July 31-in-31: Pittsburgh Penguins
Welcome to our annual 31-in-31 Summer Series here at DobberProspects! Every day in July we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s draft, notes from their development camp, and insights into their off-season moves so far. Following this up, the August 31-in-31 Series will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check in often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all summer long!
Using their first opening-round pick since 2014 on forward Samuel Poulin, the Penguins began to implement GM Jim Rutherford’s stated intent to change the team’s culture. He and head coach Mike Sullivan (who signed a four-year extension) want the Penguins to be younger, faster and harder to play against. Pittsburgh had only four other picks, coming in the second, fifth, and seventh (two picks) rounds. Overall, the Pens chose four forwards and one defenseman.
Round 1, 21st overall: Samuel Poulin, W/C
Pittsburgh scouts describe the Sherbrooke Phoenix forward as a high-character player and strong leader with a powerful stride. He can play center or wing, where Pittsburgh expects he will skate in the NHL. The captain of his QMJHL squad, Poulin posted team bests with 29 goals, 47 assists and 76 points in 67 games. The husky 6-1, 212-pounder followed that by leading Sherbrooke to a first-round upset of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. As he usually does, Poulin led the Phoenix in goals (eight) and points (14) in 10 playoff outings. In just two seasons, he totaled the seventh-most points (121) in franchise history.
The creative young power forward plays an intelligent, vigorous, two-way game and does not hesitate to go to the net with the puck. He’s not opposed to passing to teammates, but you can’t blame him for employing a variety of lethal shots. Poulin has improved his agility but needs to do the same with first-step acceleration. He matched his father’s feat of being drafted in the opening round. Chosen ninth overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1991, Patrick Poulin played in 634 NHL games with Hartford, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Montreal. The younger Poulin is likely to follow his dad into the NHL.
Round 2, 74th overall: Nathan Légaré, RW
The Penguins traded up to select him with the 74th-overall pick in the second round. They dealt the 98th, 151st and 207th picks to Arizona, which is why they had so few selections. Légaré’s development will determine whether this was a wise decision. After he erupted for 45 goals (second in the QMJHL) and 87 points (eighth) for Baie-Comeau, there’s a lot to like. In his first two campaigns with the Drakkar, he’s amassed 55 scores and 61 helpers in 130 appearances.
Besides being a fellow Quebecois and playing in the same junior league, Légaré has some startling similarities to Poulin, beginning with a similar (6-0, 206-pound) build. They’re both power forwards with deadly shots, although Légaré is less inclined to pass. He gets in good position to shoot, and can score with a slapshot, snapshot or wrister. He hustles and does not give up on a play. The bad news is that his speed and quickness are substandard and his game is one-dimensional compared to Poulin’s, meaning Pittsburgh took a big chance by dealing a trio of picks to get him. The Montreal native joined Poulin at the 2019 Under-18 World Championship, tying for third among Canadian teammates with four goals in seven games. While Poulin looks like a sure-fire NHLer, the same cannot be said of Légaré, who will have to work hard on his footwork.
Round 5, 145th overall: Judd Caulfield, F
Sticking to their theme, the Penguins added a third power forward. In two U.S. National Team Development Program campaigns, the 6-4, 205-pounder totaled 26 goals, 48 assists and 74 points in 123 games, including 12 goals and 24 assists in 64 outings in 2018-19. He went without a point in seven games during the 2019 Under-18 World Championship as the Americans earned bronze. The native of Grand Forks, N.D. is committed to the University of North Dakota for 2019-20. Playing a heavy game, Caulfield projects as a better checker than scorer as a pro.
Round 7, 203rd overall: Valtteri Puustinen, W
Pittsburgh selected the 20-year-old Finn with its first selection of the final round. Standing just 5-9 but weighing a solid 183 pounds, Puustinen got invaluable experience in the men’s Liiga in 2018-19 regular-season appearances with HPK, recording 10 goals and three assists in 47 games. He added two scores and three helpers in 16 post-season outings. Plus-8 in the regular schedule and plus-5 in the playoffs, Puustinen did not hurt his team as HPK captured the Liiga championship. Fellow Penguins’ prospects Emil Larmi and Niclas Almari are HPK teammates.
Round 7, 211th overall: Santeri Airola, D
The Penguins took another Finn with a pick they got from San Jose for a 2020 seventh-rounder. An undersized blueliner at 5-11 and 163 pounds, Airola led defensemen on SaiPa’s Under-20 junior team with four goals and 27 assists in 41 games, ranking fifth in points on his team. The 18-year-old made his Liiga debut by skating without a point in three games. Like any seventh-rounder, he’s a longshot to make the NHL.
DEVELOPMENT CAMP NOTES
- The 41 players invited to Pittsburgh’s annual prospect development camp in late June included all five players selected at the 2019 NHL draft in Vancouver. Among the 22 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goalies, 15 were originally drafted by the Penguins. They include blueliner Calen Addison, their first selection in the 2018 draft. After placing sixth among WHL defenders with 65 points in 67 appearances with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the 19-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level NHL contract.
- Also attending the camp were undrafted free agents Jake Lucchini and Emil Larmi, who played in all 18 post-season outings for eventual champion HPK. Winning 12 games, Larmi posted a 1.72 GAA overall with a .932 save percentage and two shutouts, both in the final series. The 22-year old signed a two-year, entry-level NHL contract to address Pittsburgh’s shortage of goaltending prospects.
- Forwards Justin Almeida (shoulder surgery), Kasper Björkqvist (shoulder surgery) and Nikita Pavlychev (upper body) sat out the development camp while rehabbing.
- Forwards Jan Drozg (2017, 152nd overall), Liam Gorman (2018, 177th), and Filip Hållander (2018, 58th) as well as blueliners Addison (2018, 53rd), Almari (2016, 151st), Ryan Jones (2016, 121st), Zachary Lauzon (2017, 51st), Antti Palojarvi (2017, 186th), and William Reilly (2017, 217th overall) were previous Pittsburgh draft picks at the camp.
- Could the Penguins one day feature Matt Murray backing up Matt Murray in goal? The undrafted 6-1, 21-year-old version attended Pittsburgh’s annual development camp after his sophomore season at UMass-Amherst in which he helped the Minutemen to the NCAA championship game, where they lost 3-0 to Minnesota Duluth.
Easily the biggest change so far among moves to change the team’s culture, dispel perceived complacency and increase a paltry amount of cap space was confirming weeks of speculation by dealing Phil Kessel. The talented yet polarizing RW, low-ceiling minor-league defenseman Dane Birks and a 2021 fourth-round draft pick went to Arizona for forward Alex Galchenyuk and promising defense prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Galchenyuk, who came up as a center, has played on the wing and should prosper with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He’ll take a good portion of Kessel’s icetime. Joseph needs AHL seasoning.
To clear some icetime on their crowded blueline and dispose of a young veteran who had fallen out of favor, the Pens sent Olli Maatta to Chicago for forward Domink Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick. Freeing about $4 million in cap space, Pittsburgh got a smallish, skilled Czech who surprised the Blackhawks with 37 points in his first 82 NHL games after coming over from Germany’s top hockey league. Similar in stature, style and statistics to countryman Dominik Simon, Kahun might challenge Simon for playing time.
Rutherford is expected to swing at least one more off-season trade. Names in the rumor mill include forwards Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad as well as goalie Tristan Jarry. Rumblings about Malkin ceased when Kessel was dealt. Trade rumors were reinvigorated when Rutherford signed 27-year-old FA grinding winger Brandon Tanev to a baffling six-year contract with an AAV of $3.5 million.
- Marcus Pettersson (D).
- Alex Galchenyuk (F) – Trade with Arizona;
- Pierre-Joseph Olivier (D) – Trade with Arizona;
- Brandon Tanev (W) – Six years, $3.5-million AAV;
- Zach Aston-Reese (RW); Two-year extension, $1-million AAV;
- Teddy Blueger (LW) – Two-year extension, $750,000 AAV;
- Adam Johnson (LW) – One-year extension, $700,000 AAV;
- Joseph Blandisi (LW) – One-year extension, $700,000 AAV;
- Juuso Riikola (D) – One-year extension, $850,000 AAV;
- Chad Ruhwedel (D) – Two-year extension, $700,000 AAV;
- Zach Trotman (D) – Two years, two-way, $700,000 AAV;
- Kevin Czuczman (D) – Two years, two-way, $700,000 AAV;
- Andrew Agozzino (LW) – Two years, two-way, $700,000 AAV;
- David Warsofsky (D) – Two years, two-way, $700,000 AAV;
- Mike Sullivan (Head Coach) – Four-year extension through 2023-24;
- Ben Sexton (C) – Minors contract;
- Dustin Tokarski (G) – Minors contract;
- Chris Brown (C) – Minors contract.
- Phil Kessel (RW) – Trade with Arizona;
- Dane Birks (D) – Trade with Arizona;
- Olli Maatta (D) – Trade with Arizona;
- Ethan Prow (D) – UFA, signed by Florida;
- Chris Wideman (D) – UFA, signed by Colorado;
- Matt Cullen (C) – Retired;
- Linus Ölund (C) – Assigned to European Team Brynas IF (Sweden);
- Jimmy Hayes (RW) – UFA, not tendered qualifying offer;
- Jeff Taylor (D) – UFA, not tendered qualifying offer;
- Blake Siebenaler (D) – UFA, not tendered qualifying offer;
- Macoy Erkamps (D) – UFA, not tendered qualifying offer;
- Garrett Wilson (RW) – UFA, not tendered qualifying offer;
- Chris Summers (D) – UFA, not tendered qualifying offer;
- John Muse (G) – UFA, not tendered qualifying offer;
- Anthony Peters (G) – Signed with Iserlohn Roosters (Germany).
Brandon Tanev – The speedy winger, who can play on either side of center, plays a physical, two-way game and can help the penalty kill. Coming off career highs in goals (14), assists (15) and games played (80) with the Jets, the 27-year-old should help with Pittsburgh management’s plan to become younger, faster and harder to play against, although he’ll never put up a lot of points. A collateral effect of his inexplicable six-year, $21-million deal is forcing at least one more transaction to free cap space.
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I hope you’ve enjoyed July’s update of the Penguins. Come back often because we regularly update prospect profiles.
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