With the Pittsburgh Penguins leading the Metropolitan Division and cruising toward another postseason berth, it would seem a little premature to speculate on their top prospects and how they might fare in the NHL.
Unfortunately, a slew of recent injuries and the impending free agency of eight current Pens has brought a little bit of the Pens' future into the present as the team's top prospects figure to get a long look between now and the start of next season.
As we approach the halfway point of the 2013-14 season, let's take a look at the Pens' top prospects and the NHL players they most resemble.
NHL Comparison: Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers
Always looking to draft highly skilled and mobile defensemen who would fit well in the up-tempo system the Penguins employ, general manager Ray Shero selected Derrick Pouliot with the eight-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Known as a pure skater with exceptional vision, a hard shot and top-notch offensive skills, Pouliot is projected to be a top-four defenseman and a fixture on the Pens' power play for years to come.
Despite his 5'11" and 195-pound frame, Pouliot has amazing balance and uses a wide base to prevent being knocked off the puck and is a willing and able battler in the corners.
Having already shown NHL-ready skills and skating ability, Pouliot simply needs to develop physically before making the jump to the NHL and the Pens are in no hurry to rush him for fear of hurting his development.
NHL Comparison: Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks
Although he might not be as mobile or as skilled as some of the Penguins' other prospects, defenseman Brian Dumoulin's unique combination of size and skill have earned him strong praise from scouts and coaches alike.
Originally drafted in the second round of the 2009 NHL Entry draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Dumoulin was acquired as part of the Jordan Staal trade and quickly earned a reputation within the organization as a "three-zone defenseman" because of his complete all-around game.
While his 6'4" 220-pound frame makes him well-equipped to win physical battles, his exceptional skating and puck skills allow him to play in any type of system and mesh well with any type of blue-line partner.
With three of the current Pens' defensemen in the final years of their contracts, Dumoulin was recently called up to the NHL for the first time and figures to get a chance to earn a permanent NHL roster spot in the near future.
NHL Comparison: Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers
Already regarded as having perhaps the best group of centers in the NHL with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Sutter, the Penguins are always on the lookout for talented playmakers and believe they have found another one in Teddy Blueger
Drafted in the second round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Blueger has drawn rave reviews from scouts for his slick stick-handling and his ability to distribute the puck.
While his 6' 1" 180-pound frame limits his ability to play a very physical game, Blueger has shown a willingness to battle for pucks and to play a solid defensive game which translates into a possible role as a checking line center.
Although Blueger doesn't figure to reach the NHL for a while, his potential as a top-six forward who can contribute at even strength, on the power play and the penalty kill makes him an important part of the Pens' future and may earn him a spot alongside Crosby and Malkin someday.
NHL Comparison: Paul Martin of the Pittsburgh Penguins
While the Penguins have compiled the most offensively skilled group of defensive prospects in the NHL, general manager Ray Shero knows that you can never have enough physical stay-at-home defensemen on your roster or in your farm system, which is why he drafted Scott Harrington in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Viewed by scouts as a steady player with a "phenomenal hockey IQ and on ice-awareness," Harrington has the ability to not only win puck battles along the boards but quickly make the first pass out of the zone.
At 6'2" and 205 pounds, Harrington clearly has the size to be a top-four NHL defenseman, but also is known as a good skater who can join the rush when the situation allows but is smart enough to pick the right times to do so.
With Olli Maatta already a regular at the NHL level and Brian Dumoulin having recently been called up, Harrington may have to wait for an opportunity but, with three defensemen in the final years of their contracts, that opportunity may not be too far off.
NHL Comparison: Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens
Selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, the highest position that the Penguins have drafted a goaltender since they made current starter Marc-Andre Fleury the first-overall pick in 2003, Tristan Jarry is viewed by scouts as a potential starting goaltender and possibly Fleury's eventual successor.
Although he is not as agile and athletic as Fleury was at the same age, Jarry is viewed as a more of a technician who relies on anticipation and positioning rather than reflexes to make saves.
Employing a hybrid-butterfly style, Jarry is capable of quickly flashing his pads to stop low shots but also likes to challenge shooters by cutting down the angles and does an excellent job at controlling rebounds.
With backup goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Jeff Zatkoff both in the final years of their contracts and Fleury having just two years remaining on his deal, Jarry figures to get a lot of attention within the organization and could find himself in the NHL in the not-too-distant future.