We asked some bloggers who their top players in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization under 25 were, and now we reveal the first part of the list to you.
There's been a little confusion about what constitutes a Top 25 Under 25 list, but like our SB Nation compatriots at several of the hockey blogs, we standardized and are going to encompass any player in the organization- regardless of skill level- to be in the list.
As our pals at Broad Street Hockey put it,
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept here, this is basically exactly what it sounds like: it's a ranking of the organization's 25 best players under the age of 25 years old. Why 25? Well, it's a somewhat round number (in the sense that multiples of fives are round numbers ... right?), it's an age by which you generally have a pretty good idea what kind of a hockey player you've got in a guy, and it brings together a good mix of young, high-risk/high-ceiling prospects and already-known commodities like current NHL players and higher-end AHL guys.
With that in mind, this summer's public vote on Pensburgh got too distorted by unclear voting parameters, so I had to call in some of the big guns. Jesse Marshall from Faceoff Factor, Eric from Lets Go Pens, Ian Altenbaugh from Hockeys Future, all of whom eat, sleep and breath Penguins hockey. I combined their responses with what TKN and I had for a consensus ranking among these experts.
My advice to the voters was to ask ""if I could only keep 1 player under 25 in the organization, who would it be. And then work down from there." so that gives you a clear idea of how and why each player ended up where they did.
The 35 players still eligible were (listed with where they finished last season):
AHL (18): Adam Payerl, Anton Zlobin, Brian Dumoulin, Bryan Rust, Dominik Uher, Harrison Ruopp, J-S Dea, Jayson Megna, Josh Archibald, Matia Marcantuoni, Matt Murray, Nick D'Agostino, Philip Samuelsson, Reid McNeill, Scott Harrington, Scott Wilson, Simon Despres, Tom Kuhnhackl
USHL (1): Anthony Angello
BCHL (1): Dane Birks
US High School (1): Sam Lafferty
25. Blaine Byron
The top 25 begins this summer with Blaine Byron, the Pens 6th round pick from 2013. A natural center, Byron made the switch to wing last season, his freshman year with Maine.
"I noticed this year, playing wing, I found myself having a lot more scoring opportunities," Byron said. "I think I produced more goals than in the past."
As a skill player with a high ceiling, Byron has excited observers for his future potential, but still has a ways to go. As Ian said in his summer rankings of prospects, "The biggest issue, like many of the Penguins forward prospects, is his size. Standing at 5’11 and 163 pounds, Byron needs to add a substantial amount of muscle to his frame in order to withstand the rigors of professional hockey.".
Byron will be back at Maine this year for his sophomore season and still has plenty of time to add on some muscle and fill out naturally as he gets out of his teens. He could be a long-term prospect to keep an eye on.
24. Nick D'Agostino
The 24 year old D'Agostino ends his days on "under top 25 lists" still as something of a work in progress. After spending four years at Cornell, last season was his first as a professional and he wasn't able to establish himself totally in the AHL due to the glut of talent in the Penguins organization. The talent is going to keep pouring in, so he'll have to keep improving as well.
D'Agostino still has his supporters in the prospect ranking world, who can appreciate the quiet, calm, responsible defensive game he plays. D'Agostino is a good skater and perhaps should grow into more of the offense that he put up in lower levels now with more comfortability under his belt at the professional level.
Often times we've seen players make huge strides early in their pro career (Philip Samuelsson comes to mind), so hopefully D'Agostino will too. It doesn't take much to go from rookie to needed AHL member, and he'll be getting their quickly.
23. Scott Wilson
Wilson, a 7th round pick in 2011, burst onto the season the following season in 2011-12 in his freshman season, posting a point per game at UMass-Lowell. Now, after his junior season, he decided to turn pro and signed with the Penguins.
Ian has a familiar refrain for Wilson as for most young players: he needs to get bigger and stronger. "Wilson is not overly big and will have to get stronger in order to match up against bigger defensemen in the pros. He is not an overly fast skater, but is strong on his feet and is good at getting on loose pucks."
It will be interesting to see this season how much Wilson's scoring translates to the professional game. In college he was a very reliable scorer, and if he can be productive in the minor leagues, it would bode well for his long-term potential towards becoming an NHL player one day in the future. As of now, Wilson is far from that point, but he's got enough flash and well-rounded ability to make the list of the top 25 players.
22. Reid McNeill
In an organization loaded with young, talented defenseman, Reid McNeill stands out for being unique in that he is a physical defenseman. Last season, his second as a pro, the 22 year old former 6th round pick in 2010 make strides and left his mark on the AHL.
Aside from that, in this summer's prospect scrimmages McNeill left an impression on our own TK-N. "Reid McNeill also got to throw his weight around a bit, but he continued showing off the side we didn't know existed as he cleaned up a rebound to score."
"Being a bigger, physical guy is something that the organization can look at," McNeill said earlier this summer. "It sets me apart from everybody." And that it does. At 6'4, 200 pounds, McNeill might rise through the ranks like another big, strong, physical prospect in Robert Bortuzzo who stuck with the Pens unlike many other prospects over the past few years. Adding attributes that others can't is always a plus, and if McNeill can operate as an effective shutdown defenseman in the AHL this season, he'll raise his profile for the NHL in years to come.
Marcantuoni is probably the fastest of the current crop of Penguins prospects and will be taking his talents to the pros this year. His junior career was filled with injuries and not a ton of in-game production, but Marcantuoni's best traits seem to be the tools right now.
The critique frequently heard about Marcantuoni is that his hands need to catch up to his feet. He's been compared in the past to a Pascal Dupuis type, but let's not forget that Dupuis once had a 50g/55a/105p season in a 61 game season in the offensive minded QMJHL. Marcantuoni has failed to produce even relatively that much in juniors, suggesting long odds towards being skilled enough to make the jump to the NHL. However, he did deal with a lot of injuries, and did at least set career highs in his final season, so perhaps he has something to build on.
And, with his career moving to the next chapter, Marcantuoni goes into the pros with a fresh start. That much promise was enough to land him in the #21 spot of our rankings this summer.
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