The Pittsburgh Penguins have been competitive virtually since Sidney Crosby entered the league.
Making the playoffs every season since 2006-07, Crosby and company have won three Stanley Cups along the way including back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017. The sustained run of success and competitive NHL rosters generally means that the prospect pipeline gets purged of its talent to bolster the NHL roster, and the future can be rough when that happens.
The Penguins have seen many of their top prospects over the years go out the door. Some of the players discussed here may be gone in the coming years for the same reason - to extend the competitive window while Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are still around.
Samuel Poulin is a two-way power forward who shows some promise. He made his pro debut with the Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton Penguins of the AHL last year and found some success. Poulin is likely a year away from contributing to the NHL roster but could see a callup if he is can continue to show progress in the minors this season. He protects the puck well, works off the wall and in the cycle efficiently, and can drive the net when the lane presents itself. Poulin blends power and skill but likely tops out as a second liner. His shooting talent will be his biggest weapon as a pro, but he has some underrated playmaking ability as well.
Nathan Légaré is a high-motor player who had an up-and-down season in the AHL last year. Légaré is a heavy skater who is hard on the forecheck and tries to affect the game by pressuring the opposing puck carrier and creating offense through his defensive game. If he wants to figure out the pro game, he needs to become more agile and powerful as a skater.
After an excellent USHL season that saw him really raise his stock in the second half of the year, Tristan Broz had a less than stellar year at the University of Minnesota. He’s transferred to the University of Denver for the upcoming season and will look for a fresh start. Broz plays with pace and effort, hunting down pucks like a shark in water. He is a skilled playmaker who loves to cycle low and pass from below the goal line or curl up high to pass low to change the sightlines of the goalies and defense.
The blueline is fairly bare beyond a few solid left-shot defenders. Owen Pickering is an incredibly toolsy player who is instantly one of Pittsburgh’s top prospects. He has size and mobility with flashes of skill that intrigue. Isaac Belliveau has never been able to recapture the magic he had as a rookie in the QMJHL when he had 53 points in 62 games in his draft minus one season. He did bounce back last year from a rough draft season, albeit just to a 38-point effort across 67 games. His defensive game has never been a major strength, so his offensive production disappearing hasn’t been overly encouraging but the tools still seem evident.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph is about at the time when he needs to establish himself in the NHL. The 23-year-old has been bubbling under the surface for a couple of seasons now, looking good in his NHL stints but never securing a role on the Pens blueline. Defensively focused, his game isn’t going to blow anyone out of the water but he plays a sound defensive game and moves the puck well on the breakout. Expect to see him in the NHL should injuries strike or he impresses in camp.
2022 NHL Draft Class
Round 1 (21 Overall) - Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Round 4 (118 Overall) - Sergei Murashov, G, Yaroslavl Loko Jr. (MHL)
Round 5 (150 Overall) - Zam Plante, C, Hermantown (USHS - MN)
Round 6 (167 Overall) - Nolan Collins, D, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Round 6 (182 Overall) - Luke Devlin, F, St. Andrew's College (CAN HS - ON)
Pickering was the only pick inside the top 115 for the Pens. The Swift Current defender is a 6-foot-4, smooth skating two-way player. Growing quite a bit from the time he was drafted into the WHL to now, he developed most of his habits as an undersized, puck-moving defenseman and many of those traits still exist today. Pickering plays with pace and understands how to deal with pressure, showing that he is utilizing his size more as the year wears on. He’s still fairly raw but the upside is quite big with him.
Zam Plante was a sneaky good pick in the fifth round for Pittsburgh. Plante may wind up being a mid-late round steal by playing half of his year in high school, tearing it up offensively, and then showing that he is more than capable of hanging in the USHL. He plays with creativity and skill, crafting plays in the offensive zone that improve everyone around him. He has a very good catch-and-release shot and excellent playmaking ability. Had he been in the USHL with the Chicago Steel all season, he may very well have gone earlier in the draft.
Nolan Collins is an offensive defenseman who couldn’t produce all that much with Sudbury this past year. His inconsistency is frustrating because he sometimes showed some fun passing and instincts. Luke Devlin played primarily Canadian high school hockey with St. Andrews this year, but his game didn't pop off the tape as it should have at that level. He’s a playmaker by trade, but he has a long way to go to turn himself into a true prospect. Fun fact: Devlin is the son of beloved Toronto Raptors play-by-play announcer Matt Devlin.
The goalie pipeline is solid in Pittsburgh. They have several young netminders who look like they have NHL potential, headlined by Finnish goalie Joel Blomqvist and Canadian keeper Taylor Gauthier. The depth of having Filip Lindberg and newly drafted Sergei Murashov behind those two makes it the Pens' deepest position. Blomqvist had a stellar Liiga season last year, posting a .940 save percentage across 20 games followed by a .950 in seven playoff games. His progression since being drafted has been impressive. Gauthier led the WHL in save percentage, splitting his season between Prince George and Portland, notching a .928.
Depth, star power. A bit of everything. The Penguins have one of the most depleted prospect pools in hockey and although Pickering is a nice addition and a few late-rounders look decent, they have needs all over the map. They have had a few players under-perform expectations which doesn’t help either. With that said, the Penguins aren’t focused on the future. They want to win now so don’t expect a change in philosophy soon.
Next Man Up: LW Samuel Poulin
The crazy thing about the “Next Man Up” for the Penguins is that it could mean the next guy to take a role in the lineup or the next guy to be sent out the door at the deadline. Both could be true with Poulin. The talented power winger is expected to take a big step this year and he could be used as cheap, productive depth up and down the NHL lineup if he comes into camp and plays well or there is an injury early in the year. He could also be the most intriguing piece for an opposing team in a trade scenario. It’s up in the air, but with most of the NHL roster spots locked up, Poulin seems like the obvious choice to be the next player to get a chance.
Prospect Depth Chart Notables
LW: Tristan Broz, Samuel Poulin, Filip Hållander
C: Jordan Frasca, Chase Yoder, Zam Plante
RW: Nathan Légaré, Valtteri Puustinen, Raivis Ansons
LD: Owen Pickering, Isaac Belliveau, Pierre-Olivier Joseph
RD: Josh Maniscalco, Santeri Airola
G: Joel Blomqvist, Taylor Gauthier, Filip Lindberg, Sergei Murashov
For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition!