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Part II: How the top young players in the Penguins organization did in 2020-21

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A look at the season that was across the world for the best young players of the Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome to Part II of our two part look at how the individual players fared in the weird and wild 2020-21 season from our “summer” 2020 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25 list. You can catch up on Part I here.

#12: Joel Blomqvist

Hermes Kokkola (Mestis): 6-4-6, 2.67 GAA, .900 save%
Karpat (SM-liiga): 2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .910 save%

The Penguins 2020 second round goalie pick has had a good year in Finland, and he’s peaked at the right time helping his team in the Mestis league (the second level of Finnish hockey) to the Finals, upsetting the #1 and #2 regular season teams in the first rounds of the playoffs.

At 19 Blomqvist will need more development time, but he’s also one of the best prospect goalies in Europe right now.

#11: Valtteri Puustinen

HPK (SM-liiga): 51 games played, 21 goals, 20 assists, 41 points

Puustinen led HPK in goals and was second on the team in points in his age-21 season. He ranked tied-8th in goals and tied-15th in points in the league, and for a while was even higher than that. Puustinen hasn’t signed with the Penguins yet, but that should be an item to resolve this summer. At just 5’8 and 180 pounds, it remains to be seen just how his transition to North American hockey will go, but Puustinen has a lot of skill and hands to make up for that. As just a seventh round pick in 2019, this could be a diamond in the rough.

#10: Josh Maniscalco

Wilkes-Barre (AHL): 7gp, 0G+0A

It’s been more watching than playing for Maniscalco as he adjusts to his first season of pro hockey. This is yet another guy in the long line of players that really needed a long AHL season and not a 30-some game one. Maniscalco has received good reviews from his coach J.D. Forrest as he adjusts and tries to get up to speed for cracking a decently deep right handed defense roster in Wilkes-Barre. Maniscalco is still just 22 and has two years left on his contract, next year will be a better indication of where he’s at and what his future could be.

#9: Cam Lee

Bratislava Slovan (Slovak): 14gp, 2G+9A
Wilkes-Barre (AHL): 21gp, 1G+8A

Lee, 24, got his professional career started early in Slovakia during the pandemic delay and did well there, then jumped back to Wilkes when the AHL opened up. He’s basically been as advertised as a strong skating and good puck moving defenseman. After four years in the NCAA at Western Michigan, Lee is starting to get up there in age for a true prospect, but he’s made a pretty seamless transition to the pro ranks so far. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here, since the Pens have Dumoulin-Matheson-Pettersson-Riikola-Joseph all under contract for next season above Lee....Then again, given the Pens’ injury history, who knows..

#8: Drew O’Connor

Pittsburgh (NHL): 10gp, 0G+1A
Wilkes-Barre (AHL): 10gp, 4G+6A

O’Connor delighted the Pens in camp and was on the fringe of the NHL roster early in the season and got an early look in the big league, including a look on the second power play. He wasn’t exactly a game breaker and has eventually found his way back to the AHL, where he has put up a point per game so far. O’Connor turns 23 this summer and will probably get a look to fit back into the NHL at some point with his mix of size at 6’3 and his ability to score at the lower levels of the NCAA and AHL.

#7: Nathan Legare

Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL): 14gp, 5G+9A
Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL): 19gp, 11G+13A

After a trade to Val d’Or, Legare finished strong with a seven game point streak that saw him score 14 points (6G+8A). At just 20 years old, Legare is a big body at 6’0, 210 pounds and has long had an NHL caliber shot and release. The Pens listed him among the young players they didn’t want to part with for a trade for NHL talent this deadline, which makes sense. Legare is an offensive weapon with upside. The organization doesn’t have much of that.

#6: Pierre-Olivier Joseph

Pittsburgh (NHL): 16gp, 1G+4A
Wilkes-Barre (AHL): 13gp, 1G+7A

Joseph has to be the most pleasant surprise of the Pens’ season. Borne out of injury the young defenseman was thrust into a top pairing role and fared well for a bit, helping lead the Pens through some troubling times. Joseph dropped off and was sent back to the minors, but has been developing as a top pair player in Wilkes. The future looks very bright for the 21 year old who has demonstrated an excellent bit of skating ability and using his lanky frame to defend. He just needs to pack on some pounds and muscle to be more effective and he’ll be better off for the experience he’s gained this season.

#5: Samuel Poulin

Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL): 5gp, 3G+3A
Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL): 19gp, 8G+17A

Like Legare, Poulin found himself traded to Val d’Or and having his season take off because of it. There’s not very much for Poulin to prove at the Quebec league level, but he also hasn’t been really that close yet to playing in the NHL. The Pens might need some AHL time for their latest first round pick in 2019, but Poulin’s future also looks bright still as a young player on the rise.

#4: Jared McCann

Pittsburgh (NHL): 33gp, 12G+13A

A great season for McCann, who has flourished at center or wing, power play or even strength. There were questions about what he could do best or where he would fit in, and so far he has played well regardless of where he’s been put in the lineup to become one of Pittsburgh’s top scorers this season.

#3: Marcus Pettersson

Pittsburgh (NHL): 37gp, 1G+5A

It hasn’t been as smooth of a season as it was last year for Pettersson, who has had his ice time cut a bit. His blocks, hits, shots, all down from past seasons. The Pens can insulate Pettersson a bit, but would probably like to build him up a bit more for the future as well.

#2: Kasperi Kapanen

Pittsburgh (NHL): 30gp, 7G+14A

Kapanen has been a revelation since coming back to Pittsburgh in a trade. His speed and skill are evident on every shift, he’s an exciting player visually to watch and has meshed well with Evgeni Malkin. Now entering what should be the peak of his career for the next few years, the Pens have a nice top-six winger in the fold.

#1: John Marino

Pittsburgh (NHL): 42gp, 2G+7A

How has Marino’s second season been? Certainly up and down, with his overall production down from the first year, but it may not be as much of a “sophomore slump” as it might appear on the surface. His ice time is up to 21+ minutes per game and he’s graduated into heavy usage as a key player on the team, while remaining young enough to still be in the T25U25 list for next season.