December 31-in-31: Pittsburgh Penguins

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2020-12-23

The 31-in-31 Offseason Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in December we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s prospect depth chart, riser & fallers, and top prospect ranking. 

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As Jim Rutherford and the rest of the Penguins front office continues to try and squeeze another Stanley Cup or two out of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the prospect cupboard remains pretty empty. 

Prior to the 2020 NHL Draft, the Penguins once again traded away their first-round pick. This time, they also gave up promising centreman Filip Hallander, acquiring Kaspari Kapapen from the Maple Leafs in return.

The Penguins 2019 21st overall pick, Sam Poulin, remains the only blue-chip prospect in the organization, amongst a few pieces that could see some usage at the bottom of the lineup soon. As the team continues to fight for another cup, they also seem to be trying to fight for the worst prospect pool in the league.

Graduating Players

Joel Blomqvist

The second goaltender off the board at the 2020 Draft, following Yaroslav Askarov, Blomqvist immediately became the best goaltender in the Penguins pipeline.

He has already drawn comparisons to the team’s new starter, Tristan Jarry. They both play a strong positional game, staying poised in the net so they don’t have to make any desperation saves.

The 18-year-old has played with the Karpat U20 team for two seasons. This season, he has made the full transition to the pros, splitting time between the Liiga and the Mestis, on loan to Hermes.

Having represented the Finnish National team his whole junior career, he will again backstop them at this year’s World Junior Championships.

Calle Clang

The wonderfully-named goaltender has been loaned to Kristianstads IK of the Allsvenskan league, after coming through the ranks at Rogle BK. Clang has a .939 save percentage and a 1.81 goals-against average in eight starts in Sweden’s second-tier this season. 

Pittsburgh’s scouts seem to know what they want in a goaltender: their third-round pick from this year’s draft plays deep in his crease just like Blomqvist and Jarry.

Clang will start the World Juniors as the third-string netminder for Sweden behind Hugo Alnefelt and Jesper Wallstedt.

Josh Maniscalco

The Pens signed the defenseman this summer, after two impressive seasons with Arizona State. He will join Wilkes-Barre when the AHL season and could very well join Pierre-Olivier Joseph on the top pairing.

Drew O’Connor

Another signing out of college, O’Connor will join Maniscalco on the farm team. Standing at six-foot-three, 190 lbs, the winger has a nose for a net. He lit the lamp 21 times in 31 games for Dartmouth College last year and has six more in seven games with Manglerud in Norway, so far this season.

Cam Lee

After trading away so many picks, it’s clear the Penguins are working hard to find and poach talent from the NCAA. Lee is the third free-agent Pittsburgh has nabbed out of Division one during the off-season. Playing with HC Slovan Bratislava of the Slovak first division at the moment, the smooth-skating defenseman will join Wilkes-Barre when his loan is over.

Will Reilly

The Penguins’ seventh-round pick from 2017 will join the Wilkes-Barre blueline after four seasons with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Risers

Sam Poulin

After losing Calen Addison, Filip Hallander, and their 2020 first-round pick through trades this season, Penguins fans are desperate to hold onto their crown jewel prospect.

As eager as Jim Rutherford can be to sacrifice the future for success in the present, there is a sense that he does not intend on letting go of Poulin, who he acquired with the 21st pick in 2019. Especially not after the season he had last year.

At the time he was drafted, he was viewed as a power forward. The 19-year-old has shown since then that he is much more than that. While still prone to driving full-speed to the net, he has begun to slow his game down and rely less on instinct. He was moved from in front of the net to the half wall on the powerplay last year, demonstrating a new ability to sit and watch the play develop rather than just use his size and hands to beat everyone.


Once considered to end up as a middle-six forward at the pro level, it is becoming increasingly attainable for Poulin to ride shotgun with one of Crosby or Malkin in a few years. Although he did not join the team in the bubble this fall, he will no doubt get a good look at a roster spot when the 2020-21 NHL season begins.

He was one of the final cuts for Canada’s World Junior team, with the roster about as stacked as it’s ever been. Now, he’ll return to Sherbrooke, where he’ll captain the Memorial Cup-favorite Phoenix for the second consecutive year.

Valteri Puustinen

Since the Penguins drafted him as an overager in the seventh-round of the 2019 draft, Puustinen has become one of HPK’s top players. He led all players under the age of 21 in the Liiga, with 40 points in 54 games last season, and currently has 14 in 13 games this campaign.

The 21-year-old is a player with a lot of flair in his game.

He has a penchant for the audacious that will only be further fueled by more usage with HPK this year. Should he thrive in the increased role, we could see him make the jump to the NHL soon. However, he won’t be of much use in a checking role. He doesn’t possess NHL-level speed and isn’t known for the defensive side of his game.

Puustinen signed a one-year extension this summer to stay in Finland. The Penguins own his rights until June, so this season will effectively act as his tryout for a contract.

Fallers

Emil Larmi

The six-foot-tall goaltender struggled in his first season in North America. He was expected to challenge for the starting position in Wilkes-Barre but ended up playing more games in the ECHL. 

Larmi was signed to a two-year entry-level contract last year off the back of helping HPK win the Liiga championship, so expectations were relatively high. However, a concussion forced him to sit out for three weeks, just three games into the season and he was usurped by Casey DeSmith and Dustin Tokarski.

With DeSmith likely to backup Jarry in Pittsburgh this year, Larmi will once again have the opportunity to make the starting role his own for Wilkes-Barre and earn himself a new contract.

Justin Almeida

Another overager the Penguins took a swing on in the draft, Almeida struggled immensely in his first year in the pros. After scoring one goal in nine AHL games, he was demoted to the Wheeling Nailers, where he spent the rest of the season. 

After posting 98 and 111 point seasons in the WHL, the five-foot-eleven, 165-pound centreman struggled to drive play amongst men. The criticism that he was a passenger on two stacked Moose Jaw teams was seemingly validated this year. 

The raw skills are still there – he’s got deft hands and a quick release – but he doesn’t currently possess the strength or the speed to become anything more than a career AHLer.

Organizational Depth Chart

Left WIng Center Right Wing
Sam Poulin Jordy Bellerive Nathan Legare
Drew O’Connor Anthony Angello Valteri Puustinen
Sam Miletic Thomas Di Pauli
Frederick Gaudreau
Jonathan Gruden Justin Almeida Judd Caulfield
Jan Drozg Chase Yoder Radim Zohorna
  Kasper Bjorkqvist
Liam Gorman Lukas Svejkosky
Raivis Ansons
Left Defence Right Defence
Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Joshua Maniscalco
Cam Lee Jesper Lindgren
Clayton Phillips William Reilly
Niclas Almari Santeri Airola
Antti Palojärvi
Goaltender
Joel Blomqvist
Emil Larmi
Calle Clang
Alex D’Orio
Shane Starrett

Top 20 Fantasy Prospects

  1. Sam Poulin
  2. Pierre-Olivier Joseph
  3. Joel Blomqvist
  4. Nathan Legare
  5. Valtteri Puustinen
  6. Drew O’Connor
  7. Jordy Bellerive
  8. Sam Miletic
  9. Kasper Bjorkqvist
  10. Josh Maniscalco
  11. Calle Clang
  12.  John Gruden
  13. Emil Larmi
  14. Cam Lee
  15. Jan Drozg
  16. Anthony Angello
  17. Justin Almeida
  18. William Reilly
  19. Lukas Svejkovsky
  20. Judd Caulfield

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Follow me @kyle_nw for the latest Penguins updates.

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