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.