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Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: #8 - Sam Poulin

Poulin is “in a good place” after taking a leave of absence last season. Is this 2019 first-rounder ready to take the next step toward developing into an NHL-caliber checking-line center?

NHL: NOV 05 Kraken at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Former first-round pick Sam Poulin has returned from his leave of absence and is heading into a pivotal contract year.

2023 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Daniel Laatsch
#24: Cooper Foster
#23: Thimo Nickl
#22: Dillon Hamaliuk
#21 Mikhail Ilyin
#20: Jack St. Ivany
#19: Chase Yoder
#18: Emil Jarventie
#17: Nolan Collins
#16: Raivis Ansons
#15: Ty Glover
#14: Taylor Gauthier
#13: Isaac Belliveau
#12: Lukas Svejkovsky
#11: Tristan Broz
#10: Sergei Murashov
#9: Emil Pieniniemi

#8: Sam Poulin, F

2022 Ranking: No. 6

Age: 22 (Feb. 25, 2001)

Acquired Via: 2019 NHL Draft (Round 1, No. 21)

Height/Weight: 6’2”, 214 pounds

Elite Prospects resume:

In the second to last game of the 2022 preseason, Sam Poulin made his case for a regular-season roster spot in Pittsburgh.

In fewer than 10 minutes of ice time on October 3, Poulin was a standout in a 3-2 preseason win over the Detroit Red Wings, laying two hits and setting up a play that resulted in a Josh Archibald goal.

You can see the play at 2:52 of the video below. Poulin is wearing No. 22.

“He looked good. He’s got a lot of speed. He plays hard. He gets on pucks. And he can make plays. He looked really good out there.” —Sidney Crosby on Poulin’s performance after the October 3 preseason game, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matt Vensel

That performance didn’t earn Poulin a roster spot for the beginning of the season, but it helped him receive his first NHL call-up on October 25. Poulin recorded a secondary assist on an Evgeni Malkin power-play goal in a 4-1 loss to the Flames in Calgary.

His route toward a regular spot with the Penguins took a detour in December, when Poulin took a three-month personal leave of absence that he later announced had been to address his mental health.

Poulin returned for the final two games of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton season and joined Penguins for their development camp in early July, when he told Pens Inside Scoop’s Michelle Crechiolo that he was “in a good place:”

“I worked a lot on myself in the past couple months,” Poulin said. “Right now, I’m just in a good place, and just ready to play hockey. So, that’s what matters for me right now.”

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on a timeline. I know that time’s going to take care of itself, so I just got to have faith in that and be confident with myself.”

“We’ll see where it takes me. If I got to go back to Wilkes, that’ll be fun. And if I make the team, that would be fine too. I just want to be better as a person every day, and hockey will come second after. So, it’s just a matter of getting my health back to where it was.”

Heading into last season, Penguins leadership was expressing excitement about Poulin’s development. In his first two seasons as a pro, Poulin transitioned from a winger to a checking-line center.

“I think he’s light-years ahead of where he was a year ago... When you look at the depth that we have, a guy like Sam Poulin and his game and how it’s evolved— and the fact that he’s thrived at the center ice position— is really encouraging from our standpoint. We now know that we can play him at the center ice position. He can also play the wing.” Mike Sullivan on Poulin in October 2022, via Crechiolo

Poulin’s recent leave of absence means his progress since then hasn’t been precisely linear, so it is likely Penguins leadership will be keeping a close eye on Poulin’s play this preseason to determine where he is in that development toward a hard-hitting center.

This season marks the final year of an entry-level contract that has Poulin locked in for one more season at an NHL cap hit of $863 thousand. After that, the 22-year-old is currently set to become a restricted free agent.

That makes the 2023-24 campaign critical in determining Poulin’s next contract. If Poulin is ready to play this fall, his performance in the minors or during another NHL call-up will shape the team’s decision on whether or not he has a future with the Penguins.