Pittsburgh Penguins Top 2024-2025 Prospects: A Deepening Pool

A look to the future as the 2024 NHL Entry Draft reminds us of the deepening prospect pool Kyle Dubas continues to assemble.
Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

As the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue to dredge on without the Pittsburgh Penguins, attention turns to next season and what the future of this team looks like. One of the focal points of the Penguins' top brass has been the restocking of the prospect pool and the development of a talent pipeline.

Although they lack the prospect depth possessed by organizations like the Boston Bruins or Carolina Hurricanes, there are plenty of high-quality, high-ceiling players to get any true fan excited. If there is one thing we need this season, it is a shot of excitement. The playoff drought must end.

Below is a list of the top ten prospects within the organization as it stands today, as well as some honorable mentions. This could change once the Stanley Cup playoffs conclude due to at least a few materialized trades and altering the prospect pool (or adding to it). With that, let us get started:

Joel Blomqvist (G)

Perhaps the most exciting prospect is at a position of great need, and that is between the pipes. Goaltender Joel Blomqvist has put together a rather impressive season in his first full-time slate in the American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

At just 22 years old and hailing from Uusikaarlepyy, Finland, he was selected 52nd overall in the 2nd Round of the 2020 NHL Draft. He employs a smart, composed game using his ability to read plays before they develop and an innate ability to track the puck through traffic.

He was named the 2023-2024 NHL All-Star team and showed no signs of regression in the later part of the season while earning the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins a playoff berth against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He posted a regular season save percentage of 0.921% and a 2.16 GAA. GM Kyle Dubas made it clear that Blomqvist will start to see regular NHL action starting next year, and with the uncertainty (and inconsistency) surrounding Tristian Jarry and UFA Alex Nedeljovik, Blomqvist, there is reason to be excited about future goaltending needs.

Brayden Yager (C)

Ever since being selected 14th Overall in the 2023 NHL Draft, Brayden Yager has quickly been established as the most exciting forward prospect in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Playing exclusively for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL, he posted an impressive 95 points, netting 35 goals and 60 assists. However, it was not just his statistics that were impressive, it was the way he carried himself on the ice.

He possesses a very high hockey IQ, showcasing the ability to see plays before they develop and to anticipate teammate's locations on the ice. He has shown the ability to dominate the offensive zone while not becoming a liability on the defensive side of the puck. It is crucial not to rush his development, but his performance in the World Juniors as part of Team Canada proved that the 19 year old Yager will be hard to keep from cracking the major line-up in the next two seasons.

Owen Pickering (D)

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in dire need of defensive prospects, and 20 year old Owen Pickering figures to be in the long-term plans as an eventual for the top-2 pairings at the NHL stage. Aside from a quick call-up to the AHL club in 2023, he has played exclusively for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL.

This past season showcased his talent when he was selected 21st overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, posting a +/- of 18 while netting 7 goals and 39 assists. He added an additional 7 points in the playoffs, showcasing an ability to find teammates with down-ice vision and sound defensive instincts.

At 6 foot 5 inches, he has the frame the Penguins love in their defensemen, especially if he can stack on more weight. He has had some unlucky injury history prior to the Penguins Rookie Camps but is oozing potential, especially in a much-coveted position in the league. He should be highly motivated, too, after being overlooked for the World Juniors this year.

Sam Poulin (RW)

Sam Poulin
Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins / Justin Berl/GettyImages

Fresh off a 2-year/2-way extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, former 2019 1st Round Draft Pick Sam Poulin has been knocking on the door of the NHL club. An untimely injury prevented Poulin from joining the team mid-season following injuries to bottom-six forwards Noel Accari, Jansen Harkens, and Matt Nieto.

The 23 year old Poulin has shown an ability to be highly productive at the AHL level, and it is only a matter of when, not if, he cracks the bottom-six forward group of the NHL team. Let us hope he can continue to stay healthy and we see a reinvigorated Poulin after a short call-up to the majors.

He did manage to score 41 points in the AHL this year, with 16 goals (tied for second on the team) and a career-high of a plus 10. The expectation from GM Kyle Dubas is that Poulin will carve out a bottom-six role this coming season and become an established contributor.

Vasily Ponomarev (LW/C)

Vasily Ponomarev was part of the blockbuster Jake Guentzel trade at the 2024 Trade Deadline. GM Kyle Dubas maintains that replenishing the prospect pool in the minor leagues is paramount, and this was a start. Ponomarev, a second-round draft choice in 2020, is considered the most NHL-ready of the prospects obtained in the Jake Guentzel trade, and for good reason. 

At 22 years old, he has spent the majority of the last three seasons as part of the Chicago Wolves within the Carolina Hurricanes organization, with a brief call-up to the Hurricanes for two games (where he did record one goal and one assist).   The Russian-born winger managed 30 points in 45 games split between the Chicago Wolves and Wilkes-Barre Penguins in 2023-2024.

He did end the season with a lower-body injury, which prevented the Penguins from testing out one of their newest acquisitions at the NHL level. He won a Calder Cup with the Wolves in 2022-2023, where he also set career highs in goals (24) and points (46). He is tabbed as a winger who brings speed and focus, with excellent vision and passing skills. With a shortage of quality forwards under contract next season, the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins could use Ponomarev to make that jump next year.

Ville Koivunen (RW)

Another critical piece in the Jake Guentzel trade, GM Kyle Dubas is extremely high on Ville Koivunen and the ceiling that exists for this Finnish-born forward. Koivunen, 20, is currently playing in Finland’s professional league for Karpat of Liiga. He has consistently led the forward group in Karpat in both points and assists and made the jump over to the AHL for a brief stint with the Chicago Wolves following the conclusion of Karpat’s season.

Through three seasons, he has played in 162 games while totaling 112 points and 68 assists. In what could be a sign of things to come, Koivunen made his debut with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton in time for the playoffs where he logged two points in two games played. Koivunen figures to get one or two years of development at the AHL level before, hopefully, making the jump into a top-six role with the NHL Penguins.

Cruz Lucius (RW)

Cruz Lucius was the third part of the Penguins-Hurricanes trade that sent Jake Guentzel to the Carolinas. Originally selected 124th in round four of the 2022 NHL Draft, he has spent his last two seasons as an NCAA player with the Wisconsin Badgers and is transferring to Arizona State for the upcoming 2024-2025 season.

In 70 games played over the last two seasons, Lucius netted 68 points and 44 assists. He is tabbed as a winger that brings offense and the ability to play both wings, as well as a powerful power play presence. We will see how he continues to develops, but Dubas has pegged Lucius as a talent to keep close eye on, not to mention one of the most amazing hockey names I've heard in a long time.

Sergei Murashov (G)

There can never be a shortage of quality goalie prospects in the organization, and Sergei Murashov represents a highly talented one. At 19 years old, he was selected 118 overall by the Penguins in the fourth round of the NHL draft and has spent the past four seasons split between the MHL (Russian Junior Hockey League) and brief stints in the KHL (Russian Professional Hockey League).

This was one of the higher-graded draft picks during the Ron Hextall GM tenure, as Murashov established himself as a dominating net presence in the MHL. Corey Pronman of The Athletic provided a detailed analysis this year on Murashov, highlighting his hockey IQ and ability to track the puck while also noting his smaller frame for a prototypical NHL goalie.

His closest comparison is most likely Igor Shesterkin, but he will have much additional development to undergo prior to living up to that billing. The unfortunate political ramifications between the world community and Russia make this a difficult prediction on whether Murashov will be able to showcase his talents in North America in the near future.

Tristian Broz (F)

Another quality pick during the Ron Hextall regime, Tristan Broz, continues to develop in the NCAA ranks. Fresh off signing a three-year entry-level contract in April, Broz was a second-round pick in 2021 and spent the past two seasons with the University of Denver, showcasing his nose for the offensive side of the ice and his high hockey IQ.

He has accumulated 68 points in his tenure with Denver through 83 games, with 26 goals and 42 assists. In an exciting conclusion to the NCAA season, Broz helped Denver secure the 2024 National Championship, and was named to the 2024 NCAA All Star game. He has shown difficulty maintaining consistency (the NHL club has no shortage of players like this) and projects as a bottom-six forward, given his current ceiling.

Mikhail Ilyin (F)

Severstal Hockey Club player, Mikhail Ilyin (99) seen in...
Severstal Hockey Club player, Mikhail Ilyin (99) seen in... / SOPA Images/GettyImages

The Russian-born forward was pick number 142 in the fifth round of the NHL draft of Kyle Dubas' first draft as general manager. He is more of an obscure prospect, as he is only 18 years old and spent the majority of this season in the MHL (Russian Junior Hockey League). However, in a rare event, he was called up to the KHL with Severstal for 20-plus games and recorded 24 points, netting nine goals and 15 assists.

This is impressive, given his age, and he showed an aptitude for playmaking in the offensive zone while not letting the stage discourage him. A strong focus on his next season will showcase what a strong ceiling Ilyin has. Given his age, he has plenty of time to develop and hopefully can make his way to North America full-time.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of the organization, especially as the current Dubas administration focuses on replenishing our farm systems and overseas prospect pool. This may lead to additional difficult decisions similar to the Jake Guenztel trade.

This specific writer believes we reloaded for the future, and were able to capitalize on an expiring deal and tricky negotiations to add an experienced winger (Michael Bunting) and 3 developing prospects that may see time with the major club sooner than later. Optimism will be key as we moved into the 2024-2025 offseason, and there is plenty to look forward to as the organization turns a new corner.