The Pens concluded their 2016 development camp on Saturday with a 3-on-3 scrimmage at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. Here are the 5 biggest takeaways from the week...
STANDOUTS It was a long week for the Pens prospects at development camp. Here was associate general manager Jason Botterill’s standouts.
“It’s always good to see the new guys that we just got at the draft,” Botterill said. “The players that have been in our system, Jake Guentzel, Teddy Blueger, two guys that came out of college this past year and went down to Wilkes-Barre. They were very helpful in our run there. They standout in their professionalism. They have a little bit more experience than everybody else. We’re excited about both of them.”
PLAYER TO WATCH Moving forward, Jake Guentzel is the forward to watch out of this development camp. He joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for their Calder Cup playoff run after three years of college hockey at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and immediately tore it up, finishing with a team-leading 14 points (5G-9A) in their 10 games. Guentzel is a smart, skilled player who likes to play with pace. He tries to model his game after Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson. Like Johnson, who is 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Guentzel isn’t the biggest guy at 5-foot-10 and 167 pounds. But as player development coach Mark Recchi said, he competes like crazy and is incredibly versatile, as he’s able to play both center and wing.
Assistant general manager Bill Guerin said right now, they just want Guentzel to focus on having a strong summer.
“You can’t rest on something that you did a couple months ago because there’s always next year,” Guerin said. “The biggest thing for Jake is that he came in and played so well and did so well that he’s not going to be a secret any more. He’s going to have to come in and earn it all over again. We’re going to have to manage our expectations as a management group and make sure we’re giving Jake a lot of support and pushing him in the right direction.”
BLUE LINE STRONG On the back end, Ethan Prow and Lukas Bengtsson – who both signed with the organization as free agents in the spring – are the players to watch. Recchi said the two of them are similar players, as they are both skilled puck-moving defensemen who play with composure – something no team can have enough of. Not to mention they’re both right-handed shots, which is something the Pens are lacking on the back end as Kris Letang is currently the only right-handed shot under contract for next season. Both Prow, who was a Hobey Baker finalist after captaining St. Cloud State to a league championship, and Bengtsson, who also won a league championship after a terrific postseason with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, still have work to do in order to potentially see time in Pittsburgh in the near future. Recchi said Prow needs to get a little stronger and add half a step to his skating, while Bengtsson has to get used to the smaller North American rinks. However, the Pens are impressed with both players and expect big things from them in the future.
KID IN THE HALL When the Pens drafted defensemen Connor Hall and Ryan Jones with their third- and fourth-round picks respectively last weekend, they added two physically aggressive bluelienrs, something the organization is currently lacking. The question on everybody’s mind was if they could skate well enough to handle the Pens’ speedy system.
Those questions, at least in Hall’s case, were answered during Saturday’s 3-on-3 development camp ending scrimmage. Hall not only skated well enough to keep pace with his more fleet fellow prospects, he also chipped in a pair of pretty goals.
“I’m not really labeled as a goal scorer, but I think I have some offensive upside to my game,” Hall said following the scrimmage. “I’m just trying to work on that as much as I can.”
TENDERS KEEPERS The Pens organization has the deepest talent pool in the NHL when it comes to the goaltending position. They already have two Stanley Cup-winning goalies on the NHL roster in Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. But Pittsburgh also has spent high draft picks on other netminders.
Tristan Jarry (second round, 44th overall, 2013 draft) was a dominant goaltender in the Western Hockey League, leading Edmonton to a WHL title and Memorial Cup championship. He hit a rough patch during his jump last year to the American Hockey League, but finished the season strong.
Filip Gustavsson (second, 55th, 2016) attended his first development camp. It’s easy to see why the Pens’ scouts raved about him. He’s big, takes up a lot of space and has quick reflexes. He will need to adapt his game to the North American style, but has huge upside.
Sean Maguire (fourth, 113th, 2012) also will make the jump full time to the pro level next season after finishing his collegiate career at Boston University. Though he needs to play a lot more games to continue his development, Maguire is another talented netminder in the fold for the future of the Pens.