For the last several years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been stockpiling young, future NHL star defensemen. The process began back in 2009 when they selected Simon Despres 30th overall and Philip Samuelsson 61st overall. Since that time, the Penguins have selected 10 defensemen in the last five draft classes.
- Joe Rogalski (2010)
- Reid McNeill (2010)
- Joe Morrow (2011)
- Scott Harrington (2011)
- Derrick Pouliot (2012)
- Olli Maatta (2012)
- Clark Seymour (2012)
- Ryan Segalla (2013)
- Dane Birks (2013)
- Jeff Taylor (2014)
While Samuelsson and Morrow are no longer with the Penguins, the franchise still possesses a deep talent pool, headlined by Maatta. However, the two that the Penguins are getting extended glimpses of this year are the offensively talented Derrick Pouliot and the defensive minded Scott Harrington
The recently minted 21-year old former Portland Winterhawk defenseman made his presence known right off the bat, scoring on his first shot during his first shift in his first NHL game against the Florida Panthers. It’s not like Pouliot beat a backup netminder either; he ripped a wicked wrist shot past Roberto Luongo, a goaltender that is sure to get some Hall of Fame consideration in the future.
Despite his new surroundings in the NHL, offense is nothing new to Pouliot. During his five year stint with the Winterhawks dating back to the 2009-10 campaign, the Estevan, Saskatchewan native put up 42G and 163A in 247 regular season games. He also was a prolific playoff performer accumulating 73 points in 86 contests.
His transition to the NHL will be a slow process, but the young blueliner is already turning heads, especially the one of his former junior coach and current head coach, Mike Johnston:
Johnston was pleased with Pouliot and Harrington tonight. Big test for them. Seemed to handle it pretty well. Pouliot was excellent, in fact
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) January 22, 2015
The No.8 overall draft pick in 2012 was selected after Pittsburgh had traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the pick. Then General Manager Ray Shero saw something special in the left-handed shooting defenseman.
What he saw was the future.
Pouliot already has immense pressure on his back as he, along with Maatta and Harrington are toted as leading the new wave of Penguins defensemen in the future. So far in eight games, he has one goal and two assists and is a plus-1, but it is speed, physicality, and offensive awareness that will lead this young man to much success with a familiar head coach.
Harrington, on the other end of the spectrum, is a tall, physical defenseman that focuses on the positions priority. The 21-year old from Kingston, Ontario was paired up with Olli Maatta as a dominant defensive duo for the London Knights for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. During those campaigns, Harrington was a plus-47 in 94 games. He also chipped in offensively, accumulating 45 points (6G, 39A) during that span.
Unlike Pouliot, Harrington has seen much more time in the AHL for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His 99 games compared to Pouliot’s 25 contests provide Harrington some more experience on how to deal with veteran players as well as prospects attempting to make their leap to the NHL.
Also on the other end of the spectrum is Harrington’s transition into the NHL. Harrington is currently a minus-10 in ten career NHL contests. This is his worst mark since his second season in London during the 2010-11 campaign.
There have been sparks of brilliance, however, most notably against the Washington Capitals. Harrington had the difficult task of defending against Alexander Ovechkin, one of the league’s greatest snipers. During several rushes, Harrington was strong on his skates and stick, forcing Ovechkin to either turn away or take less threatening shots.
Despite a rough start to his first NHL season, Harrington can only learn from the veteran presences of Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, and Kris Letang while in Pittsburgh.
The two young guns have had unique starts to their respective careers. Pouliot’s immense talent has shown through thus far, while it seems like Harrington is more of a project at this current stage. With the 2015 Trade Deadline set to take place on March 2nd, these two defensemen have proven to be valuable assets for future deals.
However, with the status of Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff up in the air for their returns next season and the trading away of two already highly praised defensive prospects in Samuelsson and Morrow, the Penguins, by no means, should risk losing these players for a enticing, yet short-lived return.
Kris Letang’s health is another issue to keep in mind when considering the trade possibilities/rumors that these two prospects will create over the next month. Letang’s concussion and stroke issues combined with the aforementioned paragraph leave the Penguins thin on the blue line in the future.
Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington are different types of defensemen, but share one common goal. They are Pittsburgh Penguins and while playing in Pittsburgh, the Stanley Cup is an expectation every season. They are expected to lead the Penguins to many future Cups and by getting their feet wet now can only help their maturation, desire, and overall talent to accomplish that feat.