Having promoted prospects Olli Maatta, Zach Sill, Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have relied a great deal on their farm system already this year. And with 10 impending free agents currently on the roster, they may rely on it even more in the coming months.
As a team built primarily through the draft, the Penguins have been very successful in developing NHL-caliber players, and 13 players who have taken the ice for the Pens this season are products of their farm system.
As the Pens and their fans wait to see if the current group of call-ups can take the next step in their development at the NHL level, let's look at, in no particular order, the next five Pittsburgh Penguins prospects who figure to be not far behind.
While slick-skating defensemen may make highlights, NHL teams need—and are always looking for—two-way defensemen who can make smart decisions.
Fortunately for the Pens, Brian Dumoulin, a smooth skater who is as capable offensively as he is defensively, is such a player.
Rugged enough to win puck battles along the boards and skillful enough to quickly pass the puck out of the defensive zone, Dumoulin seems like a natutral fit for Pens head coach Dan Bylma's up-tempo system and figures to get an opportunity at the NHL level soon.
Ever since Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin first took the ice together for the Penguins in 2006, a hot topic in hockey circles has been whether the Pens have enough talented forwards to play alongside them.
While the Pens haven't had much success in developing forwards in recent years, the organization is slowly building a solid group, and Tom Kuhnhackl may be one of the best of that group.
Possessing both a lethal wrist shot and willingness to go the high-traffic areas on the ice, Kuhnhackl has the potential to be a top-six forward at the NHL level.
Although scouts believe he needs to get stronger—both in the gym and on the puck—in order to make the jump to the NHL, Kuhnhackl has the natural skills needed to succeed in the NHL. And with seven current Pens forwards with two years or less left on their existing contracts, there will be an opportunity for him to make the jump.
While the Penguins have spent quite a few first- and second-round draft picks on offensive defensemen over the past few years, they have been careful to balance their group of blue-line prospects by adding stay-at-home defensive prospects as well.
Among this group, Scott Harrington, the Pens' second-round pick in the 2011 draft, is the most NHL-ready. With the Pens possibly having three potential blue-line vacancies next season, Harrington could earn a spot on the Pens roster in the near future.
At 6'2" and weighing 210 pounds, Harrington has the size and skill set to be a shutdown defenseman at the NHL level and has drawn comparisons to current Pens defenseman Rob Scuderi for his strong positional play and high hockey IQ.
With two goals and six assists in 21 games thus far, Harrington has drawn rave reviews thus far and may be able to force his way onto the NHL roster next year just as former teammate and Pens rookie Olli Maatta did this year.
Given the postseason struggles of Marc-Andre Fleury in recent years and the speculation on whether the Pens would seek to replace him, the Pens' goaltending prospects have gotten a great deal of attention lately.
While most of the focus has been on Tristan Jarry, the Pens' first selection in the 2013 draft, Matt Murray, the Pens' third-round selection in the 2012 draft, could figure more prominently into the Pens' goaltending plans in the near future.
At 6'4" and weighing 166 pounds, Murray is a tall and athletic butterfly-style goaltender who has drawn comparisons to Marc-Andre Fleury.
With both current backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff and last year's backup Tomas Vokoun in the final years of their contracts, and with Marc-Andre Fleury entering the final year of his contract next season, the Pens will have some decisions to make this summer regarding their goaltending situation, and Murray's development may be a factor in those decisions.
With Olli Maatta firmly entrenched with the Penguins in the NHL and 2011 first-round pick Joe Morrow having been traded in the Brenden Morrow deal last season, Derrick Pouliot has become the organization's top prospect.
Drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft with the pick the Pens received in the Jordan Staal trade, Pouliot has drawn rave reviews from scouts and has been compared to everyone from former Pen Ryan Whitney to seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.
While comparisons to Lidstrom seem extreme, Pouliot's 5'11", 190-pound frame, as well as his exceptional skating and puck-handling abilities, make for a striking resemblance of current Pen and Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang.
With Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in the final years of their contracts and Paul Martin entering the final year of his contract next season, the Pens' blue-line corps figures to have some new faces in the near future, and Derrick Pouliot figures to be one of them.