Welcome to this summer’s listing of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top young players in the organization. The purpose of this ranking is to take stock in the young talent throughout the organization. Whether it’s a prospect drafted just last month who is 18 years old and years away from turning pro, or a full-fledged young NHL caliber player who is 23 or 24, they’re all eligible here.
Part 1: The Graduates and Departed
#25 - #21: Santeri Airola, Nikita Pavlychev, Judd Caulfield, Alex D’Orio, Jan Drozg
#20 - # 16: Jake Lucchini, Clayton Phillips, Niclas Almari, Anthony Angello, Sam Miletic
#15 - #11: Tristan Jarry, Emil Larmi, Justin Almeida, Sam Lafferty, Filip Hallander
#10 - #6: Nathan Legare, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Jordy Bellerive, Calen Addison, Pierre-Olivier Joseph
And now, we get to the top five best young players in the Penguins’ organization:
#5 Dominik Kahun, winger
2018 Ranking: n/a
Age: 24 (July 2, 1995)
Acquired Via: 2019 trade with Chicago, June 2019
Height/Weight: 5’11, 174 pounds
(via elite prospects)
Dominik Kahun will make his first — and as a 24-year old— his only appearance on the Pensburgh T25U25 here at the fifth spot. As you can see from his resume above changing teams is certainly nothing new for Kahun who had made several changes over the years.
The biggest of course was jumping to the NHL last season as a rookie for the Chicago Blackhawks, who signed Kahun as a free agent. Kahun was top-ten in the DEL in assists and points in 2017-18 as well as a star turn at the 2018 Olympics and used that to make the jump across the pond, and all things considered did quite well in his first taste of NHL action.
As our friends at Second City Hockey noted, Kahun did well to help the Blackhawks at 5v5 play all over the lineup:
With 13 goals and 37 points, Kahun tied for eighth place on the Blackhawks. Artem Anisimov scored more goals than him, but Kahun had more assists. At 5-on-5, Kahun’s points per 60 (1.89) and primary points per 60 (1.59) were both fifth on the team. He had the seventh best wins above replacement with a .8 and the seventh best goals above replacement with 4.8 among the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks were substantially better with Kahun on the ice than without him. He moved the puck quickly and accurately in all three zones, and was able to generate chances from high-danger areas right around the crease and slot
Additionally, Kahun showcased his versatility by moving up and down the lineup numerous times to fill in for an injury or try something new. Of the five most common lines Kahun played with at 5-on-5 this season — Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews; Brandon Saad and Toews; Patrick Kane and Anisimov; Saad and Toews; and Dylan Strome and DeBrincat — three were better with him than without him and two were not (DeBrincat/Toews, DeBrincat/Strome).
Now Kahun shifts again to a Pittsburgh team that has attempted to add some speed and youth up front, and one looking for new offensive punch. Kahun probably won’t be much of a factor at even strength or pop a huge boxcar amount of points, but if he can meet last season’s 5v5 P/60 he will be a contributing and positive player for the Pens.
#4 Samuel Poulin, winger
2018 Ranking: n/a
Age: 18 (February 25, 2001)
Acquired Via: 2019 draft (first round)
Height/Weight: 6’1, 207 pounds
(via elite prospects)
The team that hasn’t drafted in the first round since 2012 (and hasn’t kept a first rounder since 2012) stepped up to the podium in June and selected a player out of Quebec.
Pensburgh: Penguins select LW Samuel Poulin 21st overall
Poulin’s talent was on display at Pens’ prospect camp in July. Without a ton of drafted players on the ice, Poulin shined as a first round pick should have against overmatched competition. He made the best play we saw on one of the days of practice:
On a 2-on-2 rush, Poulin dropped shoulder and bulled past defenseman invite Roni Allen while cutting to the net. Then while running out of room before the net Poulin lifted a little chip shot and the puck floated just under the crossbar and in the net. Consider the competition but...really nice move.
Poulin also has some nice hands and moves (including when he walked now-fellow Pittsburgh prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph [#17] after playing the puck between his legs on this nifty deke)
Pittsburgh selects Samuel Poulin pic.twitter.com/AxoRMmZTlC— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) June 22, 2019
Poulin seemed like a player on the rise throughout the season, and since he has solid size and a good all-around game he was a player ranked fairly consistently in the mid 20’s by most major draft services.
Great vision, a shot that only got better as the season went on, under-rated playmaking ability, and a solid overall game pic.twitter.com/Mm7HXK0XXH— snow (@Winzburgh) June 22, 2019
Now about the only thing required is patience. Poulin needs more development time for his all-around game, and to improve his skating as well. With a very strong season this year he could push for future Team Canada World Junior action, or maybe even a cameo appearance for 2020-21 in the NHL for a nine game stint. The sky seems to be the limit, but with such a young player there’s bound to be some growth that will happen as well.
#3 Jared McCann, center/wing
2018 Ranking: n/a
Age: 23 (May 31, 1996)
Acquired Via: trade with Florida
Height/Weight: 6’1, 185 pounds
(via elite prospects)
For just having turned 23 a few months ago, what an interesting career it’s already been for Jared McCann. He was a fairly late 1st round pick (24th overall in 2014) but made the NHL really quickly as a 19-year old in 2015-16 for a not-very-good Vancouver team. The Canucks would trade him that summer (ironically enough for Erik Gudbranson, a player who would become a teammate in Pittsburgh).
As Litterbox Cats takes over in their Top 25 Under 25 last year:
McCann had an up and down season in his first year with [Florida in 2016-17]. In 29 games with the big club, he notched just one goal and added 6 assists. In 42 AHL games with the Springfield Thunerbirds, McCann was more productive, totaling 11 goals and 14 assists while racking up a somewhat surprising 55 PIM.
2017-18 saw McCann return to full-time NHL duty as played in 68 games and bagged 9 goals and set new career-bests with 19 helpers and 28 points. This slight uptick in offensive productive compared to his rookie campaign in Vancouver shows that McCann is improving as he matures.
With two full seasons now under his belt, McCann could be ready to fulfill the promise that made him a first round draft pick. He has the inside track to be the club’s third line center, or if the highly-touted Henrik Borgstrom claims the job - be on his wing, and as the club’s depth improves he could find himself with the linemates that can advantage of his above average play-making skills.
McCann showed a bit of gradual improvement but still wasn’t thriving with the Panthers, as they eventually cut bait with him — perhaps partially to also ensure the higher salary of Nick Bjugstad was also cleared off their books.
McCann did play very well and turn heads in Pittsburgh with his speed and skill. He scored one of the prettiest goals of the season for the Pens in Dallas.
jared mccann never stops amazing pic.twitter.com/xGs0wUTWMD— Penguins Jesus (@PenguinsJesus) March 24, 2019
One item still left unknown is just what will McCann’s role be? He’s played some center and he’s played some wing. Ironically for a player remembered in Vancouver for giving inconsistent effort and not being great away from the puck, McCann’s grown into being a PK option for the Pens.
For a flashy 11 goals in 32 games in Pittsburgh though, McCann only tallied 3 5-on-5 goals. He padded stats scoring empty netters (which are important and do count!) as well as a few short-handed. That’s nice but can fluctuate as far as how many of those opportunities will present itself.
McCann still has something to prove, and he’s in the final year of his contract too, heading to restricted free agency next summer. With a big year he will be in line for a raise. An inconsistent or unimpressive season would leave a lot of question marks about his future. 2019-20 will be important for many players, but given role, contract and future — you could build a pretty good case that McCann is at or near the top of the list for Pittsburgh players as far as having the most crucial/critical season.
Not that there’s much suspense, but we’ll conclude the list next time (since we’re already at 1400 words) on this one..