Prospect development is at an all-time premium for the Pittsburgh Penguins as an organization. The team struggled to draft effective players when Ray Shero was running the show and only made five selections at the 2014 entry draft.
The system still has a handful of promising young players, and one of the best ways to get a handle on them is through prospect development camp. Assistant general managers Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald organized the off-ice portion camp—which involved 37 of the team's top prospects skating together for five days—with Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar, Wilkes Barre/Scranton strength and conditioning coach Joe Lorincz and WBS head coach John Hynes running the show on the ice on July 15-19.
It's important to note that prospect development camp differs from training camp. It's a more laid-back setting and places an emphasis on learning how to be a professional player on a daily basis. This is an opportunity for the Penguins to get to know each player and vice versa. Despite that, there was plenty to take away from the event.
Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on the scrimmage that took place on the final day of camp and came away impressed by a line consisting of Matia Marcantuoni, Troy Josephs and Adam Payerl. According to her report, that trio combined for three goals in the scrimmage, leading the "White Team" to a victory over the "Black Team."
Guerin had this to say about the line, according to Anderson: "They were a good line. They had good speed, good size, good aggressiveness. You just kind of throw guys together. I mean, there's no science behind it. It's fun when it works out."
Payerl might be worth keeping an eye on over the next season or two. He made his NHL debut on April 6 against the Colorado Avalanche and appeared in two NHL contests while earning the nickname "Beast" from management. This impressive showing at development camp comes on the heels of a solid AHL season that saw Payerl set new career highs for goals (five) and points (11) in 43 games.
Marcantuoni impressed with his speed, while Josephs showed a knack for knowing when to find open ice and when to battle. As Anderson concluded in her column, "[T]hose three won't play together in the NHL, at least not in the near future, but each seemingly did nothing Saturday to hurt his future with the Penguins coaches and management watching closely."
As good as this trio was, they didn't steal the show. That honor belongs to Kasperi Kapanen, who wowed everyone in attendance with his skill level, hockey IQ and speed. Guerin spoke to Wes Crosby of the team's official website about the 17-year-old forward:
He's even better than I thought he would be. So I was very happy with him. He's just high-end talent, high-end speed. He's a very, very mature kid for his age. Obviously, having his father [Sami Kapanen] playing so many years in the NHL and playing with him and brining [sic] him up that way, he's already a pro. So he’s ahead of the game in that department, but you just got a little screenshot of what's to come and he's not even 18 yet.
The 2014 first-round pick made such a positive impression that general manager Jim Rutherford wouldn't count out the possibility of Kapanen making Pittsburgh's opening-night roster. Dave Molinari of the Post-Gazette shared the GM's comments: "We have to keep in mind that Kapanen could come in and make this team. He's played with men [in Finland] for two years. He's a good player."
When the camp was over, these four forwards stood out to Guerin the most, according to Katie Foglia of the team's official website. That's forward motion for a franchise that has struggled to ice a competitive lineup without reinforcements from the farm.
2014 sixth-round pick Jaden Lindo was apparently impressive during off-ice exercises, which isn't too surprising given his 6'1", 201-pound frame. The flashy play of a few players garnered a lot of attention, but Brian Dumoulin was outstanding on the blue line as well.
Pensburgh.com recognized the 2009 second-round choice as one of the top players on the ice multiple times, writing that he "once more stood out as the ideal that everybody else strives to achieve" following the second day of action. That's high praise, especially since Scott Harrington seemed to lose steam as the week wore on.
In goal, Tristan Jarry is noted as Pittsburgh's top prospect. He's been outstanding since taking over the starting role with the Edmonton Oil Kings and has the potential to develop into a No. 1 goalie at the NHL level.
Matt Murray is emerging as another high-end goaltending prospect though, and the former third-round pick could eventually give Jarry a run for his money as the top up-and-comer in net.
In fact, following development camp, one could argue that Murray is farther along his developmental curve than Jarry. The former has clearly been working on his foot speed and quickness and really shined during some of the agility-based drills in camp.
Murray's response time has improved; he's sharper on rebounds and is quicker in and out of the butterfly than he was a year ago.
An underrated and overlooked part of the weeklong process was the fact that this was the first time Rutherford and new head coach Mike Johnston had the chance to work closely with the remaining members of the former regime. Not only were all the players trying to get on the same page as the organization, but the brass had some catching up to do as well.
It would take a big push from any of the aforementioned players to make the team out of training camp this year (aside from Kapanen), but this developmental exercise gave fans and pundits an outstanding and fun look at the future of the Penguins, which might be in better hands than originally thought.