One prospect harbors dreams of cracking the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL roster in a couple of weeks. The other prospect turned pro last fall but was a healthy scratch at the AHL level. One was a first-round pick, the other an undrafted free agent.
Sam Poulin and Josh Maniscalco are both in Penguins rookie camp, but their career stations could not be more diametrically opposed.
“I think they just want me to prove what I’m about and just have some fun out there, give my best and give 100% every time I’m on the ice,” Poulin said on Saturday. “They want us to compete and go as hard as possible. If I’m going to make their team better, there’s a good chance I’m going to have my spot.”
Poulin will likely get a full look when the Penguins training camp begins on Thursday.
Maniscalco will not.
“I think just living that pro lifestyle and kind of developing, and the sense of every day is a battle and just learning what’s expected certainly goes a long way,” said Maniscalco. “I think taking that into this year will help out drastically. I’m excited to get things going.”
Maniscalco played just eight games for the WBS Penguins last season. He missed a few AHL contests because he was part of the Penguins practice squad, but the reports were not glowing. He turned pro but wasn’t ready for the game or the lifestyle.
By all accounts, Maniscalco handled the struggles well, but after putting up some gaudy numbers at Arizona State, there was significant curiosity and some hope involving the offensive defensemen. In 36 games, he scored 32 points in 2019-20. It was his sophomore year after three years in the USHL.
He wasn’t ready for the jump and didn’t score in eight AHL games.
“This offseason, I really wanted to become a little more athletic and quicker. I think I did a good job of doing that,” Maniscalco said. “So I’m excited to see how portrays this year and see what happens.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect cupboard is still empty, especially at defense. P.O. Joseph will get the NHL call sooner than later, and 23-year-old Niclas Almari is an intriguing prospect but projects in the Marcus Pettersson third-pairing role, at best. Cam Lee is another potential competitor for the next step.
That’s about it.
So, Maniscalco has an open field in front of him, but he must first earn the trust of WBS Penguins head coach J.D. Forest and get in the game.
Conversely, the red carpet will be rolled out for Poulin whenever he is ready. Of course, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall is famous, infamous, or notorious for letting prospects marinate a bit longer than others, but Poulin will control his fate.
Poulin was a driving force on the stacked Val d’Or team last season, but circumstances forced to play center late in the season. On Saturday, Poulin admitted he had not played center since Bantam. Sich things might derail a lesser prospect or lead some to question his value in his natural position.
Instead, we laud players like Poulin.
In 19 games with Val d’Or, Poulin scored 25 points, including eight goals. He also got to play with childhood friend and fellow Penguins prospect Nathan Legare. As you may expect, the boys had a lot of fun with that.
“It’s always fun to be around Sam. He’s a good guy,” Legare reported. “Even outside the rink, we spend time together…We push each other, so it’s fun.”
You’ll have to excuse the sound on the Poulin interview. We don’t control the rumbling Zambonis.