This year the Penguins’ prospect camp has bigger stakes than it has the last few, at least for its forwards. The big club has decided to bring in its youth this upcoming season, which means that for a handful of these players how they perform at development camp affects their chances of making the NHL club.
Now, before we get ahead of ourselves it’s important to remember a camp in July is nothing more than a camp in July. For some of these players the on-ice sessions were their first of the off-season and for the recently drafted it was their first time at an NHL camp ever. Prospect camp is about learning to be a pro and how to take care of yourself on and off the ice as much as it is about skill. But when you look at these young guys and know that three to four of them will likely make the big club come October, it’s hard not to look at who stands out.
Before the scrimmage started I told the person with me to watch Ty Loney. I had meant because I thought he’d have raw skill that would translate well down the line. I had no idea the kid would knock in three goals in the scrimmage and an additional one in the shootout.
His hockey sense is there in full bloom and he plays a more finesse game than his father, Troy Loney, did in his time in Pittsburgh. No one would have picked him as a kid to make the big club, but I’m seeing an Oskar Sundqvist-type surprise from him on the horizon. Keep your eyes open, he’s got sneaky speed and just simply knows where to be and when to be there.
While Loney led the offense, over-age 2015 draft selection Dominik Simon didn’t let him have all the fun, adding two goals of his own. The team also seems pretty high on the Czech product since he was signed to an entry level deal mid-camp. He definitely is not at the top of the list to make it right away but something about him just sticks out. Everything about Simon is just solid from goal scoring, including potting one so sneaky no one seemed to notice, to playing in his own zone. There is no doubt, Simon has the skills. He’s more likely to play in Wilkes-Barre as they give him time to adjust to the different sized ice, but he had some flashes of pure brilliance and his time at the World Championships proves he can skate with the big boys.
One guy who should make the big club in October is Conor Sheary. The 23 year-old forward must have been overlooked in the draft for his 5′-10″ frame. That is the only explanation as to why a kid this fast, with the amount of offensive upside he has, was left as a free agent after college. The Penguins signed him for one year, then re-upped him this July 1st for two more and for good reason. He led Wilkes-Barre in points last year and has the kind of afterburners this team is looking for, especially since they want to roll four lines this fall. While plenty will cry for Bobby Farnham to make the big club out of camp, it’s Sheary and his pure talent that should be lining up in the bottom-six.
I’m sure you’re all wondering where everyone’s favorite young defenseman is, but Derrick Pouliot (he of the extended end-of-season time in the NHL) isn’t a prospect to me anymore. In fact, he probably should not have been eligible for camp, but due to the number of games played he was and watching him just proves how ready the kid is to make the full-time leap.
He was a man among boys on the ice in the scrimmage with even better legs, skating stride, and endurance thanks to his time with Gary Roberts. While some have said he needed to work on his defense it looked absolutely flawless in the scrimmage. He made stick on puck plays to make Paul Martin proud and his improved legs got him back faster than ever before. Yes, he even added a helper setting up one of the White Team’s many goals. This kid is a no-brainer and isn’t just looking at making the NHL, but playing in the top two pairings with Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, and Ian Cole.
Of course the main thing that NHL clubs have these camps for is to check in on player development. While some of these guys are still as many as three years away from the NHL, a few did show improvements and that they will be viable down the road.
Jaden Lindo has the slow and steady development curve that I love to see. He’s improving constantly, but at a rate that doesn’t push him towards accidental digression. He may very well make an NHL appearance later in the 2015-16 season as a call-up from one of the lower leagues, but is probably still a little ways out from making the full-time jump. Jake Guentzel, who is seen as the steal of the last five years, showed flashes of brilliance. He was a huge part of the University of Nebraska Omaha’s success last season and as a rising junior will only improve. Frederick Tiffels and Nikita Pavlychev were the best players on the Black squad, with Tiffles scoring a shootout goal. Pavlychev, who will play at Penn State this fall, is a huge kid who plays much smaller. It’s like no one ever told him that big, 6′-7″ forwards aren’t graceful. I’ve seen knocks on his skating but really don’t know that it’s more than a big kid still adjusting after growing to full height.
As for the netminders it was the Matt and Matt show. Matt Murray, entering his sophomore season in the AHL, stopped all nine of the shots he faced. Meanwhile, college free agent Matthew Skoff, a rising senior at Penn State, was equally impressive in his time in net letting just one shootout goal in to the talented Tiffles. The Team Black goaltenders let in a combined 6 goals in the game and 2 in the shootout. Highly touted Tristan Jarry looked commonplace. Late round pick and Boston University goalie Sean Maguire looked better, but still let two in during the game and two in the shootout. While this has no implications on the team, as Jeff Zatkoff is almost assuredly backing Fleury this fall, it is interesting to note that Jarry is usually ranked higher than Murray.
With Maatta, Pouliot, Dumoulin and many others already in the NHL, the blue line prospect pool was full of late-round selections and college free agents. In fact, four of the defensemen at camp were free agents including Matt Murphy who played well all around and may make an AHL roster sooner rather than later. Jeff Taylor, who the Penguins grabbed in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, had a strong game and while a project in some respects is looking like a great choice.
All in all, there are maybe four guys from this camp we will see next fall and potentially ten we will see during the season but, despite the lack of recent high round picks, some of these late round gambles the Penguins have taken are looking pretty smart.
Note: Oskar Sundqvist, Scott Wilson, Josh Archibald, Matia Marcantuoni, and Tyler Biggs were among players who did not participate in the scrimmage activities.