Penguins Prospects Tournament: a Sneak Peek of the Future – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Prospects Tournament: a Sneak Peek of the Future

What a great time of the year, even Las Vegas, Colorado, and New Jersey fans are optimistic. Every team is still in the playoff hunt. It has only been a couple of months since our Penguins hoisted the Cup, now we are only about a month away from raising the banner from that championship–and the curtain to defend that championship.

I am counting down the days until training camp opens, much like I used to count down the days until Christmas. For me, there is electricity in the air already. Last year’s repeat championship was the first back-to-back championship since 1997-1998. This year, our Penguins can do something that hasn’t been done since the New York Islanders three-in-a-row Cups when they won four in a row from 1979-1983.

Pulling off the “threepeat” will not be easy. Unlike last year, the reality of free agency and expansion has cut deep into the team that brought us so many exciting memories over the last couple of years. Players like Marc-Andre Fleury, perhaps the most storied goalie in Penguins history and Chris Kunitz  (both three time Cup winners with the Penguins), as well as two-time Cup winners Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, and Trevor Daley are now gone.

The defection of these players has left a gaping hole down the center of the team. If not for the rise of players like Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel and the return of Kris Letang to full health, the same could be said of left wings and defense. However, herein lies the source of my greatest excitement; Who will replace these players, who will rise to the challenge?

For quite some time I have been wanting to see at least a bit of a youth movement; I have been wanting to see exactly what our Penguins have waiting in the wings. I have been dying to watch Daniel Sprong play again and see Zach Aston-Reese play for the first time.

Just like when I was a kid, sneaking to find what Christmas presents I would get, I was able to get a sneak peek Saturday afternoon, when I was able to watch a bit of the Penguins’ Prospects 6 to 2 victory over the Devils’ Prospects. I am not ready to gush over what I saw. The number of players on the ice that will play in the NHL on a regular basis is statistically low, and levels of competition make it hard to predict what will happen in little over a week when camp opens. However, I did see some things I liked.

Based upon those 10 minutes of the third period, in which the forwards were effectively employing the “swarming style” of the big club while the defense appeared less crisp and rather sloppy in comparison, I was not disappointed in the least by Daniel Sprong. It looked to me like he was skating with authority and purpose and did get a marker today. Most scouting reports (including the reports on the NHL.com) project Sprong as making the big league roster this year, despite local reports being less confident.

Aston-Reese also looked very good in the time I watched the game. On the same line as Sprong, the two demonstrated some chemistry and drove the offense. Aston-Reese and Sprong were on the ice for a goal against while I was watching the game, but that was more of a question of a defenseman giving the puck away with a bad play up his own slot in combination with a solid shot from the Devils. What may have been a more interesting part of the story yesterday, the young forward showed off his pugilistic skills after a Devils defenseman initiated a bit of a stick joust. Aston-Reese is also forecast by NHL.com and many scouts as having what it takes to make the big league roster this year.

I also liked what I saw from Adam Johnson, who centered Sprong and Aston-Reese in Friday’s game against the Bruins but was playing second line against the Devils. Johnson appeared weak in the face-off circle, and (in the brief period I watched) none of the Penguins’ centers impressed me on the draw. However, Johnson moved the puck well and cleaned up his own zone during a handful of defensive lapses. He also found himself playing tough in the dirty areas and although taking a beating, he got back up and kept playing. Honestly, with the gaping hole at center, I hope Mike Sullivan gives him a legitimate shot at the third line center position. No, I haven’t given up hope on Jim Rutherford prying Andrea Athanasiou away from Detroit, but with the silence in the trade department, I have been trying to focus on in-house answers.

Jordy Bellerive was the real hero of the game picking up the hat trick.

Who is Jordy Bellerive you ask?

He is an undrafted 18 year old left handed center who is 70” tall and 194 lbs who signed an amateur tryout contract.

What has he done?

Besides the hat trick in the last Prospects game, he not only had a marker in the first game but also picked up an assist during this tournament. However, before we all get excited, let’s temper our zeal. Bellerive has been playing fourth line and against players who are decidedly not NHL ready.  Wilkes-Barre Scranton, should celebrate this addition to their roster, but I am not yet ready to suggest that he is an answer for the Pittsburgh club.

On defense, the only one who really impressed me was Lukas Bengsston, the right handed defenseman who had an injury/sickness shortened inaugural season in Wilkes-Barre Scranton. He skated well with the puck, making opponents miss as he skated the puck up ice, and showed some ability to jump up into the play. I can’t help wonder if the Penguins’ defense takes as big of a beating this coming season as it did last year, will Bengsston get a call up?

In the honorable mention category, Freddie Tiffels’ speed really impressed me and I did see him get a fairly good scoring chance specifically due to that speed. The Penguins’ top pick this year, second round draft choice Zachary Lauzon, made a nifty little play to reverse a breakout.

Ten minutes is hardly enough time to make concrete judgments, but today’s sneak peek has certainly whet my appetite for the upcoming season.

The final game of this tournament will be played on Monday at 7 pm against the Sabres’ Prospects. Let’s Go Pens!

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  1. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    September 13, 2017 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Congrats to Alex D’Orio; looks like he earned himself a contract with the Pens with his play in leading the Prospects to win their tournament.

  2. JIm's Gravatar JIm
    September 13, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Hey Coach,
    Great article my friend.I could sense your excitement even in Canada. I thought you would like Sprong.Watching him in the Q play offs last spring I was really impressed and to me he is now playing the game , whereby in his first season he was chasing it. I too agree we need a third center man soon.Maybe not opening night but definitely before your Thanks Giving weekend.

    Hi Rick…P4E too. Hope you get your coaching jobs.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      September 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Thanks my friend. I got to watch almost all of game 3, against the Sabres. You are right, Sprong is a gem. He comes with so much speed through the neutral zone, he will definitely cause headaches for opposing D. I may be in the minority, but I think the only thing that was holding him back in the tournament was his center; Bleuger just seemed way out of step with his two wingers.

      I know Sullivan, Donatelli, and JR are high on the kid and in game 3 it did appear that Bleuger was very strong in the face off circle, but he didn’t appear to on the same page or keep up with Sprong. Put Sprong on a line with either Crosby or Malkin and let the fun begin.

      I also saw a comment about how Bleugar could play on both the PP and PK, but what scares me is that in the game against the Sabres’ Prospects the opponents scored on all three PK opportunities they had. Just because Donatelli played him on the PK means that he did well when he was on the ice. I wish they kept better stats to see exactly what his CORSI was.

      For my money, although weak on the draw, Johnson would be the Prospect I would rather see playing with Hagelin and Kessel. Bleuger would bog down the third line completely. Johnson has really good wheels, at least against other prospects, can skate with the puck in heavy traffic, and play with tons of heart.

      I also didn’t see much in DiPali’s game that suggest to me that he would be a player this year. I read some writer suggest that DiPali would look good with Malkin and Rust. I thought that was funny. First with Guentzel, Sheary, and Hagelin already play LW in the top 9, barring a trade there is no job openings. Second, the way Sprong was playing, again barring a trade, Rust may be playing 4th line.

      Also on the Right side, I do think Aston-Reese is ready too. He picked up a pair of Gs in the finale of the tournament and played with tons of snarl. As I noted above he showed off his fighting skills in game 2 and although not really fighting in game 3 he played hard and seemed to have the Sabres intimidated off of their game. After his ENG he got the Sabres to get stupid. To the discredit of the referees no penalties were called but there should have been and they should have been a landslide of Penalties against the Sabres.

      I did agree with the big boys, Sully et a,l in their assessment of Lauzon. Although he isn’t quite ready for the NHL, he is a big hitter and has some moves.

      Connor Hall also impressed me with his team spirit defense. He came to the defense of several players, earning a 2 min rough on one play and mixing it up in the scrum Aston-Reese started at the end of the game. Even though as I said the referees blew it and no penalties were called, he would have picked up more Pen time there.

      At this point I am now officially concerned about the C position. I am not sold on McClement or Bleuger, and although I like what I saw in Johnson, I really would like to see some one else, just in case, and to give Johnson a little bit of time to play some AHL. At this point I still think Aston-Reese may need to get a look at C as well. This Position scares.

      Like Jim, I hope you get at least one of your coaching Positions!

      • Pen's4ever's Gravatar Pen's4ever
        September 13, 2017 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        Thanks guys!!
        still waiting to hear..should know Sunday

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          September 16, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          Hey Pen’s 4ever,

          I’ve been a bit out of touch, but a belated good luck on getting that coaching position!


  3. Pen's4ever's Gravatar Pen's4ever
    September 11, 2017 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    It is a very exciting time of year, my three boys have started their hockey seasons here in Ontario, and I’m waiting to see if I get the head coaching job for one maybe two of them.

    I just wanted too mention that Andrea is more of a winger than center, but if you look back at other posts I mentioned McClement too get a look and he is!! (just had to toot my own horn!!) I still like 1. Adam Lowry-Jets 2. D. Ryan-Canes 3. A. Vermette- Ducks……
    and the debate goes on!!! and on!!

  4. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    September 10, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Great stuff, Other Rick.

    Thanks for sharing your impressions. I was particularly interested to hear what you thought of Adam Johnson, Zach Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong.


    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      September 10, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Rick,

      Reading some other peoples perspectives, some thought the Pens did well in the face-off circle, particularly Teddy Blueger, I must have pick a bad segment to watch in that department. In fact, I wasn’t all that thrilled with centering Aston-Reese and Sprong. I wish I had seen some of the Bruins game to see how Johnson fit with them.

      I also read some people suggesting that Sprong and Aston-Reese weren’t wowing them, they wanted, I guess compared to Belevire, but Sprong and Aston-Reese seemed to be drawing the best defensive attention the Devils could put out there. One of the Devils D-men has already played 4-seasons in the KHL. Granted the KHL isn’t the NHL but it certainly better competition than the juniors, and that D man always seemed to be on the ice when Sprong and Aston-Reese were. Conversely, Belevire, the unknown, appeared to be slipping beneath the radar. Yes he was converting, but let’s see what happens if/when he has to skate against more defensive attention..

      I also read some good stuff about DiPali but again in my limited snap shot, I didn’t see it.

      If anyone from Root Sports is reading this, watching the prospect game sated my appetite to see the younger Pens. I don’t know the feasibility, but I for one would love to see more of the WBS Pens. Is it possible to get some/more of their games on your schedule, particularly during the Pens Bye week. I am not saying everyone is like me, but I for one would definitely watch.


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