Last night was the seventh game of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They had to face it down three important forwards. Teddy Blueger was injured in the pre-season and is out for a while longer on LTIR. Jake Guentzel took some head trauma last week and has been out for a while. Jason Zucker caught a cross-check in a spot without padding and got banged up last game.
To account for these losses, the Pens turned to a pair of players who were among the most impressive cuts recent training camp in the form of Drake Caggiula and Sam Poulin. Cagguila hasn’t been placed in a huge role and is a known quantity who can offer a decent baseline of play but isn’t likely to be too impressive for the long run based on career levels.
Poulin, on the other hand, carries the opposite level of excitement as the rare species known as “actual living, breathing Pittsburgh Penguin first round draft pick”. In a wild NHL debut in Calgary, there was a bit of everything for Poulin.
- Poulin wasn’t officially credited with a giveaway on the play, but a turnover just inside the blueline ended up going the other way with Nazem Kadri leading (and eventually scoring) on an odd-man rush.
- Poulin racked up his first penalty with a minor for slashing. His stay in the sin bin only lasted five seconds, barely time to sit down before he was set free when Jonathan Huberdeau lit the lamp.
- On the good side, Poulin got the chance for some power play time and his zone entry turned into a secondary assist on an Evgeni Malkin goal. (It’ll make for a pretty cool story for a first NHL point).
- Poulin also had two shots on goal and another attempt.
- 10 faceoffs taken were the third most on the team last night, and Poulin was able to win 50% of them.
More than that, Poulin looked the part of an NHL player. Sometimes players making their debut can shrink from the moment or not look quite ready. Poulin has been north of 200 pounds since the time of his draft, physically he hasn’t been lacking and now he’s gained pro experience and seasoning in the AHL. He was effective along the boards and played a physical style of game.
That experience has led Poulin to become a center, after being mostly known earlier in his career as a winger. It’s an unusual switch to happen at this high level, but after floundering on the wing early in the season last year in Wilkes-Barre, sliding to the center position in the second half of last season has coincided directly with improved play and putting him in the spot he finds himself now.
So should Guentzel or Zucker be fit and cleared to return for the next game, coach Mike Sullivan may have more options than he expected given Poulin’s debut performance, and also since Jeff Carter found a level of success and good play on Evgeni Malkin’s wing.
As a result, the Crosby-Malkin-Poulin-Poehling center lineup that no one saw coming a few days ago probably deserves another look.
Coach Sullivan when asked about Sam Poulin: "We expect Sam to do what he does best and bring his game. He's a good player, he has really developed. He has good offensive instincts. We're excited to watch him play... He is deserving of this opportunity."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 25, 2022
It’s an opportunity that’s been well-earned through hard work to re-define himself in the minors. With Blueger on the shelf for a few more weeks, the Pens should make the most of it to see what Poulin can offer at the NHL level.