Our annual, 2021 version of the top players under the age of 25 in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
#25: Santeri Airola
#24: Jan Drozg
#23: Will Reilly
#22: Clayton Phillips
#21: Chase Yoder
#20: Kirill Tankov
#19: Raivis Ansons
#18: Lukas Svejkovsky
#17: Judd Caulfield
#16: Jonathan Gruden
#15: Kasper Bjorkqvist
#14: Jordy Bellerive
#13: Cam Lee
#12: Drew O’Connor
#11: Joel Blomqvist
#10: Isaac Belliveau
#9: Calle Clang
#8: Filip Lindberg
#7: Nathan Legare
#6: Tristan Broz
#5: Valtteri Puustinen
#4: Filip Hallander
#3: Samuel Poulin
#2: Pierre-Olivier Joseph
2020 Ranking: #6
Age: 21 (July 1, 1999)
Height/Weight: 6’2” / “185” lbs.
Acquired Via: Trade with Arizona (July 2019)
Corey Pronman from The Athletic had the following scouting report:
I liked Joseph’s second pro season between the AHL and NHL. While he didn’t stick with the Penguins the entire season, his time is coming. Anytime you have a defenseman with his size, mobility and some competitiveness who can move the puck well, it’s a really intriguing package. Offensively he’s never going to be the most dynamic player, making good first passes and skating pucks to create offense. In the NHL his value will come from using his reach and feet to kill a lot of opponents’ plays. I see a third-pair defenseman in the NHL, but if he popped and became a top-four guy, it wouldn’t shock me.
We’ve spent a lot of time on Pierre-Olivier Joseph’s exciting 2020-21 season. It saw his NHL debut and being thrust to playing 25+ minutes with very limited experience, and acquitting himself very well in the process. Last season marked a lot of firsts.
The more interesting angle at this point isn’t what Joseph has done in his age-20 season, but what comes next?
On the surface, Joseph’s path to the NHL seems blocked at the moment. The Penguins have Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson and Mike Matheson all healthy at the moment as NHL calbier left side defenders. The lower-end of the lineup seems to be a battle between Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman for one lineup spot, and the other being a first sub.
Does the team have the cap space to carry eight defenders? If so, Joseph figures to be the man for that job. However, the question for Mike Sullivan is does he want to concentrate on Ruhwedel and Friedman alone as his lineup options, or would he consider using four left handed defensemen in his starting six?
If he’s open to that, which history tells us he won’t be — but if he would be that would mean Pittsburgh’s third pair could be two of Pettersson, Matheson and Joseph. With one of those three names joining John Marino on the second pair.
At worst, Joseph will find himself opening 2021-22 where he ended 2020-21, eating big minutes down in Wilkes-Barre on the first pair and playing in all situations. It should always be remembered that Joseph is still incredibly young for a defender. Dumoulin had played 0 professional games prior to his 21st birthday, and spent his whole age-21 season in Wilkes-Barre. That’s where Joseph is right now in 2021-22.
Given the rocket trajectory of the last season, it’s probably arguable that this model is too soft on where Joseph really is. Probably not as a “star” / elite player, but certainly a very solid NHLer. As more of a well-rounded, defensive-defender, he’s tough to track just based on points and his ability to translate to the NHL in a role where he won’t be putting up a huge amount of points but still will be able to fill a meaningful and important role.
Along with Samuel Poulin, Joseph represents the only first round draft pick prospect in the Pens’ organization right now. He’s shown why he was a top-end young player with his 2020-21. The more exciting point right now is just what could come next.