An early season update of notable players in the Penguins’ organization or draftees for you, with a focus on potential NHL upside or players with future expectations. I started this a few days ago before the breaking news about the COVID losses, so a few of these leagues may not include the most immediate game played. This was originally going to be an update for October, but it may contain a little bit of November, but you’ll get the idea.
AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE
Valterri Puustinen RW, 22 years old
2021-22 to date: 7GP: 4G+4A
—It’s been a tremendous start to the North American career for Puustinen, who was among the highest scorers in Finland in the past few years and that has carried over to place him among the highest scoring AHL rookies to date.
Jordy Bellerive C/W, 22 years old
2021-22 to date: 7GP: 0G+4A
—Playing center and wing already this year, Bellerive is strengthening into a player who can offer a lot at the AHL level in a checking role and also offer scoring line production. His path to the NHL might be best as the former in an energy/nuisance style.
Samuel Poulin LW, 20 years old
2021-22 to date: 7GP: 0G+4A
—The Pens’ top pure prospect as a first round pick has gotten off to a decent start and received better line assignments and seen increased production as the month has gone on. It’s still very early, obviously, but early returns are fairly strong as expected as Poulin’s pro career gets off the ground.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph LHD, 22 years old
2021-22 to date: 6GP: 0G+3A
—COVID has opened up an NHL door for Joseph, who spent October as Wilkes-Barre’s top defender in about all situations. It’s a great situation for the youngster (with only 91 combined NHL/AHL games in his first two seasons due to illness and shortened-seasons) to gain experience and playing time. His future at this point feels dependent on what happens with some of the bigger contracts among players at his position on the left side.
Nathan Legare RW, 20 years old
2021-22 to date: 7GP: 1G+2A
—A bit of a slow start on the production, with Legare working his way in the middle of the AHL lineup. He did record an OT goal in the last game for his first goal, a nice reward and good end to the month.
Cam Lee LHD, 24 years old
2021-22 to date: 7GP: 0G+3A
—After a fairly noticeable training camp, Lee has had a bigger role on the power play, but has been playing right side as a left shot on the second or third pair for much of the AHL season, an indication of where he is in the organizational depth chart. Lee has the misfortune of being a cog in the wheel of where the team is the deepest right now, but has continued to get in the groove of becoming a contributing AHLer at this point.
Kasper Bjorkqvist LW, 24 years old
2021-22 to date: 6GP: 1G+0A
—The team thought enough of Bjorkqvist to briefly call him up to the NHL at the height of their COVID/injury issues, but it doesn’t look like he’s moved the needle too much in AHL games.
Filip Hallander LW, 21 years old
2021-22 to date: 7GP: 1G+0A
—After summer hopes from the team and player to push for an NHL job, Hallander has not yet gotten on track in his first North American season. Probably not too much to read into, besides the obvious that he doesn’t look very close to the NHL in this moment. Still a long way to go in the story of his career, though.
Filip Lindberg G, 22 years old
2021-22 to date: 4-0-0, 1.71 GAA, .942 save%
—Lindberg was a dominant NCAA goalie, and his start in the AHL almost literally could not be going better as he quickly has shown to be a great goalie for that level as well.
Lindberg is on a path of Matt Murray, who went 25-10-3 with a 1.58 GAA and a .941 save% in 2014-15, his first full season as a pro. Murray was back in the AHL for the start of 2015-16 but ended up of course in Pittsburgh and winning the Stanley Cup by the end of that season. Lindberg clearly is miles away from that type of ending, but the Pens have seen a star goalie rise through their ranks in recent times, and if he keeps this up could well be on that sort of path for making an NHL debut at some point.
Joel Blomqvist G, 19yo
SM-Liiga, Mestis (Finland version of top-flight league (NHL) and top minor-league (AHL)
Karpat (SM-Liiga): 3 GP, 3-0-0, .980 save%, 0.39 GAA
Mestis (Hermes Kokkola) 3 GP, 0-3-0, .900 save%, 2.07 GAA
Blomqvist started the season being loaned to Hermes in the lower league but by mid-October was back with Karpat, where he had played four games prior to this season in Finland’s top league. Blomqvist started 2021-22 in the SM-Liiga with a shutout. He followed it up with...another shutout. Finally in his third game he conceded one goal (and one goal only) to get off to a tremendous start. Blomqvist has been named to Finland’s team for the Four Nation’s Cup to be played later this month as a precursor to the World Junior Championships. If Blomqvist keeps allowing basically no goals, you’d have to think he’s a strong candidate to play for Finland there.
Calle Clang G, 19yo
SweHL (Sweden top-flight league)
Rogle: 3-0-0, .895 save%, 2.26 GAA
The Pens’ fellow high goalie draft pick, Calle Clang, is off to a 3-0 start in his country’s league too, though without the absolute dominance of Blomqvist. Twitter also seems to say Clang might have suffered a minor injury, but it looks like he might return soon. Clang has been named to Sweden’s roster for the Four Nations as well.
Kirill Tankov C, 19yo
VHL (akin to the AHL level in Russia)
SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, 2021-22 to date: 19GP: 6G+5A
Tankov has made a step up in competition, having played prior years in the MHL (a feeder league for Russia’s version of junior hockey) to now playing in the VHL, one rung below the top KHL. He’s got a nose for the net and some dangles that appear occasionally on twitter. With a big ice surface and not a lot of checking, it looks like a very fun version of hockey. Tankov is one of the youngest prospects for the Pens and still going to take a lot of time to progress, but he has some raw material to work with in the form of offensive skill, which is always fun.
Tristan Broz C/W, 19yo
University of Minnesota
2021-22 to date: 8 GP 0G+2A
Not exactly a thrilling start for Broz as a freshman, but not exactly a shocker either for a very young freshman on a high-end legacy NCAA team like Minnesota to start in a very limited role. Drafted in 2021, Broz is a player to check in on a few years down the line. He’s probably on the Teddy Blueger/Bryan Rust plan where it will take a lot of development time before he is a finished product.
Judd Caulfield C/W, 20yo
Univ. of North Dakota
2021-22 to date: 7 GP 3G+3A
The 2019 fifth round pick is a player worth watching at 6’3, 207 and a solid all-around game. Now a junior at ND, he’s starting to get power play time (like the highlight below), which is going to be an important indicator of his ceiling. Scoring at near point/game is very encouraging, Caulfield is going to have to bring some offense with him to advance in the pro game, and he’s starting to show some promising signs.
Liam Gorman C, 21yo
2021-22 to date: 1 GP 0G+0A
Not much going on for the 2018 sixth round pick, who didn’t get to play any high level hockey last year.
Daniel Laatsch LHD, 19yo
Univ. of Wisconsin
2021-22 to date: 8 GP 0G+0A
The lanky 6’5 Wisconsin native has started his collegiate career at home for the Badgers. No offense to speak of yet, but this is another extremely long-term prospect that is only in his freshman season.
Clayton Phillips LHD, 22yo
2021-22 to date: 5 GP 3G+3A
Phillips just turned 22 and is already in his fifth season of NCAA hockey (all athletes got an extra year of eligibility due to COVID). After being rushed to college by Minnesota and transferring to Penn State for the last two seasons, Phillips is finally thriving. He’s already tied his career-high in goals and only needs a few more points to set a personal best as well. A third round pick in 2017, it feels like he’s been around forever and it’s great to see Phillips finally get some traction and play well at the NCAA level after a very unusual career that’s been pretty tumultuous with stops and starts, injuries, COVID and playing for two different schools. Phillips had three points against Caulfield and UND in a big upset for Penn State.
Chase Yoder C/W, 19yo
2021-22 to date: 9 GP 2G+2A
Starting his sophomore season, Yoder has nearly matched last year in goals (3) and points (6) and we’re barely into November. Yoder’s size/build (5’10, 175), speed, tenacity and school are all fairly reminiscent of a recent ex-Penguin in Brandon Tanev. He’s one to keep an eye on, especially if he keeps showing off hands like this.
Raivis Ansons LW, 19yo
Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
2021-22 to date: 8 GP 2G+9A
After scoring six points in just nine games in the Q last season, Ansons has picked up the pace this year. He missed a few games and Pens’ training camp with an injury but his production paints the picture of health right now.
Isaac Belliveau LHD, 18yo
Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
2021-22 to date: 11 GP 0G+4A
Pittsburgh fifth round pick this year was one I liked a lot, but he hasn’t popped off much yet early in this season.
Ryan McCleary LHD, 18yo
Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
2021-22 to date: 6 GP 0G+1A
McCleary has been in and out of the lineup and maybe even playing some fourth line wing? Not sure what is going on there, but that’s never a good sign. Might be interesting later in the season to check back in.
Lukas Svejkovsky RW, 19yo
Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
2021-22 to date: 10 GP 7G+12A
Saving one of the best for last in this alphabetized rundown, Svejkovsky (fourth round pick in 2020) is lighting up the WHL. His 19 points put him in 4th place in the scoring race right now, and by points/game he would be 2nd. With 56 shots in 10 games, he’s also third in the whole league in SOG too. Firing lots of pucks and putting a lot of points on the board, great start to the season for Svejkovsky.
Prospect of the month: it would be hard to not pick Filip Lindberg. He’s playing in the AHL and was off-the-charts good. Very honorable mention to Valtteri Puustinen in Wilkes, Joel Blomqvist in Finland, Lukas Svejkovsky in the WHL, and Clayton Phillips popping off for three points in a tough game puts him on the radar as well.
It’s early so it’s tough to be too disappointed in anyone, but I’d think it would have been nicer to see more production out of Filip Hallander and Kasper Bjorkqvist in the AHL if either were close to competing for a spot in the NHL lineup. It hasn’t been a banner start for the two highest 2021 draft picks in Tristan Broz or Isaac Belliveau either, but the concern level ought not be very high at all at this point.