It’s been since October when we checked in on Samuel Poulin’s eight (EIGHT!) point game and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospects, so let’s give it a go during the NHL All-Star break. We’ll look at last summer’s Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 list and spotlight those not in the NHL just quite yet.
Valtteri Puustinen (RW): HPK (Finland); he 20-year old 2019 seventh round pick has been tearing it up, scoring 32 points (13G+19A) in 37 games, good enough for 23rd place in league scoring. Considering he scored 13 points in 47 games last year, huge step up for him on a great Finnish team. For game style and even stature (5’9, 183 pounds) he’s even drawn comparisons to being the Finnish Phil Kessel. But while Puustinen doesn’t have Kessel’s high-end skating, his production is very encouraging.
#25: Santeri Airola (defenseman)- 2 scoreless games SM-liiga (SaiPa), 20 games Mestis (Kettera Imatra): 0 goals, 7 assists, 14 penalty minutes
—The 19-year old Airola has been playing in the Finnish version of the AHL mostly this season, and has seemed solid enough, especially where it’s tough to rack up a lot of points. It’s going to be a long-term project on him, I really liked his game at summer prospect camp with his skating and right-handed puck moving ability.
#24: Nikita Pavlychev (center)- Penn State University: 17 games, 4 goals, 6 assists, 31 PIMs
—Now as a senior, it’s almost decision time on whether the Pens should or will sign Pavlychev. As his recent comments to centredaily.com (and just 4 goals in 17 games) indicate, he’s still got a ways to go.
“First of all, I’m not exactly where I want to be, still a lot of room to grow and a lot of things to work on,” Pavlychev said. “I definitely think it has helped me on the ice, on my defensive side as well, as it has made it a lot easier for me to go to the net on the offensive side and winning battles, corners as well as face-offs.”
It’s not the most promising that we’re still talking about an almost 23-year old still needing to grow, yet Pavlychev is 6’7 and you can’t-teach-that. Is that and not much else enough to turn pro and extend his opportunity to keep growing into his game? We’ll find out in the next couple of months.
#23: Judd Caulfield (RW)- University of North Dakota: 19 games, 3 goals, 5 assists
—Love Scott Wheeler from The Athletic’s recent description of Caulfield:
Caulfield might fourth line his way all the way to the NHL. He just does everything you’d want a depth forward to do. There are legitimate questions to be asked about whether his offensive tools can progress far enough to get him there
Like Pavlychev, Caulfield is a low-end talented prospect, but has size, works hard and is good at the basics. He’s a long-term project as well as an 18-year old freshman.
#22: Alex D’Orio (goalie)- one game AHL; 19 games ECHL (Wheeling); 8-8-2, .881 save%, 3.72 GAA
—Not very good stats for D’Orio in the lower level (Larmi has a .941 save% in Wheeling, by comparison), but 20-year old goalies can have a long way to go and it looks like D’Orio does.
#21: Jan Drozg (right wing)- 20 games ECHL (Wheeling): 11 goals, 9 assists; 19 games AHL (2G+1A)
—Drozg has lit up the ECHL, but not done much in a limited role in the AHL this season as a 20-year old professional rookie. We’ll see if he has anything more to offer as time goes on, but right now he feels 1,000 miles off the NHL radar.
#20: Jake Lucchini (left wing)- AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 43 games, 4 goals, 7 assists
—The 24-year old undrafted rookie has stuck all season as a bottom-end AHL player but probably isn’t moving the needle much more than that.
#19: Clayton Phillips (defenseman)- Penn State University: 24 games, 2 goals, 7 assists
—As just a 20-year old junior, Phillips is in a unique position. He needs more development time, but NHL teams don’t often like their prospects to take a senior year (and be close to fleeing the coop as a free agent if they want).
#18: Niclas Almari (defenseman)- AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 36 games, 1 goal, 6 assists
—As Wheeler said:
Almari is really good without the puck but lacks talent with it.
Almari is a pretty good defender with his gap control, using an active stick. But he’s got no physical element, is a smaller player and never going to be a power play type of guy. His ceiling doesn’t feel very high but we’ll see how his development goes still in his rookie year.
#17: Anthony Angello (right wing)- AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 43 games, 16 goals, 9 assists
—Angello leads the AHL Pens in goals, which is something to build upon. That team has been streaky and inconsistent and 16G in 43 games isn’t exactly popping off the page. Others who have made it to the NHL recently tend to score more as AHL players.
#16: Sam Miletic (left wing)- AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 42 games, 8 goals, 19 assists
—The undrafted 22-year old has seen his boxcars regress a bit from his AHL rookie year (40 GP, 12G+23A last year) but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. But still with all the injuries, he never got an NHL call-up this season placing him clearly behind a host of minor league forwards in the organization (Agozzino, Noesen, Lafferty, Blandisi, Johnson, Di Pauli).
#15: Tristan Jarry (goalie) - NHL
—He’ll be higher in the T25U25 next year! But it speaks to how uncertain and downward looking Jarry’s future was, and what a great turnaround he’s built in the past few months to go from AHL after-thought to NHL all-star.
#14: Emil Larmi (goalie): AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 6 games (1-2-3, .875%, 3.84), ECHL (Wheeling): 7 games (4-3-0, .941%, 2.36)
—A victim of having Casey DeSmith and Dustin Tokarski in the organization, games have been limited for Larmi. He’s on the smaller side and still has a ways to rise.
#13: Justin Almeida (right wing)- 22 games ECHL (Wheeling): 4 goals, 8 assists; 7 games AHL (1G+0A)
—Almeida has been “pushed around at the AHL level” Wheeler said, and his ECHL stats aren’t the most impressive either. Questions about his skating and potential to develop more persist at this point.
#12: Sam Lafferty (center/ right wing)- 36 games NHL (Pittsburgh): 4 goals, 6 assists; 2 games AHL (1G+0A)
—Lafferty is practically an NHL graduate, impressing the coaches with his speed, drive and all-around play. We’ll see now if he’s more Scott Wilson or Bryan Rust moving forward, but he’s done well this season to make the most of opportunities.
#11: Filip Hallander (center)- Lulea (SHL): 10 games, 3 goals, 3 assists
—Hallander, still just 19, is in his second year in the top Swedish league. The early part of his season got derailed by a broken leg, but he has scored all three goals since coming back in the past few games looking like he’s back.
#10: Nathan Legare (right wing)- Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL): 42 games, 23 goals, 23 assists
—Legare hasn’t had the strongest of seasons back in the Q, but he’s dealing with a weaker team as well. From Wheeler:
Staff with the Drakkar told me they’re trying to get him to play like Bryan Rust with more scoring touch, which has included an increased role on the penalty kill. Legare’s an exciting package with the ability to cleanly beat goalies with his shot, get to the net with power or surprise a defender with a nice pass
With more scoring touch, hah! Anyways, it would be nice if Legare can get more well-rounded in his game.
#9: Kasper Bjorkqvist (right wing)- AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 6 games, 1 goal, 0 assists
—After already undergoing a major shoulder surgery over the summer, Bjorkqvist didn’t make it through October before going down with a knee injury that required surgery and is expected to have him out six months, for the rest of the season. That’s a real shame and potentially damaging blow that the former second round’s pick age-22 season, also his pro rookie year, was about a total misfire and now he has two key parts of the body surgically repaired.
#8: Jordy Bellerive (center)- AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 37 games, 6 goals, 8 assists
—Speaking of misfires, Bellerive’s career looks like it took an irreversible turn in the summer of 2018 when he suffered major burns (including serious ones to his hands which affected, if not still affects the way he holds a hockey stick). The positive news is Bellerive has come on as of late and has generated a higher output points in recent days and weeks, but it also feels like the future doesn’t look as promising as it once did.
#7: Calen Addison (defenseman)- Lethbridge Hurricanes: 34 games, 8 goals, 25 assists
—Addison has had the most visible winter of any Pens’ prospect, operating in a starring role for Team Canada’s gold medal winning team earlier this month as one of the top scoring defensemen in the tournament. Addison is a skilled and gifted puck mover and seems more boom or bust than ever. When he’s got the puck he’s a very useful player, his defending (especially at the next level against bigger, stronger, better opponents) still remains unknown. But the Pens have no reason not to be excited to see what he can offer next year as a professional.
#6: Pierre-Olivier Joseph (defenseman)- AHL (Wilkes-Barre): 32 games, 1 goal, 7 assists
—Patience will be the name of the game with the young (20) defenseman. Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson weren’t on the NHL radar at this point either! Not even in the AHL either. Joseph had part of his season knocked off course by contracting mono, but has been back and been adding in PK and PP work to his plate recently as well. All systems seem to be go in a long process of development for this promising but still very green player.
#5: Dominik Kahun (winger)- NHL
#4: Samuel Poulin (defenseman)- Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL): 31 games, 19 goals, 24 assists
—Poulin is now the captain in Sherbrooke, and this season is showing why he was a first round pick last year. He’s reliable in all three zones. He has good offensive instincts and is already very physically developed at 6’2 and 215 pounds. He probably doesn’t have pure first line upside in the NHL, but his floor looks very high as well, as if he should definitely have an NHL future, perhaps as a valuable and contributing middle-line player.
#3, #2, #1: Jared McCann, Marcus Pettersson, Jake Guentzel
—We know all of these guys! Find more in the mid-season grades. Guentzel has aged out of being under 25 now, so there will be a new number one next summer. It feels wide open as to who that will be at this point. What do you think?