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PensBurgh Top 25 Under 25: #2 - P.O Joseph

Will this year be “the year” for P.O Joseph?

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ best defensive prospects earns another top-3 ranking on this list.

Related: 2022 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed

#25: Nolan Collins
#24: Colin Swoyer
#23: Jonathan Gruden
#22: Ty Glover
#21: Kirill Tankov
#20: Judd Caulfield
#19 Corey Andonovski
#18: Jordan Frasca
#17: Isaac Belliveau
#16: Taylor Gauthier
#15: Alex Nylander
#14: Nathan Legare
#13: Tristan Broz
#12: Raivis Ansons
11: Lukas Svejkovsky
10: Filip Lindberg
9: Filip Hallander
8: Valtteri Puustinen
7: Joel Blomqvist
6: Sam Poulin
5: Drew O’Connor
4: Ryan Poehling
3: Owen Pickering

#2: Pierre-Olivier Joseph

2021 Ranking: #2

Age: 23 (July 1, 1999)

Height/Weight: 6’2”/185 lbs.

Acquired Via: Trade with Arizona Coyotes (2019)

What do the Pittsburgh Penguins have in P.O Joseph? From the looks of it, based on his last three seasons of AHL hockey, they have a smooth-skating, point-producing, left-handed blueliner that is ready to take the next step and earn a permanent spot in an NHL lineup.

Will that be the Penguins’ lineup, though?

For Joseph, the problem is that the Penguins have a smorgasbord of left-handed options on defense, even with Mike Matheson now out of the equation. Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, potentially Ty Smith, or Mark Friedman. If Joseph can play on his off side, he’d still have to contend with Kris Letang, Jeff Petry, Jan Rutta, and Chad Ruhwedel. Before the Petry trade, Joseph’s spot in the lineup seemed much more defined. Now? He could be headed back to northeastern Pennsylvania just so he’s not eating pretzel nuggets in the press box.

The Laval, Quebec native had a strong year for the Baby Penguins, finishing seventh on the team in scoring (33 points), and second in defensemen, trailing only Juuso Riikola (35 points).

Typically, given the rash of injuries the Penguins sustain throughout a season, particularly on the back end, Joseph would have been recalled under similar circumstances. But Joseph only played in four NHL contests throughout 2021-22, registering zero points.

So, the 23-year-old was left to marinate in the American League. Combine the above regular season statistics with an impressive five-point performance in six games during the AHL playoffs, and you wouldn't be wrong to think Joseph has reached his ceiling in the minor leagues.

He can skate, join the rush, and put points on the board, even in his brief stints in the NHL. Has he earned the trust of Mike Sullivan and his assistants? Is Ron Hextall satisfied with a prospect that he has no prior attachment toward?

Given the Penguins’ salary cap crunch and the plethora of defensemen on their roster, could Joseph be included in some sort of trade to improve other parts of the roster or give the team cap relief if he’s packaged with a more expensive player? It’s all but guaranteed Hextall will move a defenseman before the regular season starts.

Including Joseph, you could argue Pittsburgh has nine or 10 NHL-ready defensemen on their roster at the moment. To carry all those players throughout the season, even with some being sent down to the AHL, is almost unheard of.

There is no doubt P.O Joseph has progressed during his time in the AHL. Now, Joseph’s NHL future remains clouded, through no fault of his own. He could have a stellar training camp and earn his way onto the third pairing. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see his professional career continue in the colors of a different team.