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Winners and Non-Winners in Penguins Prospects Tournament (+)



Pittsburgh Penguins prospects, Sam Poulin, Max Namestnikov

Over the past several days, we’ve gotten a good look at a portion of the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect pool. Unfortunately, there were a few players unable to attend, either due to being overseas or playing college hockey. While it wasn’t a complete picture of the Penguins pipeline, we got a good enough look at the pool to begin making some judgments.

The Penguins’ first game was a washout. Friday, the team was overwhelmed by the Boston Bruins prospect roster. The lethargy and resignation on the ice were palpable both in the Penguins organization’s viewing section and on the ice.

Fortunately, jitters and nerves were the named culprit, and the team dramatically improved for their second and third game, Saturday and Monday, respectively.

In fact, Monday’s early evening battle against the talented Buffalo Sabres’ prospects team was a pretty good hockey game. And a few would-be Penguins farmhands, or potential NHL rostered players, showed well again.


Joel Blomqvist

The co-big winner from the Prospects Challenge at LECOM Harborcenter.

The 6-foot-2 goalie stood on his head Monday. PHN spoke with sources during the game, and they were quite pleased with his performance. Blomqvist gambled on the Penguins organization this summer. Despite four goalies under NHL contract, Blomqvist chose this summer to make the jump from Finland, knowing that he could have been squeezed to Wheeling.

The Erik Karlsson trade, which included sending Casey DeSmith to Montreal, opened a spot for Blomqvist with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Blomqvist, 21, was on every puck in Monday’s 3-0 win over Buffalo. His crease presence was significant, as he played at the top of the crease, even beyond it, but was never out of position. He held his form and fundamentals, even during scramble moments around the net. He was also very quick to square to the puck, even loose pucks without a known destination.

Buffalo didn’t have any open net to find.

He looked very good Friday when the Bruins drubbed the Penguins, and he looked brilliant Monday behind a more coordinated team. He will be a player to watch with the WBS Penguins.

Sam Poulin

Without sugarcoating the situation, Poulin stepped away to deal with important personal health issues last season, and no one could be sure how quickly or well his return to hockey would go. By the second game, Poulin was dominant.

Sam Poulin looks ready to challenge for an NHL spot.

Poulin, 22, led the charge again on Monday, and he really showed a better hop in his skates, as well as the ability to play like a big body in the dirty areas. It’s been four years since he was drafted, and he won’t be a high-flying top-six center, but he showed a better game than he has previously. He showed he could skate and play hard consistently.

Our previous projections put Poulin as a likely fourth-line center, but his maturation and evolution could make him a solid third-line center. He raised his stock over the weekend. Jim Cramer would yell, “Buy!”

Avery Hayes:

Hayes was one of many undrafted hopefuls at the tournament, and he got noticed on Saturday. Coach J.D. Forrest specifically lauded him as the player seizing his chance. Hayes has a long road ahead if he’s going to become a Penguins prospect.

Hayes, 20, had 76 points in the OHL last season and has adequate size. He’s 5-foot-10, 175. What he showed was good anticipation and speed. He can find the puck, showed good skating ability, and some finish, too.

He has a little zip in his game and seems to be involved in every play. Saturday, he jumped forward to intercept a pass on the wall in the offensive zone, quickly strode to the net, and ripped a top-shelf shot.

Max Namestnikov

He impressed PHN. That doesn’t always count for anything because the last player to catch our eye was Chris Ortiz, who never really found a home in the Penguins organization. After two seasons of bouncing between Wheeling and WBS, he signed with Laval for the coming season.

Namestnikov is the younger brother of Vladislav Namestnikov but clearly didn’t get the height gene. While older brother Vlad is 5-foot-11, Max is at best 5-foot-8 but looks smaller, perhaps only 5-foot-6.

Yet on Saturday, he and Poulin teamed up for offensive zone time and puck pressure. Namestnikov has speed and tenacity. He also has some hands, as evidenced by a couple of slick plays to create scoring chances in the offensive zone.

He’s only 18 and must return to the QMJHL, but he would earn a contract if I were given a vote. He had a feistiness and scrappy quality with some offensive talent.

Not Winners:

I intentionally didn’t use the term “loser” because that would be inaccurate. There weren’t many prospects who looked worse after the tournament.

Brayden Yager

He drew praise for his two-way game, but except for a couple of flashes on Saturday, he didn’t show up in the offensive zone until Monday. Two-way includes both ends of the rink, and Yager wasn’t driving much offense. It was a quiet showing until his sick goal on Monday, in which he muscled past a defender near the wall for a little breakaway finished by a top-shelf backhand.

That play looked like a 14th overall first-round pick. I was definitely hoping to see more from Yager, but he seems to be a player who takes a moment to get comfortable.

Jack St. Ivany

I believe St. Ivany has the necessary physical skills to get to the NHL, if only in a depth role. He’s a bigger D-man, moves well enough, and can occasionally play a physical game.

However, he had some issues with positioning and his net front on Friday and didn’t play on Saturday. This will be a make-or-break season for St. Ivany because he was a Philadelphia Flyers fourth-round pick in 2018. He’s 24, and players in his position either progress or begin to bounce around. As a veteran with a full college career and a professional season behind him, one could have reasonably expected him to be one of the best players.

Isaac Belliveau

The former fifth-round pick was better on Saturday than on Friday. However, he made too many bad decisions with the puck and, too many times he didn’t move the puck with the necessary urgency. Several passes didn’t get to their target or didn’t get there cleanly because they were late or lacked the necessary zip. Translated, his game needs to be faster. He needs to move faster and play with more tempo.

He might have to fight his way up from Wheeling.

Special Category:

Jagger Joshua. The Michigan State alumnus won the Nathan Legare attempted murder award on Saturday. In the Penguins single tournament game in 2022, Legare upset the entire Bruins bench to an extraordinary level of singularly focused ire. Jagger did much of the same against Ottawa on Saturday.

Jagger drew a couple of penalties but also took a couple of penalties, too. He’s going to be a wild ride in WBS. He must take fewer penalties than he draws, but he will bring a booming physical presence and enough energy to sell a few seats at M0hegan Sun Arena.

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