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31 in 31

Top prospects for Pittsburgh Penguins

Sprong, Aston-Reese will push for roster spots with back-to-back champs

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With forwards Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust reaching the NHL in the past two seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins' prospect depth should have taken a sizable hit. But that hasn't been the case.

Two more forwards, Daniel Sprong and Zachary Aston-Reese, are expected to make an immediate impact once they find a permanent role in the NHL and could push Pittsburgh's youth movement even further.

"Aston-Reese and Sprong are both tracking very well," general manager Jim Rutherford said. "I think they're going to have a real impressive [training] camp, which will put themselves in the conversation of where they should start the season."

 

[PENGUINS 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

Here are the Penguins' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

 

1. Daniel Sprong, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 46 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Charlottetown (QMJHL): 31 GP, 32-27-59

Sprong (6-foot, 180 pounds) likely will receive his second chance in the NHL at some point this season, even if he doesn't win a job out of training camp. In 2015-16, Sprong scored two goals in 18 NHL games.

The 20-year-old is looking forward to fighting for a roster spot after spending the bulk of his past four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With Pittsburgh losing forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen in free agency, Sprong has a good chance of winning one.

"It's just coming into camp and playing my way," Sprong said. "Just get the chances and make sure to take full advantage of it."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

 

2. Zachary Aston-Reese, C/F

How acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent March 14

Last season: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL): 10 GP, 3-5-8; Northeastern (NCAA): 38 GP, 31-32-63

Aston-Reese (6-0, 204) also will have a chance to make the Penguins with a strong training camp. Some in the organization have likened Aston-Reese to Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist because of his tendency to play aggressively around an opponents' crease.

The 23-year-old said he has heard more comparisons to Kunitz.

"He was a college free agent too, and kind of a goal-scorer his last couple of years in college," Aston-Reese said. "He made a career for himself just playing with good guys and getting the puck in the net."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

 

3. Tristan Jarry, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 44 pick in 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Pittsburgh: 1 GP, 0-1-0, 3.06 GAA, .880 save percentage; Wilkes-Barre Scranton (AHL): 45 GP, 28-15-1, 2.15 GAA, .925 save percentage

It's difficult to imagine a path Jarry could take to become the Penguins starter. No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray has won the Stanley Cup twice and is one year older than Jarry, 22.

But Jarry (6-2, 194) could become a future backup before possibly finding a starting role elsewhere. With veteran goalie Antti Niemi signing a one-year contract July 1 to be Murray's backup, Jarry could take over if Niemi doesn't remain in Pittsburgh past this season.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Video: PIT@NYR: Jarry sprawls out for incredible stick save

 

4. Zachary Lauzon, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 51 pick in 2017 NHL Draft

Last season: Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL): 63 GP, 3-18-21

Lauzon (6-1, 187) felt fortunate to be selected by Pittsburgh in the second round June 24. The day before, the Penguins traded forward Oskar Sundqvist and the No. 31 pick for forward Ryan Reaves and the No. 51 pick, which they used to take Lauzon.

Pittsburgh has had recent success propelling young players to the NHL, including two-time Stanley Cup champion defensemen Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin. Lauzon, 18, is aware of that track record and hopes to reach Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.

"With the history of the young players coming in and helping with a big team, it's motivating because they draft you for a reason and they believe in you," Lauzon said.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

 

5. Filip Gustavsson, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 55 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Lulea HF (Sweden): 15 GP, 4-10-0, 2.70 GAA, .912 save percentage

Like Jarry, it's hard to see Gustavsson (6-2, 184) starting for the Penguins in the near future. Despite that, his talent is undeniable.

The 19-year-old should continue to develop over the next few seasons. He could be a solution for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League once Jarry moves to the NHL.

Projected NHL arrival: 2019-20

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