The Pittsburgh Penguins take the ice tonight in their 2018-19 home opener against the defending Stanley Cup champions the Washington Capitals. The off-season proved to be a productive one for the team. They added some young new prospects to their roster who are sure to complement the veterans. These new players will be joining the ranks of a few more seasoned, but equally just as young Penguins. Here are some of the young Penguins that are expected to impact the team this year.
Pittsburgh Penguins Youth To Watch in 2018-19
Juuso Riikola signed a one-year entry-level contract in May. Coming from a Finnish team, he boasts six years of professional experience. In his last season with Kalpa Kuopio, he notched 24 points in 59 games. Riikola spent time during his first NHL pre-season impressing those around him and tallied two goals and two assists in six games. He also proved to be a potential defensive breakout star.
Even for an average-sized defenseman, he plays an aggressive game. Riikola doesn’t shy away from physical play, and that showed in the preseason games he played. Riikola seems to have made the transition into the NHL pretty seamlessly, and he was arguably one of the brightest spots of Pittsburgh’s training camp this summer.
Daniel Sprong was the Penguins second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. In June, signed a two-year, $1.5 million contract extension with the team. This is essentially a make-or-break season for the young winger, as he wasn’t utilized much by head coach Mike Sullivan last year. Sprong thrived in the AHL but has struggled to find his game in the NHL. There had been some obvious concern with his defensive play, but once he gains a little confidence, he should be a solid player. His skating ability and quick shot earned him a spot on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel during training camp and the pre-season. Once there, he impressed notching a pair of goals.
Speaking of Guentzel, he’s found his groove as the perfect fit on Pittsburgh’s first line next to Crosby. This will be his last season on an entry-level contract, but odds are he won’t be going anywhere. The team loves his energy, and he’s a fan favourite. Guentzel’s regular season was fairly consistent, although he did have a bit of a mid-season lull in scoring. His post-season performance was explosive. Guentzel racked up 10 goals and 11 assists in 12 games, outscoring Crosby.
Olli Maatta is another well-known name amongst the Penguins youth. Coming to the team in 2012 as a first-round draft pick, Maatta is another solid defenseman. While he’s not what some consider an obvious standout, he is reliable and productive. He managed to stay healthy all last season, played confidently and found a good rhythm- all things extremely valuable for a team that was struggling with the defence like Pittsburgh was.
A player who struggled with the Dallas Stars, Jamie Oleksiak has proven himself as a defensive asset to Pittsburgh. He is a strong presence at the blue line, and for a big defender he skates and moves the puck surprisingly well. He had the best season of his career after joining the Penguins in December, netting four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. For a team lacking in the defence department, the play of Oleksiak was like a sigh of relief. He adds some much-needed muscle to the bench, and with the heavy shot he possesses, he could easily be a top defender for the team this season.
Main Photo: DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 09: Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on December 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Penguins defeated the Avalanche 4-2. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)