Contain your excitement, the Penguins’ season starts today!
Ok, so it starts with barely making a ripple with the team’s prospects heading up to Buffalo for three games. The joke, of course, is the Penguins don’t truly have that many solid prospects - a large part of their team is unsigned and undrafted players who likely will wash away after this week without making much of an impact.
But, every story has to start somewhere and an article in The Athletic about why prospect tournament games are important even warmed this cold, dark heart a little.
“It was a really important tournament for me,” said former NHL agitator Antoine Roussel, who also attended Canucks camp in 2011 as an undrafted free agent fresh off of a challenging season split between the AHL and the ECHL in the Boston Bruins organization. “Really, it helped me feel good about myself before going to the main camp. When you’re a rookie and you play some games before getting into main camp, it helps you feel good about your game, about the environment, about yourself. When you’re a veteran there’s stuff, and it’s not stuff you take for granted, but you’re used to it. It’s just the way it is in the NHL.
“When you’re a young guy and you come in, there’s a lot. It’s different. You come in early and you get to talk to trainers, and they’re there, and they help you out. You get used to, a little bit, what it means to be a full-time NHLer and what you need to do.
“A rookie camp, a rookie tournament like that, it helps a young guy be ready to just take off. I know it did for me.”
Roussel, an undrafted player, pointed to this type of tournament back in 2011 to help launch a career that went onto span over 600 NHL games. It mattered for him, so maybe we’ll see if any youngster or longshots out there can be inspired to do something similar.
Here’s what to know about the Prospects Challenge.
When: The Pens play this afternoon, tomorrow and then again early evening on Monday. According to this tweet, the games will be all available to watch via streaming on the team’s website.
All three Prospects Challenge games will be streamed live on the Penguins website (no play-by-play for Games 1 and 2).— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 14, 2023
• Friday, Sept. 15: BOS 3:30 PM
• Saturday, Sept. 16: OTT 12 PM
• Monday, Sept. 18: BUF 5 PM
Who: This is the Penguins roster that was announced last week:
Corey Andonovski, Atley Calvert*, Pano Fimis*, Cooper Foster, Jordan Frasca, Ty Glover, Dillon Hamaliuk, Avery Hayes*, Sam Houde**, Jagger Joshua**, Max Namestnikov*, Sam Poulin, Matthew Soto*, Lukas Svejkovsky, Evan Vierling*, Brayden Yager
Mathis Aguliar*, Andre Anania*, Isaac Belliveau, Ty Higgins*, Justin Lee*, Cole Moberg*, Thimo Nickl**, Jack St. Ivany
Joel Blomqvist, Taylor Gauthier, Michael Simpson*
Raivis Ansons, Nolan Collins, Owen Pickering
** AHL contract
Who matters: Of the healthy players, 11 were featured in our 2023 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25, as were all three of the injured players.
The headliner is undoubtedly getting a first look for game action of 2023-first round pick Brayden Yager with the Pens. Given the level of competition and his skillset, the forward should have the ability to make an impact on these prospect games.
Sam Poulin is practically ancient for a prospect challenge considering he has NHL regular season games under his belt and is going into draft+5. If anyone could use this week as a launching pad into bigger and better things in the immediate future, it would surely be Poulin.
This will also be a look and nice opportunity for Joel Blomqvist to get into the swing of things for how the game is played on this side of the ocean. As a goalie adapting to different rink dimensions, (and just being a young goalie in general), any and all ice time that the Pens can throw Blomqvist’s way to get him more experience and game-time is sure to be a good thing.
Beyond that...good luck, there’s not a ton of talent with evident bright futures or NHL prospects. A couple of the undrafted names stand out: Atley Calvert is an interesting player in that he scored 40 goals in the WHL last season, on none other than the same team and often line with Yager....Max Namestnikov has a familiar sounding name, and he is in fact the brother (and 11+ years the junior) of NHL player Vladislav. Max is tiny at 5’7”, but was productive in the OHL last season.
What matters: The organization’s AHL coach, J.D. Forrest will be the key coach in charge this week. Here’s what he had to say:
WBS Head Coach J.D. Forrest on the upcoming Prospects Challenge: "For us, it's a great chance to get a look at our guys in a competitive scenario in their peer group... We want to see what they bring to the team and what they can do for the Pittsburgh Penguins." pic.twitter.com/0h0jel8cQt— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 14, 2023
At this point, hockey action is hockey action and if nothing else the passing of this prospect challenge advances the calendar a little closer to training camp. The games might be of low importance and visibility in the big scheme of things, but the opportunity to wear an NHL jersey and show whatever possible to extend the dream of a pro career will be front and center on the minds of many youngsters over this weekend up in Buffalo.