, Hamaliuk could be it. The 6-foot-4 power forward type has been working on this skating, but injuries derailed him, and he was a throw-in in the Karlsson deal. Someone saw enough to make him a second-round pick not long ago, so we’ll be watching, but don’t get too attached just yet.

1 Comment
Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jon Stowitzky
Jon Stowitzky
10 days ago

Lots of competition for WBS just like there’s lots of competition in the big boy camp in a week or so. Something that was sorely lacking for several seasons now.