Dom Lunardo | April 18th, 2020
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang. Not only are these three all future Hall-of-Famers, but they also represent the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. When hockey fans think of the Penguins, their first thought is usually that of Sidney Crosby (aka Sid the Kid), and why wouldn’t it be? Crosby is an integral part of the city of Pittsburgh, and one of the most respected and celebrated players in the National Hockey League. Simply put, there’s been something special about the Pens since Crosby entered the league 15 years ago.
Pittsburgh’s “Next Man Up” Mantra
Few would argue that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the more successful and well-respected organizations in the National Hockey League over the past 20-25 years. Whether it was Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, or Crosby at the driver’s seat, the Penguins own the bragging rights to five Stanley Cup triumphs, including three in the last 11 seasons. This success doesn’t happen by accident, now does it?
This Penguins team under the leadership of general manager Jim Rutherford continues to tweak and alter his roster with hopes of hoisting yet another Stanley Cup. In addition to Crosby and company, the Penguins have a few important players, specifically at the forward position, coming down the pipeline. The Penguins are the undisputed pioneers and do a masterful job at filling holes in their lineup with players who can quite simply “get the job done”. Let’s meet some of the Penguins’ top prospects and see what kind of influence they may have at the NHL level.
Number 3: Valtteri Puustinen Right-Wing/Left-Wing, HPK (Finnish Liiga)
First up on our list is flashy winger, Valtteri Puustinen who currently plies his trade in the Finnish Liiga with HPK. Puustinen is quick, agile, and mean on loose pucks, and was a standout player for the “pesky Finns” during their IIHF World Junior triumph in 2019. In terms of his skill set, Puustinen sees the ice well and is just one of those players who can move up and down your lineup at the drop of the hat. Puustinen has a good stick, a real knack for making plays, and is strong on his feet.
The Penguins envision Puustinen as a really valuable depth player, who will fit in like a new glove on the Penguins third line. A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, Puustinen has been turning heads with his strong play in Finland which has seen him score 40 points in 54 games this year. Not too shabby for a 20-year old. All indications point towards Puustinen becoming a really useful player in just a few short seasons.
Number 2: Nathan Legare, Left-Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Coming in at number two is Montreal, Quebec born-winger, Nathan Legare. At 19 years of age, Legare’s development has really taken off over the past 16 months, much to the delight of the Penguins management brass. At 6’0, 205lbs, Legare has a real presence on the ice, with long, powerful strides, with a high work rate. Selected in the third round, 74th overall during last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Legare is an above-average fore-checker who brings a real physical element to the Penguins’ prospect pool. Few players across “The Q”, were surprised when he was named team captain of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, and Legare, for all intents and purposes, has had a very successful and productive junior career. This season, the physical specimen, Legare, posted a tallied 35 goals and 36 assists for 71 points to go along with 75 penalty minutes in just 61 games. The Penguins are beyond thrilled at what Legare brings to the fold, and it’s only a matter of time until we see him at the National Hockey League level.
Number 1: Samuel Poulin, Left-Wing/Right-Wing, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Number one on our list appears in the form of the talented winger, Samuel Poulin. Currently playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league (QMJHL), Poulin is a very good all-around winger with a sound two-way game. He’s smart, makes good decisions with the puck, great along the boards and competes hard for his team each and every shift. It is these qualities and intangibles both on and off the ice that have risen Poulin to the very top of the food chain of prospects in the Penguins system. Poulin is a born leader with the ability to put points on the board almost seamlessly. This season in Sherbrooke, the Blainville, Quebec native posted 32 goals and 77 points in 46 games, all while wearing the “C”, as team captain.
When you look at what he brings to the Penguins fold, it’s hard to find a real flaw to his game. Man, oh man that sounds a lot like Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz now doesn’t it? Could we potentially see the likes of Poulin on 87’s and 71’s wing soon? Only time will tell really. What we do know for certain is that it won’t be long before Samuel Poulin dons the black and gold of Pittsburgh at the National Hockey League level.
Honorable Mentions: C Filip Hållander, C Jordy Bellerive
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images