Drafting in professional sports is a very hit-or-miss thing. For examples of this, just look at any of the lists that invariably come out every summer about the great flops from the NHL draft. From Alexandre Daigle (first overall, 1993 for the Ottawa Senators) to Rick DiPietro (first overall, 2000 for the New York Islanders) there are plenty of guys who were going to be “the next one” that just didn’t pan out. On the other hand you have plenty of guys who go in late rounds and bloom later in their 20’s that go on to be successful. Look at Henrik Lundqvist who went in the seventh round of his draft or Patric Hornqvist who was taken with the absolute last pick in the draft of 2004.
So where a player comes from and how they get to a team means very little. This is why I am fascinated by prospects because sometimes you get something big from a place no one else was looking (see: Maatta, Olli and Sprong, Daniel). Today I’m going to cast a light on a few of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospects you may not hear much about, how they got into the system, and how they could be impact players down the road. Because believe it or not, the team is planning for the future, and it’s not as dismal as some people would have you believe. Here are a few guys you should probably take the time out to watch in the AHL or ECHL this season because they could be the NHL difference makers of tomorrow.
Let’s start with a name you may recognize — Ty Loney. Loney, yes the son of Troy Loney, signed with the organization after playing 152 games with Denver University and five on a professional try-out with the Norfolk Admirals. While at Denver, he scored ten or more goals and notched 20 or more points in three of four seasons, good for 89 points over the course of his collegiate career. Following the completion of his senior season he signed a professional tryout with the Norfolk Admirals where he suited up for five AHL games to the tune of 8 points (2G – 6A). On June 8, 2015 the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins signed him to a one year deal. He started this season with the Wheeling Nailers where he tallied 12 points (5G – 7A) in 18 games and massively outplayed everyone on the ice for long stretches. The key with Loney, who stands 6’3” and weighs in at 215, is consistency. He’s going to have to work on playing the same every shift. He has the vision and the skating ability, but will have to prove he can bring that for all 60 minutes of every game all season.
Next on the list is another 2015 addition to the Penguins’ organization, Dominik Simon. Simon, a 21 year-old forward out of Prague in the Czech Republic was an over-age draft selection taken by the Penguins last year. Rumor was he was in talks with a few NHL teams to sign as a free agent following the draft but the Penguins decided to snatch him up with their 5th round pick and he’s been a blessing. He’s played with high caliber players, having suited up alongside Jaromir Jagr in the World Championships last spring, but can make things happen on his own. He’s notched 29 points (12G – 17A) in Wilkes-Barre so far this season and his praise is well documented. Known for his stickhandling and incredible skills, I’m fairly certain the only reason he hasn’t been called up to Pittsburgh yet is their desire to let him develop slowly and not rush him. Simon is still adjusting, much like the next guy on this list, but if they can get his hands working in the NHL in the next season or two alongside someone like Evgeni Malkin? Look out.
Moving right along we have Oskar Sundqvist. You know how people say the Penguins aren’t nasty enough? Once Sundqvist hits the NHL they won’t say that anymore. He’s big, standing 6’3”, and makes opponents lives hard while chipping in admirably offensively. He’s got 13 points (5G – 8A) in Wilkes-Barre this season and there’s a chance, had he not been injured last off-season, that he would have made the leap straight to the NHL this year. However, having him spend time in the AHL will be good for him as the Sweden native also has to adjust to playing on the smaller ice surface after playing almost exclusively on the larger ice for 23 of his 24 years.
That’s just on the forward side. On defense there is the well-known Derrick Pouliot but he isn’t alone. Clark Seymour, who was drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, began his season in Wheeling as well but has been playing a strong game in Wilkes-Barre of late. The 6’4” defenseman brings a defensive presence and makes smart plays in all three zones, but still has decent foot speed. While not known for being particularly offensive, he has recently found a bit of a scoring touch in his second professional season with a scorcher of a shot from the point. He’s never going to put up the numbers Pouliot will, but he plays a safe style much like that of Brian Dumoulin and reads plays well. Add that to a tenacity and willingness to stick up for his teammates and it’s only a matter of time before he finds his way onto an NHL roster.
Finally we’ve made it to goaltending which has become quite the strength in the Penguins organization of late. Whether it’s Matt Murray, whose stellar play almost forced the Penguins to keep him up at the end of December, or Tristan Jarry the future in net is bright. Both youngsters have played well early in their professional careers and together they pitched a multi-game shutout streak in the AHL. Matt Murray is averaging a shutout every four games. But there’s another name you should be looking out for. Like Mike Condon and Scott Darling before him Franky Palazzese of the Wheeling Nailers is looking to make the NHL. He would be the third recent Wheeling goalie to make a name for himself and his strong reading of plays and ability to square up to the puck makes it all look possible.
Is it possible that these prospects do not become impact players at the NHL? Sure. Is it possible they could? You bet. Because for every Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin there are three Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz’s just waiting for their chance. The difference isn’t where you’re drafted or signed from but instead how hard you’re willing to work to get to the highest level. Any of these guys could put on any NHL sweater in the future if they’re willing to work for it. It’s not about where you’re drafted but how you work after your draft or pro signing that matters.