The Pittsburgh Penguins have practiced social distancing from first-round picks for nearly a decade. Only once in General Manager Jim Rutherford’s previous five NHL drafts have the Penguins stepped to the podium on the first day of the draft. The trend was broken in 2019 when the Penguins resisted temptation and offers to keep their pick and select Sam Poulin.
They even had a third-rounder and used it to select Nathan Legare.
The QMJHL pair were childhood friends and teammates. They also made overtly positive impressions in the Penguins training camp. Each signed their three-year entry-level-contract, and Legare did so after scoring two goals in his second preseason game.
Poulin has torched the Q this season, too. He was the back-to-back player of the week in January after he popped a couple of hat tricks and five straight three-point games with the Sherbrook Phoenix.
Questions about the Pittsburgh Penguins
@TheDanKingerski Hi Dan. I love pittsburghhockeynow. I visit it everyday. 3 questions. Do you have any update on Jake Guentzel? Do you consider Drew O'Connor the equivalent of a first or second round draft pick? Do you think Poulin and/or Legure could make the Pens next year?
— Chris Isaacs (@chris_pghsports) March 23, 2020
First, no update on Guentzel. Standard response on questions about injuries: There are no updates until the team or player speaks. Hockey guards injury news like gold at Fort Knox out of fear opponents will target injured player’s soft spots.
Yinz can ask, but the answer never changes.
Chris, the quick answer to your question is yes, Poulin has a shot at making the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL club next season. However, his NHL spot may be as dependent on his ability to adapt to the RW, despite being a left-handed shot. He’s listed on the NHL site as an RW, but most other places he’s listed as an LW.
Guentzel and Jason Zucker have the top left-wing spots filled, and Poulin would need to be special to supplant either in the top-six. The Penguins also have Dominik Simon, Jared McCann, and Zach Aston-Reese to fill the other two LW spots.
Poulin improved since September when he was noticeable in the Penguins training camp. My scouting report from his time in Pittsburgh included adequate foot speed, good game anticipation, and a complete game. Poulin was surprisingly complete and showed good awareness in the defensive zone. Defensive awareness is a great shortcut to NHL ice and is essential in the NHL today. If you can’t defend, you can’t crack the lineup.
In 46 games before the QMJHL scrapped the season, Poulin had 77 points, including 32 goals. He was also an extraordinary +45.
So, Poulin has a real chance to make the lineup next season.
Legare has a wicked wrister. He probably needs a little more seasoning and work on his skating, but he too has the potential to be a potent NHL winger. His shoot-first and ask questions later approach would be a welcome addition to the Penguins, perhaps in 2021-22.
Legare’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar team wasn’t so hot this season, and his numbers reflected the down year. He didn’t equal is 2018-19 totals and scored 71 points (35g, 36a) in 61 games.
First, check out the scouting report from PHN with a little help from a Penguins source and video work. To answer the question about O’Connor, he is a couple of years away from NHL contention.
The Penguins have done well to supplant their lack of draft picks (see above) with free agents. Zach Aston-Reese, Conor Sheary, Evan Rodrigues, and Sam Lafferty were all undrafted college free agents. Justin Schultz was a college free agent who spurned his drafting team and signed with Edmonton as a free agent out of college.
If I put O’Connor in the draft, I think he’s a third or fourth-round pick. We saw good things on tape, but his game needs a great deal of work. He suffers from the problem that plagues many younger players. He isn’t consistent or hard to play against. He’ll have to learn those traits before he is a successful professional.