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Poulin Willing to Grind His Way to Job in NHL



Patrick Poulin

CRANBERRY — Samuel Poulin’s scoring touch convinced the Pittsburgh Penguins to spend a first-round draft choice on him three years ago.

But if he makes it to the NHL anytime soon, it just might be his defensive work that gets him there.

Oh, Poulin still has the offensive abilities that allowed him to rack up 32 goals in 46 games during the season after the Penguins secured his rights, but his game has grown and developed in the interim, and he believes he could contribute in a blue-collar role, if called upon.

“I’m a pretty versatile player, so no matter where they want me to play, I think I can fit in,” Poulin said after Day 2 of the Penguins’ rookie camp Friday. “If they want me to play center, I can do it. If they want me to play wing, I can do that, as well.

“After that, if they want me to play on the top-six, I know I can do it. And the bottom-six. … During my few tournaments with Hockey Canada at the international level, I was playing more on the fourth line, the third line. I’ve (filled) that role before. It’s nothing new for me.”

His coaches don’t disagree.

“He definitely has the (hockey) IQ to be that defensive-minded center,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Kevin Porter said. “He’s good on faceoffs. We’re going to start using him on the penalty-kill a little bit to see how that goes.”

That plan assumes that Poulin will open the season in the American Hockey League. That seems likely, if only because the Pittsburgh Penguins have so many forwards on one-way contracts and because their depth chart at center is so crowded, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger returning.

Still, Poulin feels some openings could come along.

“Especially during training camp, there’s always a lot of injuries,” he said. “There’s always something coming up. I just have to be ready for any opportunity that gets to me.”

Poulin, who was drafted as a left winger, skated between Filip Hallander and Valtteri Puustinen during practice Friday. He adapted well to moving to center last season, and cited a night he spent in street clothes as the turning point in his first pro season.

“The game I got scratched kind of was a wake-up call for me,” Poulin said. “It was pretty much the first time it ever happened to me. … From that point on, I just played with much more poise and much more confidence.”

Porter said that Poulin “took some big steps” around the middle of last season, and that the versatility he has shown — both in terms of his position and the lines on which he can work — will be key to getting him to the NHL.

“He’s going to need to learn to play both, especially if he’s going to play in Pitt,” Porter said. “But he’s looked good.”

Game roster

Everyone participating in camp, aside from injured defensemen Owen Pickering and Nolan Collins, is scheduled to travel to Buffalo for the Penguins’ game against a squad of Boston rookies Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

Not all of them will make it into the lineup, however, because there are 23 healthy players, so the Penguins figure to scratch one forward, one defenseman and one goalie.

The game Saturday will be the Penguins’ only involvement in the prospects tournament that’s currently underway in Buffalo.

Collins, who has an unspecified upper-body injury, participated in Friday’s workout, but wore a white (no-contact) jersey.

Pickering, also recovering from an unspecified upper-body issue, was the lone absentee from practice for the second day in a row.

Praise for Legare

Nathan Legare, the Penguins’ third-round choice in 2019, had a miserable rookie season in the American Hockey League, but Porter seems optimistic that he’ll bounce back.

“He had a tough rookie year,” Porter said. “I think that’s pretty normal, but he looks good out there. He’s moving his feet. He’s playing hard, using his big body. He’s obviously got a great shot, so we’re looking for him to create some offense.”

Full house

Ron Hextall headlined another large contingent of Pittsburgh Penguins officials, coaches and scouts who observed the practice.

No fewer than 14 of them looked on from the balcony outside the executive offices that are above ice level.