All posts by Ryan Pawloski

Ive loved pittsburgh sports from the 1st day and will till my last day. Current PSU student for sports journalism

The Future Is Now

The Pittsburgh Penguins are starting to get noticed when it comes to developing their talent. They’ve found ways to make mid to late round picks being huge contributors. Players like Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, etc. All of those players have had huge influences on this club. They provide speed and reliable minutes. But this article is about breaking down the Pens prospects not old ones (not that old still). But the rules for this breakdown are players 23 and under and are in no particular order.

Jake GuentzelForward

I know he just made a historic run in the playoffs and seems to be on track to be a superstar, but at 22 he is still very much in development. In my eyes, he can only get better and grow his game from here. He fits the Penguins’ scheme extremely well in that he plays fast and can chip bodies. He is such a great winger for Sidney Crosby and as they continue to play together, I expect Guentzel to raise his game even more.

Matt Murray, Goaltender 

Believe it or not Murray is still a work in progress. Eventually, he is going to be one of the youngest and most successful goaltenders of all time. He can still develop more. He has already won 2 Stanley Cups as a rookie and has some of the best numbers in the league. If he improves even more it’ll be something to see. I expect Murray to always be on the rise and have the ability to rebound from bad games. It’ll be exciting to watch Murray grow from stellar to interstellar (i know cringey saying). 

Daniel Sprong, Forward

This kid is only 20 years old and has me extremely excited. He scored a ton of points. Not only is he a goal scorer but a playmaker as well. He fits extremely well in our speed system because of his game. They call him the flying Dutchman which would be a great t-shirt when he’s a regular in a Pens uniform. He will be pushing for a roster spot this fall and could crack the roster. I can see him like Guentzel last year as a mid season call up. Or even after some injuries, which you know will happen to the Pens during the season. But he has to stay on the ice and somehow stay away from the injury bug he keeps getting. SOMEONE BUY HIM A FLY SWATTER! But on a serious note don’t be surprised if he plays a big role on the Pens next season (unless he’s traded).

Tristan Jarry, Goaltender 

Remember when Jarry was the goaltender of the future and Murray was gonna be the future backup. But Jarry could become a 1A to Murray if he continues to develop. He’s only 22 and has had only 1 game in the NHL. He will play most if not all of his games in the AHL and hopefully he will continue to grow. He bounced back with great numbers last year instead of his rookie year numbers in the AHL. If he continues where he left off last year then he will be the backup for Murray next year.

Zack Aston-Reese, Forward

Again, a star player coming out of college. The Pens are extremely successful with developing college players and making them extremely productive. He is physical and fast. He is compared to Patric Hornqvist. If he is close to Hornqvist then he is a steal and at 22 he is already gonna challenge for a spot on the NHL roster. If he can continue to develop into what he’s becoming then he will become an obvious NHL caliber player.

There are a ton of other notable Pens prospects that can develop into NHL players. I wanted to show the top prospects as of today and how they’re coming along. So enjoy and watch these future players that you’ll watch in a Pens jersey (again if they’re not traded). 

Also I started my own blog if you’d like to check that out. I’ll talk about Pens, Steelers, and Pirates basically change during the seasons. Please consider checking it out as i will be posting a lot of content on there as well as continuing on LTP (Lets Talk Pens). 

Here’s the link: https://pittsport.wordpress.com

Possible Penguins Targets During Free Agency

*All the comparisons used below were from ownthepuck.blogspot.com and I used their hero charts. I would check out this tool when you want to compare players.

Resign

Resigning players is always a top priority, especially after you win back to back cups.

But in this article, I will look at other options out in free agency that aren’t currently Penguins.

But I will put a quick mention in here for our players hitting the open market.

Jim Rutherford told our unrestricted free agents to go test the market and see what they can get and come back to check in with him. Most of these players will have some high demand coming off back to back cups and provide huge experience to teams.

Someone like Nick Bonino is the biggest free agent for the team to bring back.He will be offered a lot of money in free agency by other teams.

Hopefully, something can be worked out and he will be back. Another player that will probably generate a lot of interest is Chris Kunitz.

He provides great leadership and experience to a young team. It’s very possible that a team overpaying him to entice him out of Pittsburgh. But I do feel confident he will be back after he told reports during lockeroom clean out day that “it’s not just about the money”. So I expect him back on a cheap deal for maybe a handful of years.

Free Agent Targets

Now these can be summarized as guesses but these UFA’s would be great assets for the Pens. They are not listed in any order of importance but again are listed because they could bring something to Pittsburgh next season. 

Martin Hanzal, Center


Martin Hanzal is an interesting player.

He has some great size to him at 6’6″, 226 lbs. He produces points well.

When compared to Bonino they are similar players. He produces more points then Bonino did during the regular season but only produced 1 point in 5 playoff games this season.

I was interested in him during the trade deadline but he is a good plan B if Bonino doesn’t resign. The only issue I can see with him is the interest. A lot of teams will come calling and could price him out of Pittsburgh.

Brian Boyle, Center


Brian Boyle is an intriguing choice.

He brings size and physicality with his game, something Rutherford did say he wanted more of going into next season.

But when comparing him to Bonino, he isn’t putting up nearly as good of numbers.

Bonino beats him in almost every category.

I know stats aren’t everything as he also helps in a leadership role and performs well in the playoffs. And I also know Bonino isn’t the end-all-be-all but I’m using him as a comparison to these centers because these could be his replacements if we would lose him.

Boyle would be a great 4th line opt-in but a decent 3rd line option bringing some more grit to the pens.

Could you imagine a line of Scott Wilson, Ryan Reaves, and Brian Boyle? Physical and demanding on the forecheck. What a nightmare that would be for opposing teams. 

Joe Thorton, Center


The big name signing.

I know, I know he’s old and washed up and wants to much.

But hold on a second. He is old and on the decline or at least we believe so. He was playing through injuries for a while this past season and thus caused his numbers to drop a lot.

He is rumored to want 3 years at $5 million per season. That’s crazy money in my mind.

If he wants a chance at winning the cup then he will take a discount.

If the Pens could convince him to come here for a 2 year deal at a cheaper discount deal then I think he considers it.

He brings size, experience, leadership, and a physical game. When compared to Bonino last year, he destroys him in every category except even strength goals. So he might not score individual goals but he sets up a ton of plays.

Sam Gagner, Winger


Sam Gagner would be a great add and wouldn’t be as expensive as other free agents.

You would steal him from a division rival and add a good depth player who can play great on the 3rd line but could step into the 2nd line wing if or when injuries occur.

He put up solid numbers and could be a good replacement if Kunitz was lost to another team.

Kyle Quincey, Defensman


Kyle Quincey would provide great defense to this team.

If players like Ron Hainsey, Trevor Daley, and Mark Streit go, then the Penguins have to replace them.

Quincey checks out as a 2nd pair defenseman and a bottom pair on a bad season. He shouldn’t cost too much which is good news for the Pens.

With Brian Dumoulin and Justin Schultz needing new deals, you may have limited room. Daley likely will leave for another team but I think Quincey could be a good option here.

Cody Franson, Defensman


Cody Franson checks out as a 2nd pairing defenseman.

He hasn’t played much ice time so far in his career but could add something to the Penguins.

Other than the fact that he is a good defenseman, he creates shots and can block shots as well.

I believe with a fresh start with a new team he could find his game more. He could come at a cheaper deal to prove himself to an organization who could get him on a bargain. That could be something the Pens are looking for.

Goalies

Your guess is as good as mine. Goalie isn’t a huge priority in my mind. You have Tristan Jarry to backup Matt Murray.

I feel confident enough in Jarry to not sign a free agent and go into the year with that tandem. It saves some money and allows jarry to grow his game.

But we shall see what happens comes July 1st. 

Review 

When it comes to these names they are just guesses.

But the closer we look to last year’s Pens, the better in my mind. The hope is that the team can resign a lot of it’s own players instead of having to sign outsiders. It’ll be interesting to see what Rutherfords plan is on Saturday July 1st. Enjoy the frenzy everyone.


Offseason Player Grades: Conor Sheary

Statistics (Regular Season)

61 GP, 23 G, 30 A, 53 PTS, +24 +/-, 22 PIM

Statistics (Playoffs)

22 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 PTS, -5 +/-, 4 PIM

Grade: B-

Conor Sheary really helped out this team midway through the season while playing with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby. The Sid and the Kids line really produced and lead the team as the best line in the league. But as for any player, there are ups and downs to a long season. Sheary exemplified the struggles and triumphs of a long season.

Sheary is an interesting player. Throughout this year, he reached amazing highs and amazing lows. He overpreformed for the first half the year and racked up big time points playing with Crosby and Guentzel. But he hit towards the end of the regular season, which carried into the playoffs. He even got benched during the postseason and had to wait until he got another opportunity to crack the lineup. As anyone else in the organization, Sheary persevered and helped the Pens get another ring. He scored twice during the finals and seemed to be coming back to the player we know he can be. Which is a puck battler in the corners and a great passer.

Preview

Next season should be a great one for Sheary. If you consider how much he slowed down after the first part of the season, it was amazing to see the points he was racking up. If he can play like that for 82 plus games then he will be 60 plus point player at least and potentially a 30 goal scorer.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Sheary is a big part of Crosby’s game. He is exactly the type of winger Crosby can play with. He’s guy that will do the dirty work in the corners like winning the puck battles. He is someone that can help make plays. I expect another good season and a more complete game for this young player.


Offseason Player Grades: Matt Murray 

Statistics (Regular Season)

49 GP, 32-10-4, 2.41 GAA, .923 SV%, 4 SO

Statistics (Playoffs)

11 GP, 7-3, 1.70 GAA, .937 SV%, 3 SO

Grade: A+

There’s not much you can complain about when it comes to Matt Murray. He has broken records and overcome adversity. He responds to negatives with huge positives. He shut the door on Nashville in the final 2 games to help win back to back cups.

Murray, time and time again, shows us how calm he is in the net. Just look at the Stanley Cup Finals alone. He stole games 1 and 2 for us at home. Then he gets a bit rattled in games 3 and 4. But then he responds by shutting Nashville out in games 5 and 6. He is an amazing goaltender that has shown many flashes of greatness in his young career.

Preview

Murray will be carrying the load for the Penguins again next year. He is already a legendary figure in Pittsburgh hockey. He will continue to grow his legacy as a Penguin and his own greatness. I don’t see Murray declining anytime soon as he is on the up and up. Pittsburgh was very lucky to have two amazing starting goaltenders for two straight Stanley Cup runs. Matt Murray was one of them and therefore a huge reason the Pens repeated as Stanley Cup champions.

Conclusion

Matt Murray is the Pens goaltender going forward as he should be. He has constantly shown his resilience and ability to be one of the greatest goalies to play the game. He plays calm cool and collected and for that reason fans should be excited. AS long and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Murray are here, then expect a chance at winning the cup each year.

Vegas Expansion Team Predictions 

We are coming down to the wire when it comes to the Vegas Golden Knights selecting their team. All of the protection lists have been submitted. Now with these submissions I selected the team I would make if I was Vegas. 

Forwards

Bobby Ryan, OTT 

James Neal, NASH 

Dale Weise, PHI 

Brad Richardson, ARI 

Riley Sheahan, DET 

Trevor Lewis, LA 

Devante Smith-Pelly, NJ 

William Karlson, CBJ 

Dimitrij Jaskin, STL

Kerby Rychel, TOR 

Jonathan Marchessault, FLA

William Carrier, BUF 

Jacob De La Rose, MTL 

Reid Boucher, VAN 

Mikail Grigorenko, COL 

Defense

Toby Enstrom, WIN

Sami Vatanen, ANA

Brendan Dillon, SJS 

Matt Dumba, MIN

Klas Dahlbeck, CAR

Trevor Van Reimsdyk, CHI

Calvin De Haan, NOT

Jamie Oleksiak, DAL 

Griffin Reinhart, EDM 

Joe Morrow, BOS 

Jake Dotchkin, TB

Bret Kulak, CAL 

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT

Antti Raanta, NYR 

Philipp Grubauer, WAS

Review

I assembled this team with some big names but prospects that can become something great.

Every team is built through the draft and I expect Vegas to be no different. The big names I picked up will fill the seats up during their inaugural season and get attendance and allow Vegas to compete.

Most of these expensive contracts will expire in a year or two so the Golden Knights won’t have cap issues in the near future. And they’ll have about $20 million in cap space post expansion draft. Adding stars like Bobby Ryan, James Neal, and Marc-Andre Fleury brings great advertisments around the city and a great product on the ice.

Even though this is what I would pick to allow for a competitive team. I would think Vegas is gonna make a lot of trades with teams to either keep a player or trade away one. I don’t expect my team to come close to the real team. But I do expect Vegas to have a handful of good talent on their roster next year. It’ll be a crazy next few weeks with lots of movement around the league. So everyone enjoy the fun off-season that will be commencing. 

Stanley Cup Preview: Predators vs. Penguins

The Penguins are here again and have a chance to repeat as champions. They would be the first to do so since the 98 Red Wings. But to get to that point they must defeat the Predators.

The Preds are the hottest team in hockey right now with a lot of no names. 

The Predators exemplify what it means to play as a team.

Because of this team first mentality, they got to the finals as the 16th seed. They are the first 16th seed ever to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Their defense and goaltending is what they count on most.

Their goaltending lead by Pekka Rinne, which is the best goalie in the playoffs this season. He’s focused and determined and a huge reason that they’re here.

The defensive core is full of number 1 defenseman and help a lot with on offense. They move the puck well and know when to make a shot or create sneaky passes. Their forwards are led by Filipino Forsberg, James Neal, Colton Sissons, and Victor Arvidsson. Each player is extremely dangerous with the puck and can score at anytime. But the most dangerous part of this team is how they create screens in front of the net. That’s how the score and what they focus on in the offensive zone.

Onto the Penguins.

They’re back again and are a determined group still. Even though the Preds play as a team, so do these Pens. 

They know how to keep eachother focused and in it. The series against the sens showed how close this group is. They could be folded under the frustration but stayed determined. Throughout these playoffs the Pens have had to learn to adapt their game to beat opponents and stay focused to beat top goaltenders. Even though this teams defense is tough I find it hard to believe the Pens can’t beat them. I mean they beat the Sens and goalies such as Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby, and Craig Anderson. But throughout this series there will be certain key things to watch for.

1. Nashville Screens

The Preds, like I was saying like yo throw a lot of bodies to the front of the net. The Pens defense will have to “remove them” in order to stop their offense. If the Pens can do this then I really like their chances.

2. Pens in the face off circle

The Pens got a bountiful amount of depth down the center of the ice compared to Nashville. If you want to beat Nashville it starts at the face off circle. With Ryan Johansson being injured the Pens have a huge amount of depth over the Preds. So if the Pens control the the circle then they should be able to control the game. Which leads to my 3rd point of how the Pens can win. 

3. Control the puck

Whoever controls the puck more will obviously get a huge advantage to win. But if the Pens win the face off circle then that’ll lead to controlling the puck. The Pens will hold the puck more and that’ll lead to more chances for them.

This series is going to be a tough series for both teams. But it’ll come down to goaltending and puck possession. With Matt Murray and the depth down center ice I definitely see the Pens having the advantage there. But Nashville is a very good and opportunistic team and will create issues for the Pens. But if the Pens play like they did against Ottawa then I believe they’ll get a similar result.

Olli Maatta Beginning To Return To Form

The Pens are coming off a 7-0 blow out against the Senators notching back to back winning efforts.

Notice that the defense is getting a scoring touch here. Olli Maatta himself has scored the first goals in the past few games. But man has he come up big for the Pens during the playoffs.

He has been playing solid minutes for the team and remains effective. Ever since Maatta was diagnosed with cancer and returned, he hasn’t been the same.

Before cancer, Maatta was an obvious top 4 defenseman in the NHL. After returning he has struggled to produce points and help the team.

But with all the injuries during this stretch he has stepped up along with the defense as a whole. But Maatta seems to be finding the same confidence he had during his rookie season.

He is finally living up to his contract and helping his team.

If the Pens do repeat as champs they need impressive play by the injured defensive core. Maatta will be a huge part of this moving on as long as his teammates.

So next time your watching the Pens make sure you’re watching the defense closely and especially Maatta. Who is starting to transform back into the top pairing defenseman the Penguins wanted him to be.