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 Nathan Légaré, winger
2018 Ranking: n/a
Age: 18 (January 11, 2001)
Acquired Via: 2019 draft (third round)
Height/Weight: 6’0, 205 pounds
(via elite prospects)
Legare had a sensational draft eligible age 17/18 season, finishing tied-second in the whole QMJHL with 45 goals, and eighth in the league in points with 87. He finished second in the league with 33 ES goals, and second in the league as well with 216 shots, as well as impressive ES points/minutes abilities - even more than Pittsburgh’s first round pick in Samuel Poulin, in fact.
However, on draft day Legare (who was 27th - 54th in many pre-draft rankings) slipped quite a bit. That slide was ended when the Penguins traded three picks to jump up and grab him 73rd overall. The Pens were thrilled — internally reports are they had him ranked as a first round pick on their board. To get that in the third is awesome.
Legare fell on draft day due to some concerns; his skating is said to be not the best, and his play in the neutral zone isn’t tremendous either, he doesn’t do much to help advance the puck, his passing ability isn’t great and away from the puck he’s not known as a two-way player.
But what is tremendous is Legare’s offensive instinct and shooting ability. Just look at this highlight reel from a four point game (three goals, one assist) where even the assist comes off a shot.
It remains to be seen if Legare will ultimately be effective enough and grow in his weaknesses to stand out at the NHL level. But at just 18 years old, he has a lot of time to continue to develop and grow.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have that many high-end prospects, and Legare certainly offers skill and ability that is very obvious and pops off his stick with that hard shot. In the third round it’s a great flyer to take.
#9 Kasper Björkqvist, winger
2018 Ranking: 10
Age: 22 (July 10, 1997)
Acquired Via: 2016 draft (second round)
Height/Weight: 6’1, 198 pounds
(via elite prospects)
The Pens got Bjorkqvist to forgo his senior season at Providence and turn pro for 2019-20. Physically, it looks like he’s ready, as he has broken almost all of Pittsburgh’s testing records for off-ice prospects.
Can we take in how much of a machine @penguins prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist is!? ( /IG: carlthefriendlyghost) pic.twitter.com/LOzvN1Vflw— NHL (@NHL) July 24, 2019
The NHL’s official account just can’t get enough.
Is it wrong to be strong? Clearly not for @penguins prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist and crew. ( IG: nextlevelstrengthconditioning) pic.twitter.com/K9vDvwJQh9— NHL (@NHL) July 15, 2019
“We were very happy with the steady progression in Kasper’s production,” assistant GM BIll Guerin said in May when he signed. “I know Kasper expected that improvement in his personal numbers each season. He is also a very disciplined hockey player who plays a very team-oriented game.”
Bjorkqvist emerged as a leader on and off the ice in Providence.
“He’s always been a leader,” said teammate (and 2017 Boston first round pick) Urho Vaakanainen. “He’s very vocal in the locker room. Outside the rink, he’s very energetic. Smiles a lot. He’s a natural-born leader.″
“Kasper ran the room,″ said Providence coach Nate Leaman after Bjorkqvist helped ignite a three-goal comeback against Minnesota State last season.
The Pens can drop Bjorkqvist into the AHL this season and see how his transition to the pro game goes. Depending on how he performs it wouldn’t seem totally out of the question to make an NHL cameo at some point if injury necessitates it, but at this point it looks like 2019-20 will be more of an acclimation and development year for Bjorkqvist in Wilkes-Barre.
#8 Jordy Bellerive, center
2018 Ranking: 5
Age: 24 (May 2, 1999)
Acquired Via: undrafted free agent (fall 2017)
Height/Weight: 5’11, 194 pounds
(via elite prospects)
Bellerive’s boxcar stats in 2018-19 fell a bit from the previous year, but with reasonable explanation. First, the team he played on was a lot stronger, and they didn’t need to rely on him so much as they had in year’s past. Second, Bellerive was expectedly hampered from the result of burns from a campfire last summer, particularly on his hands.
As the Post-Gazette wrote a couple months ago after examining him at 2019 prospects camp:
Jordy Bellerive lifted his left hand and pinched the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. The skin was a cloudy sunset of pink and purple and slightly raised, the aftermath of burns that took the skin off both hands.
“With the tightness in my hand here, the webbing, it doesn’t open up very well,” said Bellerive, a 20-year-old Penguins prospect. “I just had to tweak my hand positioning and stuff like that and find different ways to hit pockets than the way I was doing it before.”
The skin on Bellerive’s hands turned bright red and began to blister. It hurt “I bet far beyond what you’re imagining.”
Bellerive also dealt with burns on his legs and stomach, but it was the hand area that hampered his hockey the most and longest, as he dealt with pain and range of motion issues well into the year. Bellerive now says his grip has returned to normal, and he’s looking forward to the start of the professional portion of his career
He’s fallen a bit in our T25U25 rankings, partially due to that slightly soft junior year (even if understandable) and also because the Pens have added a lot of young talent in the past 12 months. Of the seven names checking in ahead of Bellerive this year, five of them are new to the organization. That’s more competition and talent for Bellerive to compete with, but should be good for the Pens as hopefully more talent will help their organization.
#7 Calen Addison, right defense
2018 Ranking: 9
Age: 19 (April 11, 2000)
Acquired Via: 2018 draft (second round)
Height/Weight: 5’10, 180 pounds
(via elite prospects)
As an offensive-minded defenseman who can skate really well and moves the puck super-effectively, Addison is pretty much the model of the “new age” type of blueliner. And per The Athletic, he knows it too:
“I’m always thinking offence and I like to just be creative out there with the puck and make players around me better,” Addison said in explaining his approach to the game.
“Size doesn’t really matter, it’s just the way you play and how hard you play,” Addison said.
“He has a very, very high skill set. Even since 16 years old, right when he came in, he has been dynamic from a young age and able to push the pace for us compared to the rest of the league,” said Lethbridge head coach Brent Kisio.
“He would have had a hard time cracking in 10 years ago just because of how the game was a different style and you could get away with more stuff. Now you have to be able to skate. He can skate, he’s quick on his feet, and he can transition to offence. The way the game has gone, it definitely gives him a lot better chance. He is the type of player that the game is headed towards now.”
This will be an important year for Addison - he will return to junior for one more season, which is probably a good thing. He’ll have more of a chance at that level to work on his defense and maybe kill some penalties, certainly more than he would at the AHL level. Addison also is in the running to make Canada’s World Junior team and be able to compete and showcase himself on a huge stage against the top under-20 year old players in the world.
The Pens are kind of on the back-burner for now, though he will be in NHL camp to get some instruction and opportunity to play there, as well as probably join WB/S after his junior team ends like he did last year.
One of the best things I saw at prospect camp was Addison’s command of the play while in the offensive zone. He’s very patient, very confident running a power play from the point. He senses offensive situations very well, and is excellent at making shot/passes where he’s looking to launch a puck at a forward’s stick, who in turn really doesn’t have to do anything but hold on and let the puck ramp off him and into the net. He did that several times and very masterfully.
Being young, right-handed, offensive-minded and a Team Canada U20 caliber defender makes Addison a bright young prospect in the fold right now.
#6 Pierre-Olivier Joseph, left defense
2018 Ranking: n/a
Age: 20 (July 1, 1999)
Acquired Via: trade from Arizona, July 2019
Height/Weight: 6’2, 161 pounds
(via elite prospects)
Pierre-Olivier Joseph entered the Pens’ organization as a part of the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Arizona.
Here was my initial reaction on the night of the trade:
Joseph appears to have a chance to be a 4/5/6 style NHL defenseman. Maybe like a Marcus Pettersson type. But for what it’s worth (and it’s worth a lot) Joseph is also three years younger than Pettersson who just had his NHL rookie season last year.
By all accounts, Joseph is a decent and promising prospect with a fairly low floor, but I wouldn’t expect him to be an NHL factor right off the bat. Perhaps he surprises and looks a lot better than anyone thinks as early as training camp this year, that could be possible. But, more than likely this is a player who will need at least a full season (or more) in Wilkes-Barre to develop his game and also add all-important strength to his frame
That Pettersson as a style comparison seems like a good one, especially considering the frames of the players (both tall, lanky, thin, left handed) make for very similar players with similar styles. Surely P-O Joseph is in the “Pettersson but maybe hopefully one day Brian Dumoulin” type of mold. And you also have to remember that Brian Dumoulin at age 20 (like Joseph is now) was WAAAY different than what Brian Dumoulin at age 25 ended up being as a nice, well-rounded finished product.
For some more info, we tried to look back at draft profiles since it wasn’t so long ago for Joseph. And here’s a PPP writeup from May 2017 talking about Joseph’s draft year (2016-17):
I would say that Joseph is very young, and has had a good year. It’s not an exceptional year. He is 46th for defencemen in the Q in five-on-five primary points per game (out of 188 defenders). He is 26th in shots on goal per game, however, so he shoots a lot.
On the other hand, by looking at just the defenders under 18 in the Q, his five-on-five and power play points are not top of the list. And several of the players ahead of him are younger. The age factor doesn’t quite hold up on the point side of his record. (All statistics from Prospect Stats.)
Joseph is, it should be said, the third highest ranked player in the Q, after Nico Hischier and Maxime Comtois on most lists.
All About the Jersey had this analysis heading into the 2017 draft:
Depending on what website or draft publication you read, it’s clear to see Joseph is a bit of a divisive prospect. Some see him as a clear 1st rounder, while others think he’d be more suitable as a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Bill Placzek of Draft Site has praised Joseph’s “mobility and excellent hockey sense” and was one of the many sources to note his jump in play this season which launched him up draft boards.
Joseph will break into the pros with Wilkes-Barre this fall, and figures to need more development time. However, if you scan this year’s list of the Pensburgh T25U25, you might notice a lack of defensemen. Sure, you’ve got some long-term, perhaps low odds and low ceiling sleeper picks (#25 Santeri Airola, #19 Clayton Phillips, #18 Niclas Almari) that it would be nice if they pan out, but if it happens that will be far in the future.
Then in this list we have Addison (#7), who himself is a high-risk prospect with a heavy “boom/bust” type of player who may swim and be a huge addition, but might not become consistent/good defensively and a Derrick Pouliot all over again.
Joseph is the most high-end defensive prospect, who also is a safe one. His style is responsible positionally. He’s got good size and skates well. His puck moving is decent enough. If there’s one what should be “sure thing” for the Pens in the future, it’s probably him.
Now we just have to wait for him to develop and grow into that future.