I took a break from hockey during the 2019-20 NHL season, so it has been well over a year since I have looked into that status of the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects. Because of this I am going to take a break from the norm and look at all of the players who had not yet turned pro prior to the 2020 CoViD pandemic and how they had performed over the prior two seasons from 2019-21.
We our going to start our examination with the three goaltenders and eight D prospects. I am also interested to see what happened to the three defensemen who were in my last prospect update in January 2020 but are no longer with the team. I am also going to break from tradition and list standings for the goalies in the North American win-loss-tie format rather than the 3-point IIHF style that I usually post for players in European leagues.
Blomqvist has two more years left on his contract in Finland, their 2021-22 regular season has already begun and he served as a backup watching from the bench during their first game. It remains to be seen if he will remain in the elite league for the full season or if he will be loaned out to the minors again, but as he gets more playing time we will have a better idea of what his chances are of eventually coming to North America to play. He will be eligible for the World Juniors again this December, so perhaps he will get to play this year. The Penguins retain his player rights until 2024 so they have some time left to decide what to do with him.
Liiga – Oulun Kärpät : 2-1-0 with a 2.62 GAA and 86.9 Sv%
He didn’t spend much time in the top league, however his number drastically improved last year as he went 0-1-0 with a 4.73 GAA and 80.8 Sv% in 2019-20 but went 2-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA and 91.4 Sv% in 2020-21. Overall though this isn’t a large enough sample size to gauge his ability so we will have to wait and see what he does this year.
Mestis – Kokkolan Hermes : 6-4-6 with a 2.67 GAA and 90.7 Sv%
He spent most of the 2020-21 season loaned out to the minor league where he had the 5th best GAA and Sv% in the league as well as being the top rookie netminder. In addition he went 6-3 in the playoffs with a 3.10 GAA and 90.8 Sv% which was 7th in GAA but 4th in Sv% during the playoffs and he helped lead his team to the finals where they finished 2nd place. He also represented Finland at the 2021 World Junior Championships but he did not play.
U20 SM-sarja – Oulun Kärpät U20 : 29-6-5 with a 1.63 GAA and 93.2 Sv%
He was not yet drafted by the Penguins but spent most of the 2019-20 season in the junior league where he went 26-6-5 with a 1.66 GAA and 93.1 Sv% leading the league in both categories and being named a 1st team all-star as well as winning the Jorma Valtonen award as league’s best goalie. He barely played in the juniors during the 2020-21 season but when he did he went 3-0-0 with a 1.31 GAA and 94.1 Sv% which was 2nd best in the league behind his team’s primary goaltender.
Clang has two more years left on his contract in Finland, their 2021-22 regular season has already begun but he was not dressed for their first game. It remains to be seen if he will remain in the elite league for the full season or if he will be loaned out to the minors again, but as he gets more playing time we will have a better idea of what his chances are of eventually coming to North America to play. He will be eligible for the World Juniors again this December, so perhaps he will get to play this year. The Penguins retain his player rights until 2024 so they have some time left to decide what to do with him.
SHL – Rögle BK : 0-0-0 with a 0.00 GAA and 100.0 Sv%
He played a grand total of 46 seconds in the top league so we will have to wait and see what this season brings before we can make an assessment of his potential.
HockeyAllsvenskan – Kristianstads IK : 13-19-0 with a 2.46 GAA and 91.9 Sv%
He spent most of the 2020-21 season loaned out to the minor league where he had the 7th best GAA and 3rd best Sv% in the league and won the Guldgallret as the top junior in the Allsvenskan. In addition he went 3-2 with a 1.49 GAA and 95.2 Sv% during relegation. He represented Sweden at the 2021 World Junior Championships but he did not play.
J20 SuperElit – Rögle BK J20 : 17-17-0 with a 2.64 GAA and 91.3 Sv%
He was not yet drafted by the Penguins but spent all of the 2019-20 season in the juniors, mostly in the SuperElit where he was 10th in GAA and 5th in Sv%. During the first half against the Södra he went 9-11-0 with a 2.83 GAA and 90.7 Sv% and was 6th in the league. During the second half after the top 10 left to play amongst themselves he went 8-6 with a 2.39 GAA and 92.1 Sv% and was the top goalie in the continuation group.
J18 Elit – Rögle BK J18 : 1-2-0 with 2.75 GAA and 89.7 Sv%
He played just 3 games with the J18 team during the 2019-20 season and his stats in that limited time were unimpressive but on par with that of the primary goaltender on his team.
Lindberg is turning pro this year and we expect that he will be competing for playing time in WBS with their other two young netminders, however with the crowded depth chart he may well end up seeing time in the ECHL playing for the Wheeling Nailers if he can’t surpass the more experienced goalie options.
NCAA Hockey East – UMass : 18-6-6 with a 1.58 GAA and 93.8 Sv%
He was a Minnesota Wild prospect playing for the University of Massachusetts Minutemen over the past two years, just joining the Penguins this summer after he left school. His sophomore year in 2019-20 he went 8-5-2 with a 1.91 GAA and 92.7 Sv% which was 8th in GAA and 14th in Sv% i the entire NCAA. It was quite similar to his freshman performance, he had been splitting starts with the other goaltender all three years he was in school. He had a breakout year in 2020-21 going 10-1-4 with a 1.24 GAA and 94.9 Sv% which was top in the entire NCAA and he finished the year leading his team to an NCAA championship and was named to the All-Tournament team as well as 2nd team All-USCHO and 2nd team Hockey East All-Star.
Phillips is returning to college for one more year, serving as an alternate captain and finishing out his degree that was interrupted by the CoViD pandemic. How he plays this year may well determine if he has a future with the team or if they plan to let his rights expire this summer.
NCAA B1G – Penn State : 5 goals, 11 assists, and a -9 in 47 games
He transferred to the Penn State Nittany Lions in 2019-20 scoring 2 goals, 7 assists, and a -2 as a junior then in 2020-21 he had 3 goals, 4 assists, and a -7 in 20 games as a senior which was the 2nd best D on his team.
Reilly is expected to be back in WBS again this year, although he didn’t stand out all that much in his rookie year so it is hard to say where exactly he will be in the lineup, it likely depends on whether or not all of the guys clear waivers in order to be sent down to the AHL and if they can stay healthy for once.
AHL – WBS Penguins : 3 goals, 3 assists, and a -5 in 26 games
He made his pro debut in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the 2020-21 season.
NCAA ECAC – RPI : 8 goal, 14 assists, and a +14 in 34 games
He played for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers during the 2019-20 season and was the top scoring D on his team as well as being named a 2nd team ECAC All-Star and was #35 in the NCAA for points per game amongst D.
Airola is signed in Finland through the end of the season with an option for an extra year. He is listed on the roster with the big club but is far enough down the depth chart that he did not dress for their first game, but as he spent most of the season up in the elite league last year it is safe to assume he will do so again. They still have until 2023 to decide whether or not to sign him to an NHL deal before they lose his rights.
Liiga – Tampereen Ilves : 3 assists and a +0 in 19 games
He signed with Ilves and spent most of the 2020-21 season playing in the elite league, although he played less than half of the team’s games.
Liiga – Saimaan Pallo : 0 points and a -2 in 2 games
He was briefly loaned to SaiPa in 2019-20.
Mestis – KOOVEE : 1 assist and a +0 in 2 games
He was loaned down to the minors for a brief time in the 2020-21 season.
Mestis – Imatran Ketterä : 11 assists and a +16 in 26 games
He was signed to a minor league deal for the 2019-20 season but was loaned out and only played a little over half of his team’s games. He was 3rd of the team D in points per game and plus/minus, his plus/minus was 5th in the entire league.
Lee is expected to be back in the AHL this year and could be one of the top D in WBS once again. He will be given a chance to earn a spot on the NHL lineup, the 3rd line right D spot is currently in flux, but as he is still waiver exempt it is unlikely that he will pass up guys who have more experience.
AHL – WBS Penguins : 2 goals, 13 assists, and a +0 in 31 games
He signed with the Penguins as an undrafted free agent last year and made his pro debut in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the 2020-21 season. He was the top scoring D on the team and was 6th in the league amongst rookie D.
Tipos Extraliga – HC Slovan Bratislava : 2 goals, 9 assists, and a +9 in 14 games
He began the 2020-21 season playing in Europe while the North American leagues were still on hiatus due to the CoViD pandemic.
NCAA NCHC – Western Michigan : 3 goals, 18 assists, and a +11 in 26 games
He was a senior playing for the Western Michigan Broncos during the 2019-20 season and was the top scoring D on his team and was #17 in the NCAA for points per game amongst D.
Maniscalco should be back in the minors this year, he will be a rookie again as he didn’t meet the games played requirement yet. As he was in the AHL last year we can assume he will be back in WBS, but it is possible that he will see some time in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers if he can’t get enough ice time to develop.
AHL – WBS Penguins : 0 points and a +1 in 8 games
He dropped out of school early to sign with the Penguins as an undrafted free agent last year and made his pro debut in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the 2020-21 season. However, he only got to play a handful of games.
NCAA – Arizona State : 11 goals, 21 assists, and a +12 in 36 games
He was a sophomore with the Arizona State Sun Devils during the 2019-20 season and was #10 in the NCAA for points per game amongst D.
Belliveau is a new pick from the 2021 draft and is already back in the QMJHL for their preseason and at a point per game is currently the top D on his team. He is just 18 so we can expect him to remain in the juniors for the next two years, which is how long they have to sign him or let his rights expire.
QMJHL – Gatineau Olympiques : 4 goals, 8 assists, and a +1 in 21 games
He was traded to Gatineau during the 2020-21 season and immediately made an impact as one of the best D on the team. However, he struggled in the playoffs with just 1 assist and a -7 in 4 games.
QMJHL – Rimouski Océanic : 12 goals, 46 assists, and a +4 in 78 games
He began his junior career in Rimouski but had a bit of ups and downs with the team. In 2020-21 prior to being traded he had struggled scoring just 1 goal, 4 assists, and a -8 in 16 games. The entire team struggled, he was neither the best nor the worst they had, but it was disappointing nonetheless. The reason it was so uncharacteristic was he had a stellar rookie season in 2019-20 where he scored 11 goals, 42 assists, and a +12 in 62 games which made him the top scoring D on his team and earned himself a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie team.
McCleary is a new pick from the 2021 draft who is in the juniors listed on the roster but did not play in the first pre-season game, but as he just turned 18 and this is only his 2nd year in the WHL we can expect him to still be there for quite some time, his player rights will expire in 2023, a year before he ages out of the juniors.
WHL – Portland Winterhawks : 2 goals, 5 assists, and a +11 in 18 games
He spent most of the 2020-21 season in the WHL and while his numbers weren’t terribly impressive he did have the 2nd best plus/minus on the team.
SJHL – Yorktown Terriers : 0 points in 3 games
He spent a brief time in the lower tier juniors during the 2020-21 season but had nothing to show for it. It was his first year in the juniors, prior to that he was still playing midget.
Laatsch is a new pick from the 2021 draft who is starting college at the University of Wisconsin this fall. Because he will be in the NCAA the Penguins have until 2025 to decide whether or not to sign him before they lose his player rights. I imagine he will stay in school until he graduates.
USHL – Sioux City Musketeers : 2 goals, 17 assists, and a +23 in 51 games
He played the entire 2020-21 season with Sioux City and was the 2nd best scoring D and 2nd highest plus/minus on his team. He went scoreless with a -2 through 4 playoff games.
USHL – USNDTP : 1 goal, 3 assists, and a +4 in 15 games
He spent the 2019-20 season playing for the US National Development Team.
USDP – US U18 : 2 goals and 5 assists in 36 games
He spent most of 2019-20 playing for the U18 team.
USDP – US U17 : 1 assist in 4 games
He had a brief stint with the U17 team in 2019-20.
Addison was traded to the Minnesota Wild in 2020 as part of the deal that brought Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh. In 2019-20, they year he was traded, Addison had 10 goals, 42 assists, and a +7 in 50 games and was named a WHL East 1st team All-Star, and that is after going nearly a point per game during each of his previous two WHL seasons. He also racked up 1 goal, 8 assists, and a +4 in 9 games at the 2020 World Juniors. In 2020-21 he turned pro netting 6 goals, 16 assists, and a +7 in 31 AHL games as well as going scoreless through 3 NHL games and 1 assists and a -1 in 3 NHL playoff games. There is talk that he may make a push to stick in the NHL this season as part of Minnesota’s top 4.
Palojarvi was one that the Penguins gave up on and let his player rights expire, although as of now it doesn’t look as if he was likely to ever leave Finland anyway. He spent the 2019-20 season signed with Lukko but only played 5 games with the big club splitting the remainder of the season with the U20 team or loaned out to the Mestis. He had an incredibly poor year, the highlight of which was going scoreless and a -22 in 24 games playing in the minors but he also went scoreless with a +2 in 5 games in the big club as well as 3 assists and a -3 in 14 games in the juniors. In 2020-21 he signed with KooKoo and again split the year between the U20 team and loaned out to the Mestis. He was improved but still nothing stellar, netting 1 goal, 3 assists, and breaking even in 15 games in the minors as well as 1 goal, 4 assists, and a -5 in 11 games in the juniors. As far as I can see he is unsigned so far this season, he at least has not returned to KooKoo.
Jones is another one that the Penguins chose not to sign when his player rights expired. In 2019-20 he finished off his senior year at Nebraska-Omaha scoring 2 goals, 9 assists, and a -6 in 36 games. He turned pro in 2020-21 on an AHL deal with the Rochester Americans where he scored 1 goal, 6 assists, and a -9 in 29 games. He signed an AHL deal with the Syracuse Crunch for this season so he will be back in the minors again.