The Pens finished the 2015 rookie tournament in London, Ontario with a 2-1 record. They beat Montreal 5-4 in overtime on Friday, defeated Ottawa 4-1 on Saturday, and fell to Toronto 6-2 on Sunday. Here are my five takeaways from the weekend…
1. WBS’ new coaches will be excellent
After spending time with new WBS head coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Jay Leach this weekend and seeing them behind the bench for the first time, I’m excited about how they’re going to be able to help players in the organization grow and develop. Sullivan’s experience as both a player (four years of college hockey at Boston University and over 700 NHL games) and a coach (13 years in the NHL, AHL and international levels with USA Hockey) alone would be enough, but his energetic and enthusiastic personality adds even more to what he brings. Meanwhile, Leach is just a couple of years removed from being a player himself so he can easily relate to what the guys are going through. Working with those two men is going to be so beneficial for players trying to make it at the next level.
2. So far, Daniel Sprong is as advertised After the Pens took Daniel Sprong in the second round (46th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton told me, “The two famous lines from every draft are ‘we couldn’t believe he was still there’ and ‘we had him a lot higher on our list.’ Both were true today for Sprong.” And after this weekend, I can see why. The 18-year-old played in all three games and starred in every one, scoring twice – including the overtime game-winner off a breakaway on Friday. Sprong’s overall offensive ability was just so impressive. He was a threat every time he was on the ice and what stood out to me the most was how dangerous he was when he had the puck on his stick, which seemed to be the majority of the time. He could either use his NHL-ready release to snipe it himself or make a creative play to get it to someone else. He was such a standout here that I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how he looks skating with NHL players at training camp this week.
3. The Pens have built up depth at forward throughout the organization We talk so much about the depth up top in Pittsburgh, but I think this weekend proved that the team has built a lot of forward depth throughout the organization as a whole. In previous rookie tournaments, the Penguins tended to have an embarrassment of riches at defense while having to invite free agents to fill up spots at forward. That wasn’t the case this year, as just two of the 16 forwards on the roster were here on tryout contracts. And I was blown away by how that group looked as they combined for 11 goals in three games. Obviously guys who have seen time in the NHL, like Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson, stood out as expected. But there were a lot of others that impressed as well. A lot of these marathon prospects drafted a few years back – ones who have been developing in the organization for a number of years as they played with their respective college and junior teams – are reaching the end of the race. Pair them with talented free agents who have been signed into the organization like Conor Sheary and Jean-Sebastien Dea, and there’s a lot to be excited about.
4. The future is bright in goal Both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry will be in the pros this year, and this weekend was the first real chance to see them together as a tandem heading into the 2015-16 season. And it was a treat. With two talented prospects like that who have achieved a lot in their young careers, you spend a lot of time reading and writing about them but never actually get to see them play a whole lot. So having the opportunity to watch Pittsburgh’s goalies of the future in action was exciting, and they both looked great.
5. Everyone has a chance It may seem like Pittsburgh’s lineup is all but set with all of the wheeling and dealing general manager Jim Rutherford did this offseason. But any one of these players at the rookie tournament who is also invited to main camp has a chance to make the opening-night roster. If they are impressive enough, the Pens will find a way to clear a spot for them. A few of them certainly started laying the groundwork this weekend in front of all of management and the Pittsburgh and WBS coaching staffs. We’ll see who can continue building off that this next week.