The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect pool took a little hit last week when the team acquired Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson. In addition to a couple of onerous contracts, the Penguins dealt a first-round pick to San Jose for Karlsson and Nathan Legare and a 2025 second-rounder to Montreal for taking Jeff Petry.
So, the Penguins will not have a first-round pick next June when the NHL gathers in Las Vegas for the 2024 NHL Draft (unless they finish in the bottom 10, in which case the traded pick will roll over to 2025).
After a second subpar professional season and a lack of a big leap forward in his skating, Legare had slipped to 11th on our most recent Penguins prospects list. If he ever gets that extra step the Penguins hoped, he will be a banger with some offensive pop.
The middle of the Penguins’ prospects list is also a conflux of players with a modicum of talent, some of whom will find their ceiling in the AHL and a couple who might crack the ceiling for more than a brief pressbox-dwelling call-up.
Our Penguins prospect rankings are somewhat subjective but largely based on the chance to reach the NHL and the possible impact. In the middle five prospects resides two higher draft picks, a late-round hopeful, and a college free agent.
Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects, 6-10:
6. Emil Pieniniemi
The Penguins’ 2023 third-round pick is a 6-foot-2, 176-pound defenseman with a reputation in Finland as a take-care-of-business defenseman. Responsible and reliable. However, he also showed well at the Penguins’ recent prospects development camp in early July. He showed good skating and puck movement, especially in the Penguins 3v3 one-day tournament.
Some draftniks listed him as a late-draft steal, but the Penguins saw enough to move forward earlier. Central Scouting ranked him 31st overall, but other draft services placed him as low as 191st.
He could be in the Finnish Elite League this season, playing against professionals. Size, speed, and puck skills. There was a lot to like in the first impressions. The Penguins could see him in North America sooner than the average three-year window.
7. Jonathan Gruden
Gruden was the Ottawa Senators’ fourth-round pick in 2018, and the Penguins acquired him when they traded Matt Murray to Ottawa. He turned 23 in May, and this is last year as a “prospect.” After a particularly strong stretch of play at mid-season, Gruden got the call to make his NHL debut.
He played three games for the Pittsburgh Penguins as the fourth-line center. He didn’t score a point and didn’t necessarily assert himself at the top level. However, he had a bit of an offensive awakening in the AHL last season, amassing 31 points, including 15 goals, both career highs.
He’s otherwise a good skater and responsible forward.
He’s probably not an impact player at the next level, but as he hits his ceiling, he could become a usable bottom-line player in the NHL.
8. Tristan Broz
One of the mysteries of the Penguins’ prospect pool is Tristan Broz. He told PHN that he wanted to turn pro this fall, but it appears he’s headed back to the University of Denver.
On the ice, the 20-year-old forward is listed as a center but perhaps projects as a winger in the pros because his game doesn’t necessarily feature above-average skating and offensive creativity. He’s a 6-foot, 178-pound grinder who wants to get to the front of the net.
The Penguins’ 2021 second-round pick (58th overall) seems to suffer from the same stunted growth that many of the 2020 and 2021 draft picks are battling due to COVID shutdowns. After three seasons with Fargo of the USHL, Broz went the college route, first with a season at the University of Minnesota, then last season with Denver.
In 40 games at Denver, Broz scored 10 goals and 28 points in 40 games. While he’s still in the NCAA’s clutches, there are strict rules to participating in the Penguins camps, and we may not get an up-close look at Broz at anything except the mid-summer development camp.
Broz gets some benefit of the doubt because of his second-round pick status, but it’s still hard to project his ceiling.
9. Jack St. Ivany
The Philadelphia Flyers drafted St. Ivany, 24, in the fourth round of the 2018 draft (118th overall) but couldn’t get his name on a contract after four years of college hockey. So after two years at Yale, then two more at Boston College player signed as a free agent with the Penguins organization last summer.
In one season of professional hockey, St. Ivany had only eight points in 63 games, but the WBS Penguins were far from a high-scoring team.
The 6-foot-3, 198-pound defenseman has the stature and size to play at the next level. He moves well and will need to learn the refinements of the pro game. Sources who watched his development with the WBS Penguins reported some rough patches. Still, if he can get a handle on consistency and the ultra-quick decisions, he’s shown the physical skills to be a defensive defenseman at the next level.
10. Luke Devlin
He’s the diamond in the rough on the Penguins’ prospect list.
Devlin, 19, exploded at the Penguins’ prospect camp in July, looking ripped and fast. He’s also 6-foot-3 and at least 187 pounds (he may have added some muscle weight since his draft day).
The Penguins 2022 sixth-round pick (182nd overall) took a unique step backward when he moved from the USHL to the BCHL last season but will attend Cornell this fall.
He’ll be worth following, and we suspect he’ll be a little higher on this list next season.