It’s not a secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins are not exactly known for their elite prospect pool. The team currently holds the longest active playoff streak, with 15 appearances, and has made just one first-round selection in the draft since 2015. However, I do think there is some hope here, as the team possesses many under-the-radar pieces that are overlooked by fans but could be the pieces to something big in the future. Here are my top five prospects in Pittsburgh, based on purely potential
1. Samuel Poulin
The Penguins finally chose in the first round of the draft for the first time in five years, when they chose Poulin with the 21st overall pick back in 2019. Since then, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound power-forward has continued to look good at the QMJHL level, recently putting up 11 goals and 31 points through 24 games played split between the Sherbrooke Phoenix and Val d’Or Foreurs in the COVID shortened season this year.
Career-wise, Poulin has 88 goals and 229 points through 192 games played and is shaping up to be a talented player within the Penguins’ top-six for years to come. This past postseason, he and his team made it to the President Cup Finals in the QMJHL, however, they fell short in six games to the Victoriaville Tigres. During this run, he had 11 goals and 19 points through 15 games and was the leader and key contributor to the team.
Poulin has a genuine chance of joining the team next season, as I expect them to give him a shot in the preseason in a potential top-nine forward role. He already has the build of an NHL player and the skillset too. His only problem may be his skating, however, if he is on the third line with guys like Jared McCann and Jeff Carter, that should not be too much of a problem.
2. Valtteri Puustinen
There is a good chance you haven’t heard of this guy, but don’t worry, you will soon. Puustinen, 22, was the 203rd overall pick in 2019, the same year as Poulin, and now he is competing to be the best prospect on the team. He has spent the last two seasons dominating the Finnish hockey league, the LIIGA. He has put up two straight 40-point seasons and has 38 goals and 81 points through 105 games. He was recently signed to his entry-level contract with the team last month.
One thing to be wary of with Puustinen would probably be his defensive game. He often struggles with picking up an opponent and is not the best at preventing quality scoring chances. His size doesn’t help either; standing at 5-foot-9, there aren’t many players at the build in the NHL, let alone players like that who become good defensive players. He will have to rely on his offensive talent and capabilities to produce in North America if he wants to reach his potential.
I’m not sure if we will see Puustinen competing for an NHL spot this season. After how he has played in Finland, it is possible, but I believe the Penguins may want to play him in the American Hockey League for a year to have him adjust to North America before throwing him to the wolves right away. This type of talent is one you can take your time with, anyways.
3. Nathan Legare
Legare, like Poulin, played with the Val d’Or Foreurs in the QMJHL this past season. The pair are best friends, which could make for some great chemistry in the NHL one day. He was drafted 74th overall in 2019, making all three of the top prospects on this list from the same draft. He has 106 goals and 225 points through 224 games played in his career, which is impressive for a third-round draft choice.
Legare, 20, also is not the greatest skater, which could ultimately kill the amount of force and impact he has over the game at the NHL level. He has the skill, but if you don’t have the most important asset in the league, skating, you will struggle. That being said, it is not impossible for him to improve there, but it will take time. I don’t expect to see him in the NHL for a while, and it is uncertain if that will be with the Penguins.
Legare had a great postseason as well, with 14 goals and 18 points in 15 games. It will be interesting to see how well he can do in the American Hockey League and if he can keep up with the game there. If so, it should be a good indicator of what we can expect to see in the NHL in a couple of years.
4. Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Joseph is the lone player on this list that has NHL experience under their belt, with one goal and five points through 16 games played before being sent down to the AHL, where he put up 13 points in 23 games played. He didn’t look great defensively in the NHL, as he possessed a minus-1.2 even-strength defensive goals above replacement, meaning he’d been playing below the replacement level of a seventh defenseman in his own end.
Joseph was a first-round choice by the Arizona Coyotes in 2017, being picked at 23rd overall. However, he never got to play with the organization, as on June 29th, 2019, he was moved to the Penguins along with Alex Galchenyuk for Phil Kessel.
Obviously, due to what he was traded for, Joseph had high expectations from Penguins fans. Despite likely never being the outstanding top-four defenseman he might’ve hoped to become, he can still be a good fifth or sixth defenseman in the future and could still crack the top-four if he rounds out his overall game.
5. Joel Blomqvist
This one may be a head-scratcher for some fans with Kasper Bjorkqvist still left on the board, however, I decided to choose Blomqvist. He had a .907 save percentage (SV%) in 16 games with Hermes in the Mestis and a .914 SV% in two games with Karpat in the LIIGA.
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The Penguins moved two-time Stanley Cup-winning champion, Matt Murray, to acquire the pick to draft Blomqvist, so it’s obvious they did it to have his future replacement in a couple of years, as Tristan Jarry is just a stop-gap for now.
Blomqvist is a smart, calm goalie like Murray was. His IQ is off of the charts, and his positioning is also good. He is going to be a huge piece to the team for the future.
So as I said in the beginning, the Penguins are by no means a top-tier prospect team, but they do possess underrated pieces that many teams and fans overlooked, and it could help them delay the rebuilding phase just a bit more.