I get it. We do in-depth prospect features here, we do prospect film breakdowns, but what everyone really wants is the ranking. So here we go, we're going to rank the Penguins' prospects.
To qualify as a "prospect" for this exercise, there are three criteria.
- The player must be drafted by or under contract with Pittsburgh, not on an AHL deal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
- The player must be age 25 or under.
- The player must not have played in an NHL game.
Using that criteria, we can come up with a list of 27 players. We're going to break that into three separate lists running in reverse order over three days. Today, we'll rank Nos. 21-27.
27. SANTERI AIROLA
How acquired: 2019, seventh round
Size: 5-11, 163
Airola was the second of two seventh-round picks in this summer's draft. He had a successful 2018-19 season in Finland, but he was playing with SaiPa's U18 and U20 junior teams, and only cracked the main SaiPa team for three games. He won't be playing in Liiga next season either, as he's under contract with Kettera of the second-tier Mestis league.
The Penguins retain Airola's signing rights until June 2023, so luckily he has a few years to continue to develop -- and get physically stronger -- in Finland.
26. RYAN JONES
How acquired: 2016, fourth round
Size: 6-2, 185
Jones looks to have a low ceiling. He's a physical defensive defenseman, and has spent the past three years playing on a bad Nebraska-Omaha team.
He was heavily utilized by his team last season, playing on the top defensive pairing. His minus-32 rating last season is mainly a reflection of how many minutes he played. Jones hasn't produced much offensively in college, with two goals and 29 assists in 105 games, but he didn't produce much offensively in juniors either. He plays more of a shutdown game.
25. LINUS OLUND
How acquired: 2017, fifth round
Size: 5-11, 185
Olund had a rough time in his first professional season. He recorded six goals and nine assists in 61 games with Wilkes-Barre. He primarily played a fourth-line role and was a healthy scratch at times.
Olund requested to return to Sweden next season, and the Penguins are loaning him to his previous SHL club, Brynas. He's still under contract until 2021 and could return to North America for the 2020-21 season.
Andreas Dackell, the sports director for Brynas, made it clear that the Penguins aren’t giving up on Olund.
“They see development opportunities and potential in him and think it is good that he can come here and develop in an environment where he has done well before,” Dackell told Brynas' website. “We are extremely grateful that we will get him here.”
24. VALTERI PUUSTINEN
How acquired: 2019, seventh round
Size: 5-9, 183
Puustinen is a late bloomer. He made his professional debut last season with HPK, and scored 10 goals and three assists in 47 games.
Puustinen is definitely on the smaller side, but he's able to compensate, in part, with his speed.
The Penguins retain Puustinen's exclusive signing rights until June 2021, so he only has two more seasons to develop in Finland before the Penguins would have to decide whether to sign him.
23. ANTTI PALOJARVI
How acquired: 2017, sixth round
Size: 6-1, 172
Palojarvi is a bit of a project. When I spoke with him last summer, he expressed confidence in his ability to stick in the top Finnish men's league for a full season. He only played 16 Liiga games, moving between the U20 team, Liiga, and eventually being loaned to the second-tier Mestis league.
When I spoke with him at this summer's camp, he said his focus for now is still just to stick in Liiga for a full season. He also expressed a desire to add strength and develop the physical side of his game. That would be needed for him to take the next step, since his offensive production hasn't been anything special at the professional level.
The Penguins retain his exclusive signing rights until June 2021, and he’ll likely develop for another two seasons in Finland before moving to North America.
22. LIAM GORMAN
How acquired: 2018, sixth round
Size: 6-3, 196
Gorman is a big, two-way center. He had offensive success last season with 16 goals and 22 assists in 24 games, but he was playing high school hockey with kids who were a few years younger than him for the most part.
Gorman will begin his college career next season with Princeton, a team that finished ninth in its conference last season and is losing two of their top scorers to the pro game. He'll be able to take on a large role with Princeton which will be good for his development, but he's still likely four years away from turning pro.
21. JUDD CAULFIELD
How acquired: 2019, fifth round
Size: 6-3, 207
Caulfield was the last of three power forwards selected in this summer's draft, a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program. His size is his biggest asset, and he plays a good two-way game. His skating could be stronger, but most players of his size aren't the strongest skaters either.
With six goals and 19 assists in 28 USHL games and six goals and five assists in 36 exhibition games last season with the Development Program, he doesn't have much of a scoring touch. After he was drafted, he said that working on his hands is going to be one of his focuses in college.
Caulfield will begin his college career next season at the University of North Dakota, so he's likely four years from turning pro.
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