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Future Watch – Pittsburgh Penguins: OK at the bottom

No blue-chip prospects? No problem. The Penguins are set at the top, so only low-end fill-ins are needed.
Rich Gagnon

Rich Gagnon

D+ / 31st overall

As the Pittsburgh Penguins traded away handfuls of draft picks while chasing Stanley Cups, they were warned it would catch up with them eventually. That day has pretty much arrived, to put it mildly. The system is bereft of high-end prospects, as they’re the only team without a youngster in our Top 100. Luckily for the Penguins, they don’t need to develop a top-line center or No. 1 defenseman. They already have those guys. Their needs are for complementary pieces, which they try to find in free agency or at the bottom of the draft. “It’s a lot of pressure on all of us,” said assistant GM Bill Guerin, “but that’s our job.”

PIT_Trend

1. Kasper Bjorkqvist
RW, 21, 6-1, 207 – Providence (HE)
35–14–11–25–16
2016 draft, 61st overall
The Pens’ most NHL-ready prospect has a polished and responsible game with a confrontational edge. He has worn a letter for Finland internationally and carries himself like a pro. He’s already physically mature. “He’s a specimen,” Guerin said. “He’s tops in every category.” Bjorkqvist has speed and skill, but there are questions about his offensive upside. His stats have improved over three NCAA seasons. “The biggest thing is for him to believe in the offensive part of his game,” Guerin said.
FW18| No. 10 - NHL | 2020-21

2. Calen Addison
D, 18, 5-10, 180 – Lethbridge (WHL)
62–11–50–61–50
2018 draft, 53rd overall
Any D-man Addison’s size has to answer one question before he can have success at the pro level: can he defend when his opponents are full-grown men? The Penguins aren’t sure yet, but they they’ve evolved enough to appreciate Addison’s gifts more than they fret about his stature. They love his hockey sense and confidence with the puck and think he has a sneaky nastiness to his game. “He’s a new-age defenseman,” Guerin said. “We used to call them undersized. Now he’s mobile and agile.”
FW18| n/a - NHL | 2021-22

3. Nikita Pavlychev
C, 21, 6-7, 225 – Penn State (Big Ten)
34–14–14–28–53
2015 draft, 197th overall
When Pavlychev was drafted in 2015, he was a long-term project: it was going to take time for the massive center to mature physically and grow into his frame. His development has gone as well as the team could have hoped. In his first two years at Penn State, Pavlychev thrived in a checking role. The offensive breakthrough came this season as a junior. But how will a man his size keep up with the pro pace? The Pens are optimistic. “He’s adapted to the speed at every level he’s gone to,” Guerin said.
FW18| nr - NHL | 2021-22

4. Anthony Angello
RW, 22, 6-5, 210 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
53–15–12–27–46
2014 draft, 145th overall
Angello looks like a quintessential power forward. He goes to the net and has the hands to produce once he gets there. He punishes D-men on the forecheck and uses his strength to win board battles. He’ll fight when the situation calls for it. “He’s a lot to handle – a 6-foot-5 guy who can skate,” Guerin said. While the team is excited about Angello, they recognize why he’s not a can’t-miss prospect: young players whose games are based on physicality often have a hard time playing with intensity every night.
FW18| nr - NHL | 2020-21

5. Filip Hallander
C, 18, 5-9, 178 – Timra (Swe.)
40–7–10–17–4
2018 draft, 58th overall
The only Pens prospect at the WJC, Hallander is putting up impressive numbers for a teen in Sweden’s top league. More than that, Pittsburgh is pleased with how he’s proven capable of playing in high-leverage situations. His smarts and situational awareness are his greatest strengths. While he’s strong on his skates, he isn’t a burner, and he’s capable offensively but not a whiz with the puck. As such, there are questions about his ceiling. He’ll need AHL time to get used to the pace of the North American game.
FW18| n/a - NHL | 2022-23

6. Sam Lafferty
C, 23, 6-1, 185 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
51–8–22–30–59
2014 draft, 113th overall
Speedy Brown alum having surprisingly productive rookie pro season.

7. Jordy Bellerive
C, 19, 5-11, 194 – Lethbridge (WHL)
63–29–45–74–57
Free agent, Sept. 16, 2017
Pens laud his character after overcoming injuries from off-season campfire explosion.

8. Niclas Almari
D, 20, 6-0, 178 – HPK (Fin.)
41–1–4–5–6
2016 draft, 151st overall
Smart defender who makes a good first pass, plays a simple game.

9. Clayton Phillips
D, 19, 6-0, 195 – Minnesota (Big Ten)
31–1–9–10–18
2017 draft, 93rd overall
High-end offensive talent learning to master defensive fundamentals as sophomore.

10. Sam Miletic
LW, 21, 6-1, 196 – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL)
30–7–11–18–8
Free agent, Sept. 25, 2017
Skating is borderline, but shows effective, no-nonsense power-forward game.

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