It’s hard to believe that we’re already talking about next year for the Pittsburgh Penguins given that their season ended a little over a month ago, however with the draft and free-agency fast approaching, it’s as good a time as ever to talk about what next year’s Penguins may look like.
A shake-up is coming, and with so many young, highly-reguarded prospects (at least on defense) ready to make the jump to the NHL next year, the Penguins will most certainly start the beginning of next season a lot younger than they were this year.
Let’s take a look at the top-five Penguins prospects that could make an impact in 2014.
#5 – Jayson Megna, RW:
The only forward on the list, Megna got his first taste of NHL action in 2013, playing 36 games for the Penguins, mostly as an emergency fill-in on a bottom six that was riddled with injury most of the year. Megna recorded five goals and nine points in his time in Pittsburgh.
The scouting report on the 24-year old Megna is one that bears a striking resemblance to a current Penguin: Pascal Dupuis. Defensively sound and strong on his skates, Megna has enough skill to serve as a complimentary player to high end talent, as well as enough hockey-sense and speed to become an effective penalty-killing bottom six forward.
Check out the open-ice speed in this clip from earlier this year.
The Penguins will most definitely try to bolster their bottom-six through free-agency, however I wouldn’t be surprised to see Megna make the team out of camp.
#4 – Simon Despres, defense:
A restricted free-agent this summer, Despres is perhaps the most puzzling defensive prospect that the Penguins have. Drafted in the first round in 2009 (30th overall) by the Pens, the 22 year-old Despres has played 85 NHL games for Pittsburgh over three seasons.
The fact that he hasn’t managed to stick with the big club permanently has been a point of contention for many Penguins fans for some time. A physical two-way defenseman who has shown flashes of brilliance in the NHL from time-to-time, Despres was scratched for the likes of Deryk Engelland several times this season.
Rumors of his immaturity have been pointed to as a possible explanation for his absence from the Penguins roster, however many are hoping Despres has finally matured enough to become a full-time NHL-er.
Interestingly enough, his name almost always comes up in trade talks should pittsburgh try and deal him in a big deal. Needless to say, 2014 will be an interesting year for Despres.
#3 – 2014 First-round pick:
Ok, so this one is kind of cheating, but important nonetheless. A lack of depth scoring has prompted the Penguins to make drafting a forward a top-pirority this off-season, and while Pittsburgh won’t pick until the end of the first round, you can pretty much guarantee they choose a forward.
But who will they take, or rather who would they like to take?
One name that has come up in more than a few mock drafts is Saskatoon Blades right-winger Nikita Scherbak, a 6’1 Moscow native who led all WHL rookies in goals, assists, and points with 69 in 54 games in 2013.
Scherbak has a high-skill, level and his size allows him to play the role of power-forward from time to time. I’m not sure how quick he could make the jump to the NHL should the Penguins draft him, however the thought of him streaking down the right-side on Malkin’s wing gets me giddy.
Other names that have been thrown out include Windsor Spitfires (OHL) center Josh Ho-Sang, and Montcon Wildcats (QMJHL) left-winger Ivan Babashev.
After the first round, the Penguins don’t pick again until round four (barring any trades), so whomever the Penguins draft could make a huge impact on their forward core.
#2 – Scott Harrington, defense:
Drafted in the second round in 2011 by the Pens, Harrington has emerged as one of the best two-way defensman in the AHL this season.
Fast and with an exceptionally high hockey-IQ, Harrington will most likely crack Pittsburgh’s top-four, at least for the first few weeks of the season. He plays a pro-style game and is perhaps the Penguins most NHL ready defensive prospect.
Harrington played with fellow Penguins blue-liner Olli Maatta in the OHL, and with long-time defenseman Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Deryk Engelland on the way out, Harrington will have an excellent opportunity to make an impact for the Penguins next season.
#1 – Derrick Pouliot, defenseman:
A lock to make the team out of training camp, Pouliot sustained an injury in the WHL playoffs and underwent shoulder survey last week. With a recovery time of 3-4 months, the earliest Pouliot can play for the Penguins would be sometime around late October to early November.
An elite offensive defensman, Pouliot was voted the CHL defensman of the year this season.
While his arrival in Pittsburgh will be delayed, the 8th overall draft pick in 2011 will most definitely get his shot when he does arrive.