For the last seven years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been a playoff team. Not finishing toward the NHL's basement is obviously a good thing for the franchise, but it makes drafting blue-chip prospects a challenge.
The Penguins have had a lot of success at the draft though, and always seem to grab a solid player whenever they get to the podium to make a selection—as evidenced by a few late-rounders appearing on this list.
Finding players that can make an impact in the latter stages of the first round or even the second and third rounds has become a hallmark of the organization. Several years of above-average drafting has resonated throughout the AHL and ECHL.
We recently took a look at a few underrated prospects. Now we're going to break down a few of the bigger names within the system. Keep in mind that most of Pittsburgh's blue chippers are at the NHL level, so the gap between the "underrated" guys and these players might not be particularly big.
That is in no way a bad thing either.
All statistics appear courtesy of HockeyDB.com.
Drafted: Second round, 52nd overall (2012)
Skill Set: Since 2006, the Penguins have gone defense-heavy in the early stages of the draft. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin locking down the center position for the foreseeable future, the team doesn't need to go fishing for pivots until the depth rounds.
They broke that characterization in 2012 though when they took Teddy Blueger in the second round. Given his immense talent and shifty nature out on the ice, it's easy to see why.
Blueger reminds some folks of Pavel Datsyuk with the way he turns and burns in the corners. But it isn't his nifty stick work that stands out the most when you see him play, it's his hockey IQ—he fits in with Pittsburgh's other top-flight forwards in that he understands the game at a very high level. He frequently surprises teammates with passes in the offensive zone—a problem that will likely relent at the NHL level.
Projected Ceiling: He's still a few years out, but Blueger could be an outstanding third-line option for the Penguins. Even if he eventually doesn't line up at center, he's capable of playing all three forward positions in all situations.
Drafted: Seventh round, 209th overall (2011)
Skill Set: Pittsburgh likes to draft smart players, and like Blueger, Scott Wilson's most attractive asset is his intelligence out on the ice. While he's not as silky as his center counterpart, Wilson has shown a high level of adaptability during his time with the UMass-Lowell River Hawks.
He's posted back-to-back 38-point seasons and has done so with a myriad of linemates. Wilson led the Hawks to a Hockey East regular-season title last year, and made it all the way to the Frozen Four. UMass-Lowell was taken out by the eventual champion in Yale, but not before Wilson could develop a reputation as a gamer.
His shot is outstanding, and he seems to be a step ahead of everyone else when he plays. That bodes well for the Penguins, who seem to have unearthed a real gem in the seventh round with Wilson.
Projected Ceiling: Another top-nine project for Pittsburgh, Wilson could slot in as an outstanding depth player if he develops the defensive side of his game a bit.
Drafted: Sixth round, 173rd overall (2012)
Skill Set: Passed over in his first year of draft eligibility, the Penguins used their last pick in the 2012 draft to select Anton Zlobin. He posted 76 points in 66 games in his draft year, which was good enough to land on Pittsburgh's radar in the sixth round.
It turns out that Zlobin could be quite the steal.
He elevated his game in a big way during his final year at the junior level, putting up 29 goals and adding 62 assists to lead the Val d'Or Foreurs in regular-season scoring—topping 20th-overall pick Anthony Mantha in the process despite playing six fewer games than the Detroit Red Wings prospect.
Zlobin made his professional debut this year and is working on all aspects of his game with the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins.
Projected Ceiling: Now a 20-year-old, Zlobin is growing into his 5'11" frame. He needs to iron out some kinks in the defensive side of his game, but he could eventually be an exceptional sniper for the Penguins.
Drafted: First round, eighth overall (2012)
Skill Set: If you know the name of one Penguins prospect, Derrick Pouliot is probably it. Where most of Pittsburgh's young players fall under the category of projects, the former eighth-overall selection has a pedigree that few in the system can match.
He has been a point-producing machine for the Portland Winterhawks, and is cruising through his final year of junior eligibility this season. With 42 points in 35 games, no other defenseman in Portland has produced more offensively.
That's not surprising, considering it was Pouliot's confidence and poise with the puck while in the offensive zone that made the Penguins want to take him in the first place. He's a great skater, possesses an outstanding shot and is a natural power-play quarterback.
Projected Ceiling: Pouliot was selected to be a top-four offensive defenseman and the main man on Pittsburgh's second power-play unit. Anything less would be disappointing.
Drafted: Second round, 44th overall (2013)
Skill Set: When the Penguins selected Tristan Jarry at the draft last year, it was a bit of a gamble. The teenage netminder had only started 41 games across two seasons for the Edmonton Oil Kings as the team's No. 2 goalie, but he was heading into his first campaign as the starter and dripping with potential.
The 2013-14 season has gone swimmingly for Jarry, who has a 28-11-1 record on the year. His .910 save percentage is right where Pittsburgh would like it to be, and the 6'2", 172-pound goalie continues to improve on the finer points of his game.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Jarry as Edmonton's starter for the next year or two before he makes his way to the AHL, where he'll likely do battle with Matt Murray for the No. 1 job in Wilkes Barre-Scranton. At this point, Jarry is one of the most level-headed goaltending prospects around, and he's never negatively affected by a soft goal.
Projected Ceiling: Pittsburgh's brass talks about Jarry like they believe that he could evolve into a starting netminder at the NHL level. There's your ceiling.
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