With the 21st-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted exciting young forward, Samuel Poulin. The QMJHL product was ranked 24th on Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings.
Despite turning 18 years old in February, Poulin already possesses a very strong, NHL-ready frame, standing at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds. His physical stature was one of the reasons that he was a first-round prospect along with his strong release and quick hands. He put that on display with the Sherbrooke Phoenix over the last two seasons and took a major leap during the 2018-19 campaign where he notched 29 goals and 76 points in 67 contests.
The left-handed forward already has some pretty tight ties to the NHL and the Penguins. He’s the son of Patrick Poulin, an 11-year NHL veteran. Over the course of his career, he scored 101 goals and 235 points across 634 games with four different franchises. As for the Pittsburgh connection, Samuel’s godfather, Jocelyn Thibault, spent 14 seasons as an NHL goalie, suiting up for 38 contests in a Penguins sweater.
Poulin Improves Penguins’ Thin System
Poulin can play both center and left wing, though he’ll likely pan out more as a winger at the NHL level. The Penguins were in a position to draft whoever they deemed the best player available as they need depth at all positions in the system. That strategy will likely be the same for Day 2 on Saturday.
In an attempt to extend their window to compete for a Stanley Cup title, the Penguins have obliterated the depth of their prospect pool over recent years. With generational talents Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, it’s hard to blame them. Prior to Poulin, the team’s last first-round pick was Kasperi Kapanen in 2014 and he was traded just a year later.
Last season, Pittsburgh traded Daniel Sprong while Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese exceeded their prospect status, thinning out the farm system even more. The Penguins may look to improve the NHL roster and clear some cap space before next season which would siphon even more talent from that group. Along with a crop of decent picks in 2018, Poulin looks to give the team’s future a glimpse of hope.
Was Poulin the Right Choice?
After finishing 20th among QMJHL skaters in scoring during the regular season, Poulin followed that up with another eight goals and 14 points in 10 postseason contests. The 18-year-old will also add some much-needed size in the organization and eventually with the NHL club.
However, he doesn’t come without flaws. His lack of overall skating speed and footwork likely cost him the chance to be a top-20 selection. Poulin’s overall skating is average, but he struggles with accelerating and gaining steam on the first few steps. His size and “power forward” playing style allowed him to overcome that in junior hockey, but he’ll need to work on it so he doesn’t routinely get beat off the puck at the NHL level.
Many Penguins fans were a bit confused by the pick. The first 20 selections were a bit unorthodox, leaving a handful of players sliding past their expected draft slot. Other forwards such as Raphael Lavoie and Arthur Kaliyev were expected to be top-15 selections but actually out of Round 1. The Penguins also passed up on talented forwards Philip Tomasino and Ryan Suzuki who were selected later in the evening.
Calling Poulin a “boom-or-bust” prospect may be a bit overdramatic, but he’s not far from it. Should he improve his skating and footwork, he could become a legitimate top-six winger in Pittsburgh. If he doesn’t, fans may be wondering what could have been with a different prospect.