Welcome to the 2021 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2021 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2021 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the 2021 Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2021-22 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2021 Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects
Penguins Season and Off-Season
Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins had another strong regular season. They finished in first place in the East Division with 77 points in 56 games. Unfortunately, the team had some issues in the playoffs as goaltending let them down. The New York Islanders defeated the Penguins in six games in the first round. In the off-season, the Penguins dealt Jared McCann to the Maple Leafs. They also lost Brandon Tanev in the expansion draft. Cody Ceci, Frederick Gaudreau, Colton Sceviour, and Yannick Weber were other off-season losses. The Penguins added Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn, and Dominick Simon in free agency.
Top 2021 Pittsburgh Penguins Prospect: Samuel Poulin
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born February 25th, 2001 — Blainville, Quebec
Height 6’2″ — Weight 208 lbs [188 cm/94 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1st Round, #21 Overall, at the 2019 NHL Draft.
Poulin split last season between Sherbrook and Val d’Or in the QMJHL. Overall he put up 11 goals and 31 points in 24 games. He was even better in the playoffs with 11 goals and 19 points in just 15 games. He helped Val d’Or reach the QMJHL Final, before they fell to Victoriaville.
Overall, Poulin is a very good skater but has one weakness that he needs to address. If he can improve his footwork, Poulin could really make an impact at the next level. Poulin’s first few steps are choppy and need some work. He could also stand to improve his acceleration. Once he gets up to speed, Poulin has good top-end speed and uses it off the rush, to get in quickly on the forecheck, and to get back and support the defence. That said, the choppy footwork could hold him back, as a large part of the NHL game is stops and starts, races to key areas of the ice, and racing for loose pucks.
His agility and edgework are above average and this helps him to be dangerous in one-on-one situations. Poulin is strong on his skates and has good balance. This allows him to win battles on the boards and to battle for position in front of the net. He can also fight through checks on his way to the front of the net.
Already coming in at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, Poulin plays with power. He is willing to drive the net with the puck, and forecheck hard without it. Poulin also shows skill, with soft hands which he marries with his skating, size, and power. He also has a powerful and accurate wrist shot. His shot features a quick and deceptive release, which allows him to fool goaltenders from outside the face-off circle. Poulin also has an outstanding one-timer. He has a real knack for getting open without the puck and making himself available to get off that shot. Poulin can also score with a strong snapshot as well as a very good backhand.
Playing on the wing, he also has the vision and passing skills to be a playmaker. Poulin has good hockey IQ, anticipating the movements of his teammates and getting them the puck in good spaces. He cycles well and is particularly effective on the give-and-go type plays. Strong on his skates, he protects the puck well. This gives his linemates the opportunity to get open, and once they do he can make tape-to-tape passes through tight areas. He also works well to win battles along the boards and for loose pucks.
Poulin has shown a good defensive game for his age. He uses his long stick to cut down passing lanes and create turnovers. Poulin is willing to help his defence with an effective backcheck. He provides backpressure and takes away time and space from attackers. Poulin is a smart player. He reads the play well and seems to be in the right place to cut down offensive opportunities. Poulin is not afraid to bring his physical and gritty game to his own end, helping the defence down low and in front of the net.
Poulin’s size and skill make him an intriguing power forward option, something that is harder and harder to find in the NHL today. He needs to continue to work on his skating though. If he can solve this issue, he could be an effective top-six winger at the NHL level. He will need some time though. Expect to see him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to start the season.
#2 Prospect: Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Defence — shoots Left
Born July 1st, 1999 — Chambly, Quebec
Height 6’2″ — Weight 185 lbs [188 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 1st round, #23 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June 2019.
Joseph split his season between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh. In 23 games in the AHL, he put up one goal and 13 points. He also played 16 NHL games, scoring his first career goal and picking up five points.
Joseph is a very good skater and is mobile in both directions. His first step is strong, and he has very good acceleration both forwards and backwards. He also has the top-end speed necessary to be able to join the rush, or pinch in at the blue line and also recover when he gets caught.
Excellent pivots and edgework allow him to cover 360 degrees of ice. He keeps himself in front of attackers and maintains good gap control with his smooth skating and his lateral agility. Joseph can also use his agility to walk the line in the offensive zone and to open up shooting and passing lanes. Joseph has bulked up since his draft year, adding over 20 pounds in the last two years. He is strong on the puck and wins more battles in the corners and in front of the net as a result. There is probably a bit more room to add muscle to his lanky frame, though he has matured some since being drafted.
Joseph is a smart player, who can quarterback the play from the point. He has very good vision, and the passing skills to be a playmaker. Joseph can make a good pass, both to start the transition game, or to set things up at the blue line. He is poised with the puck on his stick, taking the time to survey the ice and make the right play. Joseph has the patience wait for a play to develop. He has also become more adept at joining the rush, as well as pinching in from the blue line over the last two seasons.
Joseph keeps his shot low and gets it on the net. This gives his teammates the opportunity at rebounds and tip-ins. He has increased his power with his increased muscle mass. This has naturally led to an increase in goals. The release on his wrist shot is also improved. This is still an area that can continue to get better but he has taken strides in the last year. Joseph can sneak down from the point and let his wrist shot go from the top of the faceoff circles.
Joseph’s mobility makes him very difficult to beat one-on-one, and his active stick allows him to play a strong defensive game. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes well. He also creates turnovers with his ability to read the play and his anticipation. Once those are created, he transitions quickly from defence to offence. Joseph is better at winning his battles on the boards and clearing the front of the net now that he has improved his strength.
Joseph looks to earn a full-time NHL spot in Penguins training camp. His skating and transition ability make him a very good prospect, especially in a league that seems to get faster every year. He looks to be ready to take on that role but will need to beat out Chad Ruhwedel or Mark Freidman to make the roster on a full-time basis.
#3 Prospect: Nathan Legare
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 11th, 2001 — Montreal, Quebec
Height 6’0″ — Weight 208 lbs [183 cm/94 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 3rd round, #74 overall, at the 2019 NHL Draft.
Legare split the season between Baie-Comeau and Val d’Or. He put up 16 goals and 38 points in 33 games. He also added 14 goals and 18 points in 15 playoff games as Val d’Or advanced to the QMJHL Final.
Legare could stand to improve his skating. His top-end speed is merely average. While he has a good first few steps, his overall acceleration is also mediocre. Legare has good agility and edgework. He can weave in and out of traffic and uses his ability to change directions to avoid defenders. Legare is strong on the puck. He uses a wide base to his stride, which gives him excellent balance. His stride is powerful and he is able to fight through checks, hooks, and holds. He is also strong along the boards and in front of the net. This should continue to improve as Legare matures and adds muscle to his frame.
Legare is a natural sniper. He has an outstanding array of shots. His wrist shot is close to NHL ready. It is strong as well as accurate. It also features a very quick release. He also has a very good snapshot. Legare finds a way to get open inside the faceoff dots and converts teammate’s passes when they get him the puck. Legare is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice and has the quick hands to finish in close. He is willing to play a physical game. Legare also forechecks effectively, forcing turnovers and creating offensive opportunities.
Legare can also play the role of playmaker. He controls the puck well down low, protecting it in the cycle game and creating opportunities for teammates. Once an opportunity presents itself, he can make a slick tape-to-tape pass through a tight area. Legare generally plays a straight line, north-south game but will also occasionally use a slick deke combined with his agility to get around a defender.
Legare is willing to use his size and physicality in his own end of the rink as well. However, he needs to be more disciplined. Legare has a tendency to abandon his position, chasing the puck and looking for a big hit. He needs to be coached to maintain his position and continue to cut down passing and shooting lanes. Legare shows plenty of effort in his end of the ice. He has good size and an active stick. With proper coaching, this is an area of his game that can be improved.
Legare could become a top-six forward if he can continue to develop and reaches his ceiling. His skating will need to improve so he can keep up with the play at the NHL level. He will also need continued work on his defensive game. However, Legare has the size, smarts, and shot to score goals. If he can improve his footwork, his could end up a draft steal. He has now completed his junior career and looks to take the next step in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
#4 Prospect: Filip Hallander
Centre — shoots Left
Born June 29th 2000 — Sundsvall, Sweden
Height 6’1″ — Weight 190 lbs [185 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round, #58 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft.
Traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, August 2020.
Traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, July 2021.
Just 11 months after trading Hallander to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Penguins reacquired the Swedish centre in a pre-expansion draft move. Last season he played for Lulea in the SHL, putting up 13 goals and 24 points in 51 games. He also added three points in seven playoff games. Hallander played for Sweden at the IIHF Men’s World Championships, picking up one assist in five games.
Hallander is a powerful skater. He has a long stride and is strong on the puck. He generates the power to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. Hallander has a powerful lower body and good balance. This helps him to win battles along the boards and to control the puck in the cycle. Hallander establishes his position in front of the net and is difficult to move. He could improve his top-end speed though. He can keep up with the play but lacks the ability to separate from defenders. Hallander could improve his first few steps and his acceleration as well. This can be an issue in getting to loose pucks. His agility and edgework allow him to be shifty on the rush, and to create passing lanes off the cycle.
Hallander has a good arsenal of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot are both powerful and accurate. His release is above average but could use a bit more work. Hallander can score from the slot, or from the tops of the circles. He is also strong on the backhand, with the ability to elevate the puck in tight to the net. His soft hands are good at deflections and at pouncing on rebounds. Hallander does not use his slap shot very often. It could use some work, and he is more effective at fooling goaltenders with the shorter wind-up.
Hallander has good stickhandling and puck control but plays a simple game. He keeps the puck moving with quick, accurate passes to the open man. He is not the type to dangle defenders or make a creative saucer pass but reads the game well and keeps the puck moving. A hallmark of Hallander’s game is the fact that he always keeps his feet moving. He is strong on the forecheck and pressures opponents into mistakes, which he can then take advantage of offensively.
Hallander’s strong work ethic is seen in all three zones. He is dogged in chasing down opponents in both his own end and the neutral zone. Hallander reads the play well and cuts down passing lanes with a long stick. He creates turnovers and transitions the play quickly up the ice. While he does not throw a lot of big hits, he is not afraid to battle on the boards or in front of the net. He is also willing to take a hit to make a play.
Hallander should spend another season in the SHL. If he has a good season, he could be in the AHL in 2022-23. He’s at least two years away from making a serious push for an NHL job though.
#5 Prospect: Drew O’Connor
Left Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born June 9th, 1998 — Chatham, New Jersey
Height 6.03 — Weight 200 [191 cm/91 kg]
Signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in March 2020.
It was an interesting season for O’Connor. After completing his college career and signing with the Penguins in the spring, it was assumed that he would go to the AHL. However, the COVID pandemic would change those plans as the North American season started late. O’Connor started the year with Manglerud in the Norwegian league where he put up six goals and 10 points in seven games. He then came to North America splitting the year between the AHL and NHL. In 20 AHL games, O’Connor scored seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points. However, he had just one assist in 10 NHL games.
O’Connor has good size and combines that with strong skating. He has quick feet and good acceleration. His top-end speed is also well-above average. This helps O’Connor to get in quickly on the forecheck and to play a strong two-way game. He also has very good edgework and agility. This gives O’Connor good lateral movement. He can make quick cuts and changes in direction to avoid a defender and find open ice both with and without the puck. O’Connor has good size and is strong on his skates. He wins battles along the boards and in front of the net.
O’Connor combines his strong skating with the hands to make plays while moving at speed. This allows him to handle the puck in the neutral zone and generate effective zone entries. He maintains possession in the cycle game, protecting the puck from opponents. However, O’Connor is not the most creative player. He prefers a short pass to keep possession and getting open for a give-and-go as opposed to a creative pass to the front of the net. He is also not the type to make plays on a defender.
O’Connor can score goals in tight to the net with soft hands. He has the size to set up just outside the crease and win battles for position. He does a good job of tipping in shots, one-timing passes from a teammate, or pouncing on a rebound. O’Connor can also score from further out with his good wrist shot and quick release. He is able to use his quick hands to change the angle on his shot before releasing it, fooling goaltenders. O’Connor also has a very good one-timer. He has a knack for forechecking opposing defenders, pressuring them into mistakes.
O’Connor has also shown strong skills in the faceoff circle and a willingness to play a physical style in the defensive end of the ice. He has good instincts and supports the defence with good backpressure. The NHL game seemed a little fast for him at times, but that should not be too big a surprise given the big jump in skill level that he took this past year. As he gets more time in the AHL, and then the NHL, he should be able to play a strong defensive game and help kill penalties.
O’Connor likely starts the season in the AHL, but he may not be there long. He could be one of the first call-ups for the team. While he may not develop into a big time scorer, he should be able to bring some secondary scoring along with a physical game and good defence to the bottom-six. He is pretty close to being ready for full-time duty in the NHL.
#6 Prospect: Calle Clang
Goaltender — shoots Left — catches Left
Born May 20th, 2002 — Olofstrom, Sweden
Height 6’2″ — Weight 176 lbs [188 cm/80 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 3rd Round, #77 Overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft.
Clang spent most of the season with Kristianstads in the Allsvenskan, the second-highest league in Sweden. He put up a 13-19-0 record with a 2.46 goals-against-average and .919 save percentage in 32 games for a weaker team. He also had a 3-2-0 record with a 1.49 goals-against-average and .952 save percentage in the relegation playoffs.
Skating and Talent Analysis
Clang is 6-foot-2 and takes full advantage of that size. He gets well out of the net, cutting down angles and challenging shooters. With his strong, powerful legs he is able to get back quickly if an attacker drives the net and tries to beat him with a deke. Those powerful legs also allow Clang to get from post to post quickly. However, he can overslide at times, taking himself out of position. He doesn’t quit though, using his athleticism and fighting to get back. Clang tracks the puck well and anticipates plays well, allowing him to track the puck effectively and stay square to the shooter on most occasions.
Clang gets down in the butterfly quickly and also pops back up effectively. His strong legs take away the bottom of the net as he is very difficult to beat down low. He closes his five-hole quickly. Meanwhile, his quick glove hand is effective at taking away the top of the net. Clang keeps his upper body straight up even when down in the butterfly, reducing the area up in the top of the net. He fights to find the puck through traffic, competing well when screened.
Like many young goalies, Clang will need to work on his rebound control. He often kicks pucks out in front of the net instead of getting them safely into the corners. Clang’s high compete level and his athleticism help him to recover and he can often make a big save even with those rebounds going out. He quickly gets square to the second shot.
Clang is also a good puck handler. His strong skating allows him to get out of his crease to intercept dump-ins and act as a third defenceman, making a strong pass to his teammates to start the rush. He can also make a long breakaway pass to an open teammate if he catches the opposition on a line change.
Clang is consistent in the net. He doesn’t let a bad goal get to him and bounces back, ready to make the next save before the puck is dropped at centre ice. He was often peppered with shots while playing behind a weak Rogle BK U20 defence but stood tall despite that. Clang does not let the pressure get to him, instead, he acts as a leader for that his defence can lean on. Clang is quick to look for a stoppage if his team is in trouble as well as to move the puck if they have the opportunity to launch a counterattack.
Projection and Comparison
Clang could develop into a top-level goaltender if things go well for him. After an impressive season in the Allsvenskan, he will get his chance to play top-level competition against men in the SHL, taking harder shots, and more traffic in and around the net. Clang could also compete for a spot on Sweden’s World Junior team, though he faces tough competition from Jesper Wallstedt. His technique could use some refinements to stay in position when moving side-to-side and to improve his rebound control. He will also need to add some muscle to his frame going forward.
#7 Prospect: Joel Blomqvist
Goalie — shoots Left — catches Left
Born January 10th, 2002 — Pietarsaari, Finland
Height 6’1″ — Weight 205 lbs [185 cm/93 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd Round, #52 Overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft.
Blomqvist bounced around a little last season. He played three games in the Finnish Under-20 league putting up a 1.33 goals-against-average and .941 save percentage. He also played 16 games in the Finnish second division, the Mestis, putting up a 6-4-6 record with a 2.67 goals-against-average and .907 save percentage. Blomqvist also had a 6-3 record in nine playoff games with a 3.10 goals-against-average and .908 save percentage. He also appeared in two Liiga games with 1.50 goals-against-average and .914 save percentage. Blomqvist was part of Finland’s World Junior Team but did not appear in the tournament.
Skating and Talent Analysis
At 6-foot-1 Blomqvist has decent size, but is not quite at the level that NHL teams are looking for in their goalie prospects in recent years. He prefers to play deeper in the crease, not really coming out to challenge shooters or cut down angles. However, he follows the puck well and is square to the shot. Blomqvist fights to find the puck through screens. He is also a smart goalie, anticipating where the puck is going and is a step ahead. He also has a good push laterally, allowing him to get across the crease quickly. Blomqvist has outstanding athleticism. Even when seemingly out of the play, he never gives up and this can lead to some outstanding saves as a result.
Blomqvist plays a hybrid style. He prefers to stay on his feet to take away shots at the top of the net. He also has a quick glove hand and a good blocker. Blomqvist has quick as well as strong legs. On low shots he gets down in the butterfly quickly, taking away the bottom of the net. His rebound control is advanced for a young goaltender as he keeps the puck close to him when possible and kicks pucks into the corners when it is not. Even when he gives up a rebound, he recovers quickly and gets his body square to the puck. Blomqvist is a strong skater and it is difficult to beat him coming in on a deke.
Blomqvist has decent puckhandling ability. He gets out of his net quickly and knocks down dump-ins behind the net. He also can make a short pass to a defenceman to start the transition game, moving the puck quickly enough. In our viewings, we did not see Blomqvist do anything out of the ordinary in terms of a long pass to a forward, or handling the puck under pressure.
Blomqvist has been playing ahead of his age group for several years now. This has helped him to develop a maturity to his game. He is calm and composed when facing heavy traffic. He also comes up big in important games. Defencemen can look at Blomqvist for a level of leadership. He understands when to get a whistle to slow down the play if his team needs a change, or to keep the puck moving, getting it to a defenceman if there is a chance for a counter-attack. If he does give up a bad goal, he comes back ready to make the next save, not allowing mistakes to spiral out of control.
Blomqvist should continue to play in the Mestis and Liiga this season as he is ready to play full-time against men. This is good for his development as he will face harder shots and bigger, stronger opponents. He has the potential to develop into a number one goaltender if given the time and if things go well. Blomqvist will likely spend another year or two in Europe before heading to North America and should compete for the spot on Finland’s World Junior team this year.
#8 Prospect: Tristan Broz
The Penguins drafted Broz with the 58th overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Prior to the draft, we took an in-depth look at Broz. As there has not been a significant sample size of games played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#9 Prospect: Jon Gruden
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born May 4th, 2000 — Rochester, Michigan
Height 6’0″ — Weight 172 lbs [183 cm / 78 kg]
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 4th round, #95 overall, at the 2018 NHL Draft.
Traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in October 2020.
Gruden joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after being part of the Matt Murray trade. He played his first pro season, putting up six goals and 14 points in 32 AHL games.
Gruden is a solid skater. He has good, but not great speed. This is helped by his first few steps and acceleration which are very good. It allows Gruden to win races to loose pucks. He is also able to quickly change speeds, which can fool defenders. Gruden is strong on his skates. He has the power to fight through checks. With good balance, Gruden wins battles along the boards and battles for position in front of the net. His agility and edgework are good. They allow him to weave through traffic and find open space.
Gruden generates offensive chances through smart play and hard work. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and pressures opposing defenders into making mistakes. When teammates have the puck, he gets to the front of the net, creating screens, and battling for tip-ins, rebounds and to one-time a pass to the back of the net. When the puck is on Gruden’s stick, he is hard to knock off of it. He makes the smart play, and he keeps things moving in the cycle game. Gruden has a decent, but not a great shot. He gets it off quickly and keeps things on the net.
Gruden might not be the most creative player, and he plays a very north-south style of game. However, it is extremely effective. He never gives up on a play. Gruden is also not the biggest forward on the ice, but he often finds himself in the centre of scrums. He plays a gritty game and can get under an opponent’s skin simply by his sheer tenacity.
Gruden’s smarts and work ethic translate in his own zone as well. He brings back pressure to support the defence against the rush. He is also willing to work down low and help the defenders against the cycle game. Gruden anticipates plays well and uses his stick to break up passes and cut down shooting lanes. When a turnover is created, he transitions quickly to offence. Gruden is an effective penalty killer and a threat short-handed.
Gruden projects as a potential middle-six winger in the NHL. He may never put up superstar scoring numbers, but if developed could be a secondary scorer who plays a solid all-around game and can be used in all situations. He understands how to play the game, and gets the most out of his physical tools. Expect to see him back in the AHL for another year.
#10 Prospect: Jordy Bellerive
Centre — shoots Left
Born May 2nd, 1999 — North Vancouver, British Columbia
Height 5’11” — Weight 196 lbs [180 cm / 89 kg]
Signed with the Penguins as an undrafted free agent in September 2017.
Bellerive had a strong second season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton scoring 10 goals and 18 points in 29 games. On a points-per-game basis he showed big improvements over his rookie year.
Bellerive is an excellent skater. He has a lightning-quick first step and very good acceleration. His top-end speed is excellent. Bellerive is very difficult to handle off the rush. He can take a defender wide and cut to the net. He also has very good agility and edgework. Bellerive can beat defenders with his quick movements and changes of direction. At just 5-foot-11, Bellerive is slightly undersized. However, he has good muscle on his frame and a low centre of gravity. This gives him good balance and allows him to be strong on the puck.
Bellerive combines his skating with great puck handling skills. He has soft hands and can create plays at top speed. He combines his skating and puck skills to create space, opening up passing and shooting lanes. Bellerive is at his best as a playmaker. He sees the ice extremely well and has the skill to make passes to teammates through tight openings. Bellerive might have picked up even more assists if he played for a more talented WHL club.
Bellerive has really developed his goal-scoring over his junior career. He always had a very good wrist shot with a quick release but is now more willing to use it. If defenders back off to respect his speed off the rush, he will fire a shot on net, using the defender as a screen. Bellerive is willing to play a gritty game and gets to the front of the net both with and without the puck. He has the soft hands to finish in close. Bellerive is not afraid to battle for loose pucks in the corners as well.
Bellerive brings his tenacity to the defensive end. He gets under his opponent’s skin and is always in the middle of the action. He backchecks hard and supports the defence down low. Bellerive uses his quickness and strong hockey IQ to create turnovers and transition them back into offensive opportunities. He cuts down passing lanes and is effective on the penalty kill.
With injuries down the middle, there may be an opportunity for Bellerive to start the season in Pittsburgh. However, he likely still spends some time in the AHL this year, whether that is to start the season or after Crosby and Malkin return. He could fight for a full-time NHL job as early as 2022-23.
Sleeper Prospect: Valtteri Puustinen
Right Wing/Left Wing — shoots Right
Born June 4th, 1999 — Kuopio, Finland
Height 5’9″ — Weight 178 lbs [175 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 7th round, #203 overall, at the 2019 NHL Draft.
Puustinen played 51 games for HPK in the Finnish Liiga last year, scoring 21 goals and 20 assists for 40 points. He also played two games for the National Team at the Men’s World Championships, coming home with a silver medal.
Puustinen is another undersized forward who makes up for that deficiency with very good skating ability. More quick than fast, Puustinen has a great first step and excellent acceleration. His ability to change speeds can be a real weapon as he can slow down or speed up quickly, beating defenders. Once he gets a step on his man, he can quickly separate and create space. His top-end speed is good but not great though, as he isn’t a speedster over long distances. Puustinen also has very good edgework and agility, with quick cuts helping him to get away from defenders both with and without the puck. His low centre of gravity helps him to maintain his balance. However, his lack of size can still be an issue when facing bigger and stronger opponents.
Puustinen is a pure sniper. He has an excellent array of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot are both powerful and accurate. He also has the soft hands to quickly change the angle of his release before letting them go. This gives goalies a lot of trouble, particularly when he can come in on the rush and use a defender as a screen. His one-timer is also powerful and accurate. Puustinen can quickly adjust his feet and still get his shot off even if the pass is not perfect. He does a really good job of finding quiet spots and getting open without the puck, leaving himself in the right position to take a pass from a teammate and fire it on the net. Puustinen is also not afraid to get his nose dirty. He gets to the front of the net and battles for position. He can also score goals in tight.
While best known for his goal-scoring abilities, Puuskinen can also play the role of playmaker. He handles the puck well while moving at top speed, helping him to create plays on the rush, and to enter the offensive zone efficiently. He also has the vision and passing ability to play the role of a playmaker off the wing. Puuskinen is able to use his quick hands and good lateral mobility to make a quick move and open up the passing lane to a teammate. He is very good at working the circles on the power-play, where he can set up plays or fire a shot at the net.
Puuskinen works hard in the defensive zone and is not afraid to engage his opponent. However, his lack of size will likely always be a bit of a limiting factor here. His quickness and ability to poke check the puck away from an opponent are real assets. However, when he is working against the cycle game, he has a tendency to simply be overpowered by his opponents.
Puustinen has signed with the Penguins and makes his way to North America this season. Expect to see him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton where he will get the opportunity to show how his game translates to the smaller ice surface. Puustinen could develop into a secondary scoring option but will need some time in the AHL first.
Other 2021 Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects
A perennial Stanley Cup Contender, the Penguins have picked late in almost all of the recent drafts. They have also traded away picks and prospects to improve their team over the summer and at trade deadlines. This has led to a system that really lacks the top-end talent seen amongst other teams. The Penguins should hope that at least a couple of their depth prospects pan out in order that they avoid a lengthy rebuild after their core gets old. Right now that depth includes goaltenders Filip Lindberg, and Alex D’Orio. On the blue line, the Penguins also have Cameron Lee, Clayton Phillips, Will Reilly, Niclas Almari, Kirill Tankov, and Josh Maniscalco. Forward prospects to keep an eye on include Kasper Bjorkqvist, Lukas Svejkovsky, Raivis Ansons, Judd Caulfield, Liam Gorman, Chase Yoder, Jan Drozg, and Justin Almeida.
2021 Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects Main Photo:
BOISBRIAND, QC – OCTOBER 06: Samuel Poulin #29 of the Sherbrooke Phoenix skates the puck against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada at Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau on October 6, 2019, in Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada. The Sherbrooke Phoenix defeated the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 5-1. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)