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PHN Blog: Penguins Prospects Changing Identity, Bring the Rough Stuff



Pittsburgh Penguins, Penguins prospects, Sam Poulin
Sam Poulin at UPMC Lemieux Center, Sept. 15, 2022: Photo by Dan Kingerski

Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare were power forwards or sniping wingers when the Pittsburgh Penguins selected them in the 2019 NHL Draft. Each was over 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds, which stood in stark contrast to the recent spate of diminutive or light Penguins wingers, including Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson, and even Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel.

The Penguins traded back into the third round to select Legare and gained a pair of beefy prospects to lead a nearly barren wasteland of prospects. There is an increasing influx of larger players, whether pure coincidence or unannounced direction of the Penguins organization.

College free agent defenseman Jack St. Ivany, who signed with the Penguins in August, is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.

Cory Andonovski is 6-foot-1, nearly 200 pounds, and plays like a large player. Andonovski signed with the Penguins after three seasons at Princeton. He killed penalties and was part of the grind lines on Saturday. Filip Hallander isn’t quite 200 pounds, but he, too, plays a grittier game and could be found lurking near the net.

The focal point during the Penguins Prospects Challenge game was Legare, who roiled the Boston Bruins prospects. Legare took 10 minutes in penalties but put the Penguins on several power plays (including drawing a fighting major while only taking a roughing penalty) and goaded the Bruins into at least 15 minutes of penalties.

“… this was just a whole game of, you know, he really made some enemies over there just by playing hard,” WBS Penguins coach J.D. Forrest said. “It’s good to see.”

It’s fair to say the Boston Bruins prospects won’t send Legare any Christmas cards, but beyond the agitation, the Penguins prospects played a physical game. Poulin went straight to the net-front on the first power play and could not be persuaded to leave. He fought for that space against all challengers and was rewarded with a power-play goal, but he also helped create a few more power-play tallies by creating a battle zone in front of the goalie.

Legare did the same when he had the opportunity, though he watched a couple of Penguins’ power plays from the penalty box.

Last season, Legare struggled to score at the AHL level. He had only 16 points, including seven goals. He was a sought-after scorer in the QMJHL; goalies could not stop his heavy wrister. Professional goalies had much more success, and Legare appears to be adapting to how he can be more useful in the pro game and get to the Pittsburgh Penguins faster.

On Saturday, Hallander squibbed a couple of loose pucks into the net — loose pucks created by the net-front battles. Going to the net never hurts a player’s chances of getting to the NHL level.

The Penguins’ lurch towards size has not been exclusive to GM Ron Hextall, who assumed the role in February 2020. Former GM Jim Rutherford and staff drafted Legare and Poulin (and Hallander). But Hextall’s additions, like Andonovski, St. Ivany, Ty Glover (6-foot-3, 200), and Raivis Ansons (6-foot, 190 pounds), show an eye towards size.

Gone are the smaller players like 5-foot-9 Felix Robert, who signed an ELC with Tampa Bay this summer. Jordie Bellerive, Justin Almeida, Cam Lee, and Sam Miletic also moved along.

The changeover in the type and style of prospects has accelerated under Hextall.

One could also add the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Drew O’Connor to the list of larger Penguins prospects, too. O’Connor isn’t a crash-and-bang player, but he possesses the size to do so. Perhaps a little more time with Forrest and the Penguins organization will convince him to play in the battle zones more often.

It no longer appears that Poulin, who has been converted to a center, and Legare are top-six wingers in waiting. They don’t appear more “talented” than their peers. What Poulin and Legare possess cannot be taught or learned. Both are physically bigger and stronger than their current peers and are learning how to apply those gifts.

Given the change in leadership atop the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, the influx of larger prospects is unlikely by chance. The Penguins are beefing up. The question becomes if any of the prospects will make it to, or in, the NHL.