I get it. We do in-depth prospect features here, we do prospect film breakdowns, but what everyone really wants is the ranking. So here we go, we’re going to rank the Penguins’ prospects.
To qualify as a “prospect” for this exercise, there are three criteria.
- The player must be drafted by or under contract with Pittsburgh, not on an AHL deal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
- The player must be age 25 or under.
- The player must not have played in an NHL game.
Using that criteria, we can come up with a list of 27 players. Today, we conclude the rankings with Nos. 1-10.
10. NIKITA PAVLYCHEV
How acquired: 2015, seventh round
Size: 6-8, 200
Pavlychev has already proven to be a great find in the seventh round. After modest offensive production in his first two years at Penn State, Pavlychev made major strides, scoring 14 goals and 15 assists in 39 games as a junior.
He’s put on nearly 25 pounds since he was drafted back in 2015, filling out his massive 6-foot-8 frame. That’s allowed him to play a more effective physical game which, coupled with his long reach, makes for a pretty strong 200-foot game. He's a good skater for a player of his size.
Pavlychev will return to Penn State for his senior season. His role has grown with each season he's been at Penn State, and he should be given even more responsibility as a senior.
9. SAM LAFFERTY
How acquired: 2014, fourth round
Size: 6-1, 194
You couldn't have hoped for much more out of Lafferty in his first professional season last year. He finished No. 2 in scoring on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 13 goals and 36 assists in 70 games, a point shy of Ethan Prow for the the team lead.
Lafferty didn't seem to have any problems making the transition to the pro game from college hockey. He was strong out of the gate and remained consistent throughout the year. Now that Lafferty has a year of professional experience under his belt, he should be one of the first forwards in line for a call up next season. He has the size and strength needed to play in the NHL, he can play physical, and he's a good skater.
8. JORDY BELLERIVE
How acquired: 2015, undrafted free agent signing
Size: 5-11, 194
All things considered, Bellerive's final season of junior hockey was a huge success. After his bonfire accident last summer, he was originally expected to be away from the ice for a full year, but he was back in action in no time. He still bears the scars from the burns on his hands, and during this summer's development camp he spoke about how he still experiences tightness from the scars and how he had to modify his hand positioning when he grips his stick because of it.
Despite the adjustment, Bellerive only saw the slightest dip in production in his final WHL season with 33 goals and 50 assists in 68 games, down from his totals of 46 goals and 46 assists in 71 games in 2017-18.
Bellerive will be turning pro next season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and there's no reason to believe he shouldn't be able to build off of that success. The parts of his game that made him successful in juniors -- a high volume of shots, strong physical play -- translate to the pro level. There are players who already have pro experience who would be ahead of Bellerive for a call-up, but Bellerive isn't far off from getting a shot.
7. KASPER BJORKQVIST
How acquired: 2016, second round
Size: 6-1, 198
The organization is high on Bjorkqvist. Part of that is his absurd fitness level. He's breaking nearly all of the organization's fitness records, and Bill Guerin and Scott Young have raved about his strength and physical maturity.
Bjorkqvist is well-rounded and versatile. He can play on both the power play and penalty kill, and as both a center and a wing. He's a responsible, two-way player. His offensive production at Providence College was modest, and he set career highs in his final season of college hockey with 17 goals and 13 assists in 42 games.
Bjorkqvist is currently rehabbing from a shoulder surgery, and he has not yet been cleared to lift weights on his left side. Despite the surgery, Bjorkqvist's trainer Yunus Barisik told me that Bjorkqvist has never been this strong this early in the summer. If Bjorkqvist adjusts well to the pro game, he's another guy who could be one of the first forwards in line for a call-up.
6. NATHAN LEGARE
How acquired: 2019, third round
Size: 6-0, 205
Legare was a great find for the Penguins in the third round. One scout told Dejan Kovacevic at development camp that the Penguins had Legare ranked “in the 20s.”
Legare is a strong power forward and has a good net-front presence. His greatest strength is undoubtedly his shot. Legare played both with and against goaltender Alex D'Orio in the QMJHL, and I asked D'Orio for a scouting report the day Legare was drafted.
“His shot is incredible, especially for his age,” said D’Orio. “He just whips it. He can be extremely offensive, and at the same time he can play hard and physical, close to the boards."
Legare is still two seasons away from being eligible to play in the AHL, so he still has some time before he makes it to the NHL. He has a high upside, though.
5. JUSTIN ALMEIDA
How acquired: 2018, fifth round
Size: 5-11, 165
Almeida had great offensive production in his final season of junior hockey, recording 33 goals and 78 assists in just 64 games. That's impressive in the defense-focused WHL, and even more impressive when you understand he essentially played the entire season with one working shoulder — following a November shoulder injury, he played with a brace that severely limited his mobility in his left arm. Not easy for a left-handed shot. He underwent offseason shoulder surgery to repair his shoulder and will look to be 100 percent by the start of the season in Wilkes-Barre.
He'll need to work on growing his overall game and adding strength as he goes pro.
4. CALEN ADDISON
How acquired: 2018, second round
Size: 5-10, 181
Guerin likes to call Addison a "new age" defenseman. He's undersized, but he's fast. He's a good puck-moving defenseman and strong offensively. Guerin has also praised Addison's dedication to his work off the ice in terms of fitness and nutrition, saying that Addison understands the importance of those things more so than other teenage prospects.
Addison needs to work on growing his defensive game, as most smaller defensemen do. He'll have one more season to do that in the WHL, then will spend some time in Wilkes-Barre before he sees NHL time.
3. PIERRE-OLIVIER JOSEPH
How acquired: Phil Kessel trade
Size: 6-2, 161
After being acquired in the Kessel trade, Joseph is arguably the new No. 1 defense prospect in the organization.
Originally drafted by the Coyotes No. 23 overall in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft, Joseph spent the past four seasons in the QMJHL. He's a great overall skater, has good vision, great offensive production, and by all accounts out of Charlottetown was a leader and motivating presence in the locker room. He's a well-rounded, mature player.
I have a full breakdown of Joseph's game here.
Joseph's main deficiency is his weight. He has good height for a defenseman, but he's very slender and doesn't have much physical strength.
“(Joseph) can’t engage in a ton of physical battles until he has more strength — and with the minutes he plays at our level — but by being smart he can make up for that,” Charlottetown Islanders coach and general manager Jim Hulton told Arizona Sports in June 2018.
Joseph will be going pro next season in Wilkes-Barre. Defensemen like Zach Trotman and David Warsofsky have NHL experience and would likely receive a call before Joseph in the coming season, but that's OK. Joseph's future is bright, and it will be good for him to spend a season or so adjusting to the pro game, and get stronger before he makes the jump to the NHL. Defensemen typically take more seasoning before they're ready for the NHL.
2. FILIP HALLANDER
How acquired: 2018, second round
Size: 6-1, 190
Hallander was a standout with Timra in his rookie SHL season, scoring seven goals and 14 assists in 45 games. Hallander spent most of the season on the left wing of Timra’s top line. Given that Timra was a weak, rebuilding team last season, Hallander was given much responsibility for a young player, and Guerin spoke about being impressed by how he handled it.
Hallander is responsible defensively and a great skater. He doesn't shy away from driving to the net to pick up rebounds.
“We see him as an up-and-down winger with a powerful stride,” Young told Dave Molinari this summer. “A strong kid, at this point, who’s going to turn into a strong man. A stronger man. … He’s going to be a power forward.”
While some European players struggle to adjust to the North American game and the smaller ice surface, Young believes that Hallander's size and strength will benefit him when he makes the transition.
Hallander will return to the SHL next season, though. Timra was relegated to the second-tier Allsvenskan, and Hallander moved to contending team, Lulea. Hallander is still so young; it will be good for him to continue to develop in a top men’s league for another season.
1. SAMUEL POULIN
How acquired: 2019, first round
Size: 6-1, 207
Poulin is pretty clearly the No. 1 prospect in the system. That's not surprising, considering that the next most recent first-round pick still in the organization is Sidney Crosby.
Poulin is a strong, power forward, a crafty playmaker with a great shot, and a versatile player who can play both center and wing. He names his skating as his biggest weakness, but it's not as much as a detriment as he makes it sound. He's able to maintain his speed once he has it, it just takes him a longer time to accelerate to that speed. That's fixable. During the Penguins' three-on-three tournament during development camp, his skating looked fine on the open ice.
Poulin still has two years before he's eligible to play in the AHL, so for now, it's either the NHL or back to the QMJHL. He'll most likely play the next two seasons in the QMJHL, but then I wouldn't be surprised to see him earn NHL time in his first professional season.
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