This weekend, from Friday Sept. 6 until Monday Sept. 9, the 5th annual Prospects Challenge will take place in Buffalo. The Buffalo Sabres will play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils where fans will be able to see the future of the NHL take center stage and play three round-robin style games against each other.
This is a great opportunity for young Penguins players to make a name for themselves before training camp starts shortly after the Prospects Challenge. The top star to watch will be Devils’ forward Jack Hughes, the first overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Last season, forward Adam Johnson was the only player to play in the 2018 Prospects Challenge and play an NHL game the following season. He joins the likes of Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel and Zach-Aston Reese to participate in the event and then make the NHL roster at some point in the following season.
Prospects Challenge Schedule
The tournament will run from Sept. 6 – Sept. 9 in the HarborCenter in Buffalo, NY. Tickets to every game will be $10 and can be purchased in person before the game.
Friday, Sept. 6
- Penguins vs. Bruins, 3:30 p.m.
- Sabres vs. Devils, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 7
- Devils vs. Penguins, 3:30 p.m.
- Sabres vs. Bruins, 7 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 9
- Bruins vs. Devils, 9:30 a.m.
- Sabres vs. Penguins, 12:30 p.m.
Penguins Prospects to Watch
The Penguins will be sending 24 players to the tournament: 14 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders. Here are the seven prospects to watch for this weekend.
Pierre-Oliver Joseph, Defense
Acquired this summer as part of the Phil Kessel trade, the 23rd overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft will get his first action in a Penguins uniform this weekend. Joseph completed his fourth season in the QMJHL last year and tallied 47 points and a plus-36 in 62 games. It is expected that Joseph will be a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (WB/S) in the AHL for the 2019-20 season, his first at the professional level.
Joseph is widely considered one of the top five prospects in the Penguins system and one an important piece of the Kessel trade. Joseph is not afraid to take shots as he was 26th in shots per game in the QMJHL. He is the most solid defensive prospect in the Penguins system. A year in the AHL will do him a lot of good as he looks to grow his game. At only 20 years old, Joseph could be a top-four defenseman for the Penguins in a few years time.
Samuel Poulin, Forward
For the first time since 2014, the Penguins had a first-round draft pick and they used it on Canadian forward Samuel Poulin. A power forward, Poulin has aspirations of making the NHL team right away. The 18-year-old is very determined, a trait Penguins fans will appreciate. It seems rather unlikely that he will be a pro this season or even next. The big thing with Poulin is patience. A year or two longer at the junior level will go a long way in his development.
Poulin, however, shined in the Penguins Prospect Camp. Although there were not many draft picks there, the fact that he did stand out was nice to see. He started to increase the number of shots he took late last season and his production skyrocketed. His ability to hold the puck and make plays were very attractive to the organization and that is something that will be on display at the Prospects Challenge.
Nathan Legare, Forward
Best friends with the previously mentioned Poulin, the Penguins drafted Nathan Legare in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft. A similar style player to Poulin, Legare is a strong power forward with an excellent shot and tremendous offensive instincts.
At only 18 years old, there is plenty of time for him to grow and develop. His skating and play in the neutral zone and defensive areas need improvement if he wants to make it at the NHL level. The tournament this weekend will be a great chance for him to show off his ability before ultimately heading back for another season in the QMJHL. With a high ceiling, it will be interesting to see if he can grow as expected and contribute in a few seasons time.
Sam Lafferty, Forward
A fourth-round pick in 2014, Sam Lafferty contributed well in his first full professional season in WB/S with 49 points in 70 games. He led the team with 36 assists, third-highest among rookies in the AHL. A call up this season to the NHL level is certainly possible for the 24-year-old. His former coach Clark Donatelli said this about Lafferty’s season:
His season, his development, it was great to see. It’s not like the moment he stepped on the ice it all happened for him at once. There was a progression.”
This is a tremendous endorsement from his former coach. Lafferty took a giant step forward in his first season at WB/S. He should continue to elevate his game and if injuries happen or his play is just that exceptional, a call up is certainly possible in the 2019-20 season. A standout performance from Lafferty is expected this weekend.
Anthony Angello, Forward
Taken with the Penguins next selection after Lafferty, Anthony Angello is a tall forward who had 29 points in his first season with WB/S. This upcoming campaign is a big one for Angello. He has a physical style of play which can sometimes hinder the ability to gain consistency.
The Prospects Challenge is a huge opportunity for him to make an impression and get comfortable with the prospects around him. That could go a long way to his game this season. At 23 years old, Angello will need to take that next step in order to have a chance to be an NHL player.
John Marino, Defense
Acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers, John Marino signed his entry-level contract with the Penguins. Expected to be the captain of Harvard, he decided to forgo his senior season to join the Penguins right away after the trade. He will play this season for WB/S and look to develop his game at the professional level.
While his offensive game is lacking at times, you can see he does have the ability to contribute offensively. He has natural defensive instincts though and that is what excites the Penguins. At 22 years old, his ceiling isn’t as high as others but a role in the bottom two pairs of the defense isn’t out of the question down the line.
Calen Addison, Defense
Arguably the top prospect in the Penguins system, Calen Addison a mobile, puck-moving defenseman that the Penguins could certainly use right now. The second-round draft pick in 2018, Addison has the makings of being a long-time member of the Penguins. He recently signed his entry-level contract and will play this year for WB/S.
Addison’s ability on the power play was extremely evident the last two seasons. In the WHL, he scored 71 points while on the power play. It is not out of the question that he could lead the power play in a few years time. Addison is the most exciting prospect for the Penguins and one that could crack the NHL in the 2020-21 season.
Penguins Lack of Top Prospects
When you make the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons, trades are inevitable and to get top-level guys, you have to give up promising prospects. Even so, the Penguins have done a good job building through the limited draft picks, trades, and undrafted over-age players. This is a great tournament for the prospects to shine and get some ice time against other players of similar talent.
The full roster for the Prospects Challenge is listed below. The @PensInsideScoop account will be tweeting through the weekend.
- Anthony Angello
- Jordy Bellerive
- Chase Berger
- Chris Brown
- Jan Drozg
- Brandon Hawkins
- Renars Krastenbergs
- Sam Lafferty
- Nathan Legare
- Jake Lucchini
- Sam Miletic
- Billy Moskal
- Samuel Poulin
- Josh Williams
- Calen Addison
- Niclas Almari
- Pierre-Oliver Joseph
- Michael Kim
- Zach Lauzon
- Jon Lizotte
- John Marino
- Liam Ross
- Alex D’Orio
- Emil Larmi