For the first time in a long, long time, the Penguins had a first-round draft pick that they didn’t trade away. And by the end of the day on Saturday, June 22, Pittsburgh added four forwards and one defenseman to their thin prospect pool.
- No. 21 - Samuel Poulin (F)
- No. 74 - Nathan Legare (F)
- No. 145 - Judd Caulfield (F)
- No. 203 - Valtteri Puustinen (F)
- No. 211 - Santri Airola (D)
The biggest takeaway from the draft was the apparent shift toward bigger-bodied players. The first pick, Poulin, stands at 6-1, 206 pounds. Legare goes 6-0, 205. Caulfield was the biggest player at 6-4, 204. The final two picks, both Puustinen and Airola are both below 6-foot and under 190 pounds.
Was this draft strategy a reaction to the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup victory, where both the Blues and Boston Bruins threw their bodies all over the ice? Possibly. Rutherford and his scouting department will surely say they drafted based on the best player being on their board, but you can’t ignore the traits of these young men. Rutherford, whose championship philosophy in 2016 and 2017 was predicated on speed and skill, has since then tried to infuse a bit of old-school hockey into the lineup, whether that be through Ryan Reaves, Garrett Wilson, or Nick Bjugstad.
Here are a few notable quotes from the Penguins’ Director of Amateur Scouting, Patrik Allvin. From the Penguins:
The reports on all three men are almost identical: big, strong, physical, love to get dirty, love to battle on the walls and drive to the net. Though, according to Pens director of amateur scouting Patrik Allvin, that was a mere coincidence.
”It just turned out to be that. Sometimes when you pick at those positions the other teams dictate what players well be available,” Allvin said. “They play the right way by going to the net and getting after it. That’s the intriguing part.”
“They’re a little bit heavier and have to work on their quickness, but their low game and foot speed is good,” Allvin said. “They’re strong, powerful kids. There’s no concerns. In a couple years they’ll fit the style of the Penguins.”
“When there was an opportunity to move up to get Nathan Legare, (general manager) Jim (Rutherford) was active,” Allvin said. “He’s a guy that we had higher on our list. We’re excited about that opportunity.
”He’s got a shooting mentality,” Allvin continued on Legare, who finished with 45 goals and 87 points in 2018-19. “He’s a super competitive kid. He plays the right way. He drives to the net and plays hard. The 45 goals speaks for itself.”
”Puustinen played really well at World Junior this year,” Allvin said. “He’s a late-bloomer in Finland. He had a strong finish in the playoffs and won the championship in Finland.
”Airola was a guy that our European scouts were excited he was still available in the seventh round. He’s a late-bloomer. Skilled defenseman, a real good skater. That was a good flip to get him in the seventh.”
While it will be a few years before the likes of Poulin or even Legare get a chance at an NHL lineup, just the fact of having some players with pedigree is a sight for sore eyes with Sidney Crosby and co. getting older.
The championship window isn’t closed yet, but it’s not a bad thing to keep an eye towards the future and a new era.
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