An update on the Penguins’ top 5 prospects

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ top prospects have been busy near and far this season, what have a few of the top players in the system been up to?

It’s no surprise or secret that the Penguins have one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL. After a decade of selecting outside the lottery and trading those selections (with the exception of the 2019 first-round selection), the Penguins’ prospects obviously aren’t a strength.

The Penguins didn’t have a first-round pick in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 or 2020, and Kapseri Kapanen (the first-rounder in 2014) was traded for Phil Kessel in 2015. The Pens didn’t have a first-round pick in 2013 and those selected from 2010-12 have all left the team.

Even the highly regarded second-round picks (Calen Addison, Filip Hallander and Filip Gustavsson) have been used as trade baits over the past few seasons. It’s the price to pay to win in the NHL, but it leaves quite an empty cupboard.

The Penguins still do have a few prospects who could, will and have made an impact with the Pens this season and beyond.

Let’s take a look at a few of them:

Samuel Poulin – 19/LW/Val D’or Foreurs (CHL)

The Penguins’ clear-cut best prospect was a candidate to be kept on the main roster for a bubble run with the Pens after being invited to training camp before the NHL season resumed in July but ultimately did not make the cut.

There’s not much left for Poulin to accomplish in the junior levels of hockey, and it’s likely the Pens are just letting the talented forward pick up some additional seasoning during his final season of juniors eligibility.

Poulin was traded from the Sherbrooke Phoenix to the Val D’or Foreurs for his final season in the CHL, and in 12 games, he’s scored 14 points (five goals and nine assists). Coincidentally, Poulin is playing with fellow Pens’ top prospect Nathan Legare now, after both were traded to the Foreurs.

At just 19, it’s not uncommon for a late first-round pick to continue playing in the CHL, and while Poulin would probably be better off honing his skill against professional talent in the AHL, it’s only a matter of time now.

After being selected with the 21st pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Poulin has done nothing but show the Pens made the right choice when selecting him. Before the Covid shutdowns, he had scored 32 goals and dished 45 assists for 77 points in just 46 games.

The sturdy 6’1″ 207-pound winger has a frame built for the NHL, but his quick hands, sneaky playmaking and all-around offensive game point toward top-six potential—even if his skating speed is slightly below average.

Poulin will likely make the Penguins’ roster next season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make an impact as a call-up for the playoffs this season.

Nathan Legare – 20/RW/Val D’or Fouers (CHL)

The third-round pick in 2019 and good friend of Poulin, Nathan Legare has one tool that could make him very, very valuable for the Penguins in the years to come.

The Penguins traded their fourth, fifth and seventh-round selections in 2019 for the chance to select Legare, and if you’ve seen his shot, you’d feel the same way.

Legare started his CHL career on a pretty poor Baie-Comeau Drakkar team, which he captained for a season in 2019-20, and his stats reflected the team’s quality. Despite scoring 45 goals and 87 points in 2018-19, with a playoff appearance, the team’s quality dipped in 2019-20. Legare scored 35 goals and 71 points in 61 games, but the Drakkar rostered one of the worst teams in the league.

Despite serving as captain, Legare was dealt to the Fouers for a player and five draft picks this season. Through 14 games with the Drakkar, he scored 14 points (five goals and nine assists) and through seven games with the Fouers, he’s scored seven points (three goals and four assists).

Through playing with a poor team and the transition to another, Legare’s development since a 45 goal season hasn’t been what’s been expected. However, his upside remains the same.

With a booming one-timer and strong wrist shot, Legare will always be a shot first forward, but his playmaking ability is a plus ability, and he’s a hard-working, hard-hitting power forward. His deficient skating ability will determine just where he will slot into the Penguins’ lineup in the future.

Like Poulin, Legare will finish out this season in the CHL and be in a position to make the Pens’ squad as a rookie at the end of this season. He’s more on the border of AHL/NHL to start next season though.

Joel Blomqvist – 19/G/Karpat/Hermes (SHL)

The first selection for the Penguins (second round) in the 2020 NHL Draft, Joel Blomqvist is one of the youngest Pens prospects in the system.

The Finnish goaltender is employed by Karpat, a superpower in the Finnish Super Elite Liiga, and he made his big league debut last season to mixed results. Blomqvist dominated with the Karpat U20 team, posting a .931 save percentage over 34 games. However, in two games with the top team, he posted a .808 save percentage and a 4.73 goals-against average.

It was a tough start for such a young kid, but he rebounded this season .914 save percentage and a 1.50 goals-against average in two games before being loaned to Hermes, a team in the Finnish second division.

In nine games with Hermes, Blomqvist has a .908 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average with a shutout. As such a young goaltender, Blomqvist simply needs consistent games in order to develop. He most likely won’t see North American ice for a few seasons, and that’s quite OK.

By all accounts, should he reach his potential, projections point to him becoming a starting NHL netminder.

His size (6’2″ 183 pounds) and steady presence in the net at just 19 points toward a goaltender who can grow into the role. He has a high hockey IQ and he reads plays well while having all the innate athleticism required to thrive as a high-level goaltender.

For Blomqvist, he simply must continue to develop in the Finnish leagues. The road to becoming an NHL goaltender is often long, but Blomqvist appears to have all the tools necessary.

It’s just a waiting game now.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph – 21/D/Pittsburgh Penguins

What has Pierre-Olivier Joseph done this season? Besides providing first-pairing minutes for the Penguins?

The hype for Joseph was strong after arriving from the Arizona Coyotes in the Phil Kessel trade, and a strong season of AHL play with the Wilks-Barre Scranton Baby Penguins, but I don’t think anyone could have realistically expected his emergence this season.

With the Penguins’ defensive injuries this season, Joseph was called up sooner than expected from the Baby Penguins and his impact has made him a key cog in the lineup.

In 13 games, Joseph has scored a goal, an absolute beauty, and dished out four assists. The 21-year-old has played almost 18 minutes per game, and when Letang was out of the lineup earlier this season, he played upwards of 25 minutes per game with John Marino in a glimpse to the future.

While he’s suffered from some rookie season struggles at points this season, he’s also looked like the veteran defenseman while playing with Letang out on the ice at other points. He’s a smooth skater with perhaps more offensive upside than the Penguins anticipated and he’s steady in the defensive zone as a rookie playing on the top pairing.

Joseph was always regarded as a strong defender with a limited offensive upside, but he’s demonstrated good vision and a strong shot early this season. In two seasons, a first pairing of Marino-Joseph seems very likely. He’s going to learn the position more this season than he ever has through his amateur career, and it’ll make him that much better.

While he’s still technically considered a prospect, he’s going to finish the season with the Penguins and hopefully spend the next decade in Black and Gold.

Calle Clang – 18/G/Rogle BK/Kristianstads

The second youngest prospect in the Penguins’ pipeline, Clang was the third-round selection for the Pens in 2020.

Another young, talented goaltender in the Penguins’ system, Clang plays for Kristianstads IK in the Swedish second division, on loan from Rogle BK in the SHL. He, like Blomqvist, was named to his country’s World Junior Championship team.

With Rogle’s J20 team in 2019-20, Clang posted a .913 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average. In 2020-21, Clang made his debut with Rogle’s senior team and allowed zero goals in his lone game with the team. He was loaned Kristianstads this season, and he’s impressed as an 18-year-old.

In 27 games with Kristianstads this season, Clang has posted a .916 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average. An 18-year-old posting these numbers is impressive, but when his counterpart a veteran European goaltender posts far, far worse numbers with the same team, you have to wonder just how good Clang’s numbers could be.

A goaltender with good size (6’2″ 176 pounds), he’s young enough to predict he could add height and weight to his frame. Like Blomqvist, Clang has a really solid hockey IQ, but he relies more upon his technical ability than athleticism to man the net.

Clang has a long, long way to go to even see North American ice, but he has the tools to become a solid NHL goaltender down the line. Again, like Blomqvist, he requires more time overseas to become seasoned enough to see AHL time.

He’s a long-term project who could pay dividends as a third-round selection, but only time will tell.

This is the first part of a look at the Penguins’ top prospects. Stay tuned for a look at the rest of the top 10!