Pittsburgh Penguins' Most Underrated Prospect at Each Position
The Pittsburgh Penguins haven't always possessed an enviable amount of depth that reaches all the way down to the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. In the late 1990s, the team struck out with its early-round picks consistently.
From the ill-fated selection of Milan Kraft at No. 23 in 1998 to failed "goaltender of the future" Craig Hillier at No. 23 in 1996, the Penguins weren't known for their ability to find gems, regardless of where they were picking.
A lot has changed since the days of Aleksey Morozov though.
Since alternating first-overall and second-overall selections from 2003-06, the Penguins haven't drafted higher than 20 in any given year—except for the No. 8 selection that came from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Jordan Staal in 2012.
He was the last of their high picks, and since taking Staal the Penguins have done a masterful job of uncovering steals in the latter stages of the first round. While some of those players are highly touted (think Simon Despres and Beau Bennett) there are some other notable pieces that linger a bit deeper in Pittsburgh's system.
All statistics appear courtesy of HockeyDB.com.
Center: Oskar Sundqvist
Drafted: Third round, 81st overall (2012)
Skill Set: One of the more raw yet intriguing prospects the Penguins posses, Oskar Sundqvist brings a unique toolbox to the ice on a nightly basis. He's spent most of his time developing in Sweden's lower-level leagues, so his upside is a bit of a mystery at this juncture.
There's a lot to like about Sundqvist's game though. Standing 6'3", there's NHL-size there. Like most young players, he needs to add some muscle, but there's no question about his passion when he plays.
Nastiness is one of the hallmarks that makes Sundqvist such a unique talent, but his speed and finishing touch suggest he could eventually develop into a sound top-nine forward for the Penguins.
Projected Ceiling: A third-line center that is capable of pitching in offensively.
Left Wing: Tom Kuhnhackl
Drafted: Fourth round, 110th overall (2010)
Skill Set: The German-born Tom Kuhnhackl has struggled a bit over the last two seasons. After a remarkable rookie year in the OHL during the 2010-11 season, the rangy winger was suspended for 20 games for a hit that injured current Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray.
Kuhnhackl was also traded during the 2011-12 campaign and never really settled in during his sophomore year. He made his professional debut in the AHL last year but was limited to only 11 contests because of healthy scratches and season-ending shoulder surgery.
Despite all the setbacks, Kuhnhackl is the kind of player that the Penguins love at the NHL level. He has a knack for finding open patches of ice and has a nose for the puck around the net.
Projected Ceiling: Kuhnhackl is a long-term project, but he has the skills needed to be a top-six forward.
Right Wing: Josh Archibald
Drafted: Sixth round, 174th overall (2011)
Skill Set: Capable of playing both center and wing, Josh Archibald is in the midst of his third season with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He's developed slowly but surely since his 15-point rookie campaign and has evolved into a leader both on and off the ice for his squad.
While Archibald isn't ever the biggest player out on the ice—he's 5'10" and weighs 170 pounds—he doesn't let that stop him from making an impact whenever he can. The first thing you'll notice about Archibald is his speed, but he's an all-around battery of a player who thrives on the forecheck and while generating offense in traffic.
He'll need to add some muscle to play his style at the NHL level, and the 21-year-old is still several campaigns away from touching down in Pittsburgh. But he's a highly motivated individual who could be a stellar bottom-six forward in the future.
Projected Ceiling: A go-go bottom-line forward who can play in any situation.
Defenseman: Brian Dumoulin
Drafted: Second round, 51st overall (2009 by Carolina Hurricanes)
Skill Set: Brian Dumoulin came to the Penguins in the aforementioned Staal trade at the 2012 draft, and he's done nothing but impress since joining the organization. He made his NHL debut in December as injuries tore through Pittsburgh's blue line and didn't look out of place during a six-game cup of coffee.
Down in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Dumoulin has become one of the most outstanding defensemen in the AHL. He's similar to fellow defensive prospect Simon Despres in that he's a solid all-around defender, but he does have a tendency to shoot more.
There really isn't anything that Dumoulin doesn't do well, and he could be in the NHL as a full-time player within the next season or two.
Projected Ceiling: Steady top-four defender who excels in all three zones.
Goaltender: Matt Murray
Drafted: Third round, 83rd overall (2012)
Skill Set: Most people think Tristan Jarry when it comes to Pittsburgh's goalie prospects, but Matt Murray is not an asset who should be overlooked. He's steadily improved during all four of his seasons in the OHL and was named to Team OHL for the Subway Super Series this year.
After posting a mediocre .876 save percentage during the 2011-12 season, Murray has played much better over the last two campaigns. He improved to a .894 mark in 2012-13 before elevating his game to a much higher level as one of the better goalies in the OHL this year with a .923 save percentage.
That's the sort of progression you want to see out of netminders in the juniors—no setbacks, just steady development when the workload increases. Jarry might have a higher pedigree, but he has some work to to do before surpassing Murray on Pittsburgh's depth chart.
Projected Ceiling: Murray has the athleticism and skills needed to hack it at the NHL level some day.
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