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Stages of Development on Display for Penguins Prospects

The Pittsburgh Penguins recently concluded playing in a rookie tournament in which the team surprisingly finished with a record of two victories and one loss. When you consider that all but two defensemen who played were on either professional or amateur tryout contracts, the results are quite impressive.

These victories are meaningless, but it does give the fanbase hope because the future does not look so bright in Pittsburgh. There was a stigma following the Penguins that they did not have any NHL-ready prospects, but the tournament has shown differently.

The most impressive player of this brief series has to be forward Daniel Sprong. He was just drafted in the second round of the 2015 NHL entry draft and he was considered a steal at 46th overall. In the these games, Sprong scored twice and assisted on another goal. Even from just a brief three-game stint, he has the potential to be a top-six NHL scoring wing.

Here’s how Sprong ended the Penguins first game during three-on-three overtime.

Courtesy of The Pensblog

The Penguins have been lacking a player like that, prior to acquiring Phil Kessel, but it’s refreshing to see that they are working on drafting and developing wings, rather than trading for them. Now not everything was positive for Sprong over in London, Ontario. His offensive game is NHL ready, but lacks the defensive play to go along with it. Additionally, Sprong has shown an unwillingness to make the “dirty plays” he stayed away from the corners and did not spend much time in front of the net.

Despite the incomplete style of play, he was electric on the ice and looks to be a great player for the Penguins in upcoming seasons. It’s much easier to teach a player defense than it is to teach scoring.

Another player who really stood out during the Penguins three game exposure was the undersized forward Conor Sheary. We’ve already covered Sheary a number of times, but it seems that the mainstream media and Penguins’ management are finally starting to take notice. He’s small, at only 5’9″ and 175 pounds, but that has not stopped him from pursuing his NHL dream.

Sheary’s not the fastest skater around, but he accelerates rapidly and uses his soft hands to weave in-and-out of defenders. Last season he scored 20 goals in 58 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and considering the forwards he played with, that mark is impressive. Sheary added on by leading the baby Penguins in scoring in their playoff run. He posted five goals, seven assists for a total of 12 points in eight games played.

After seeing his performance at the rookie tournament, it’s clear that he has a legitimate chance to make the NHL roster. Sheary is a far better option for the Penguins than fellow prospect Scott Wilson. He will definitely be a player to watch during training camp and his will chances multiply dramatically if an injury or two occurs.

The last player who impressed at the Penguins tournament is no surprise to most fans. We’re talking about the sensational goaltending prospect Matt Murray. It’s commonly believed that Jeff Zatkoff will be Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup as the Penguins enter the 2015-16 season, but that has not discouraged Murray.

Here’s what Murray told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Dave Molinari about his future.

All I know is that my goal is to be in Pittsburgh. It’s as simple as that. You don’t dream of playing in the AHL when you’re a kid. You dream of playing in the NHL. That’s where I want to be.

The reality that Murray has yet to face is that the Penguins management should want him to play as much as possible. Sitting on the bench behind Fleury would only slow his development. But despite the near impossibility that he makes the NHL roster, the Penguins are going to give him a lot of work during their preseason.

Something interesting did come out of this rookie camp and it was reported by DKPittsburghSports.com’s Josh Yohe.

Johnston sounds perfectly satisfied with Zatkoff as backup. One gets a sense, however, that if Fleury were to miss any significant time with an injury, Murray would be the starter.

It’s been assumed that Zatkoff would backup Fleury this season, but it would be very interesting to see what would happen in case of an injury. From the outside, it makes sense to give Murray a large workload if Fleury was to become injured. The Penguins could see what they have with Murray and just how far he’s actually developed. The NHL and the AHL both play the same sport, but everything is magnified at the NHL level. There’s no way anyone can assume that AHL success will translate to the NHL and that’s Murray’s current problem.

All three of these players are at different stages of developing. Sprong has a lot of work ahead of him, while someone like Sheary looks to be NHL and no one knows how ready Murray actually is. The games themselves were meaningless, but there’s finally a reason to be excited by the Penguins young players.

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