What to Expect from Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects at IIHF World Juniors

Michael Prunka@MichaelPrunkaCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2012

What to Expect from Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects at IIHF World Juniors

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins are well-represented in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships—four prospects will play in the under-20 ice hockey tournament. Fans should have high expectations for the young studs.

    The four youngsters that will travel to Ufa, Russia are Scott Harrington, Theodor Blueger, Anton Zlobin and Olli Maatta.

    The four of them will have one collective goal—to impress the Pittsburgh brass. Each player will demonstrate strengths while simultaneously striving to grow in weaker areas.

    A standout performance will certainly be taken into consideration down the road when the team is deciding which prospects to call up to Pittsburgh.

    Derrick Pouliot was slated to skate with Team Canada, but was cut on Dec. 12th. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft will have to wait until next year to show what he’s made of in the tournament.

    As it is, though, we will get to see four future Penguins demonstrate their talent on the international stage.

Anton Zlobin (Russia, RW)

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    Anton Zlobin stunned the world when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to win the Memorial Cup for the Shawinigan Cataractes.

    Could he deliver another amazing performance in the WJC?

    In 30 games this season with the Val-d’Or Foreurs, he’s scored 15 goals and 25 assists for 40 points.

    There’s no reason to believe he won’t be an offensive threat from the wing.

    However, Zlobin has to do more than score in this tournament to stand out.

    While the Penguins would love to see the sniper help carry Team Russia in goal scoring, they’d probably like to see him play better in his own zone.

    The home players will be playing tougher and hitting harder. Zlobin can really make an impact with the Penguins’ staff by playing stronger and grinding in his own zone.

    Even if he does put more emphasis on the defensive side of his game, it’s not unreasonable to expect more than a point-per-game from Zlobin.

    He’s grown a lot since scoring 10 points in six games in the U17 tournament in 2010.

Theodor Blueger (Latvia, C)

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    Theodor Blueger is arguably one of Pittsburgh’s most long-term projects.

    While it will be a few years before Blueger is primed for NHL competition, there’s no doubt he’ll be capitalizing on the chance to play against some of the world’s best juniors.

    The second-round 2012 draft pick has spent this season playing with Minnesota State University, where he’s accrued 12 points in 18 games.

    Blueger could definitely excel as a top-six playmaker for Latvia. He’s shown a great prowess for setting up goals. His crisp passes have a knack for making it through high-traffic areas.

    If he can demonstrate that in this kind of setting, he’ll get off on the right foot (or skate) early in his hockey career.

    This tournament should also help highlight some of the weaker aspects of his game. Depending on how long Latvia lasts, we might see noticeable improvement in his playing.

Olli Maatta (Finland, D)

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    Defenseman Olli Maatta is no stranger to the World Junior Championships. He goes into this year’s tournament with seven U20 games under his belt.

    He played a valuable shutdown role in the past and will definitely continue to do so. He finished the 2011-12 with a plus-25 rating, showing his capability to stop the opposition’s offensive stars.

    While he’s better on the defensive side of the ice, Maatta is definitely evolving into a top-notch two-way defender.

    His ability to defensively read plays has translated to the offensive zone—allowing him to effectively set up goals.

    This was evident in the 2012 CHL playoffs. In 19 games, Maatta notched 23 points in 19 games.

    So expect him to continue to evolve offensively while maintaining his status as a shutdown defenseman. Combine the two and he should be able to help carry Finland deep into the tournament.

Scott Harrington (Canada, D)

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    The fact that Scott Harrington made it on Team Canada speaks levels of his talent. He is easily one of the most promising prospects in the Penguins system and will continue to prove it in the WJC.

    The combination of unbelievable defensive awareness, passing ability and great skating makes him an elite two-way defender.

    He’ll chip in on the scoreboard here and there, but Harrington’s true value is going to come into play in the defensive zone. His talent for winning battles along the boards, among other things, plays a big part in relieving pressure in the defensive zone.

    Since Canada will likely last a while in the tournament, Harrington will get plenty of experience. He’s known to adapt quickly, so one may notice definite improvements from the first game of the tournament to Canada’s last.

    The opportunity to play in this tournament is something the 19-year-old defenseman will surely take advantage of. Expect him to get the most out of the World Junior Championships.


    Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.