Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2019-20 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Pittsburgh Penguins Prospects
The Penguins slipped a little in 2017-18, not quite reaching the heights of previous seasons. They finished with 100 points, slipping to third place in the Atlantic Division. The bigger issue came in the playoffs as the Penguins were swept in the first round by the New York Islanders. The Penguins, considered by many to be Stanley Cup Contenders, failed to win a playoff game. Given that, and some salary cap issues, the off-season promised to bring big changes to Pittsburgh.
General manager Jim Rutherford delivered on that promise. He traded Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun. He also moved Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk, prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and a draft pick. The Penguins also signed forward Brandon Tanev in free agency.
2019 Draft Picks (Grade B-): Samuel Poulin, Nathan Legare, Judd Caulfield, Valtteri Puustinen, Santeri Airola
Graduations: Kahun (acquired), Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon, Marcus Pettersson, Juuso Riikola (age), Teddy Blueger (age), Adam Johnson (age),
Top Prospect: Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Defence — shoots Left
Born July 1st, 1999 — Chambly, Quebec
Height 6’2″ — Weight 185 lbs [188 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 1st round, #23 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June 2019.
Trades were the name of the game for Joseph this past season. He was traded from Charlottetown to Drummondville at the QMJHL trade deadline. Overall he scored nine goals 47 points in 62 regular-season games. Joseph also added two goals and nine points in 16 playoff games.
Joseph is a very good skater and is mobile in both directions. His first step is strong, and he has very good acceleration both forwards and backwards. He also has the top-end speed necessary to be able to join the rush, or pinch in at the blue line and also recover when he gets caught.
Excellent pivots and edgework allow him to cover 360 degrees of ice. He keeps himself in front of attackers and maintains good gap control with his smooth skating and his lateral agility. Joseph can also use his agility to walk the line in the offensive zone and to open up shooting and passing lanes. Joseph has bulked up since his draft year, adding over 20 pounds in the last two years. He is strong on the puck and wins more battles in the corners and in front of the net as a result. There is probably a bit more room to add muscle to his lanky frame. How much is necessary will be seen as he tests himself against professional opponents this year.
Joseph is a smart player, who can quarterback the play from the point. He has very good vision, and the passing skills to be a playmaker. Joseph can make a good pass, both to start the transition game, or to set things up at the blue line. He is poised with the puck on his stick, taking the time to survey the ice and make the right play. Joseph has the patience wait for a play to develop. He has also become more adept at joining the rush, as well as pinching in from the blue line over the last two seasons.
Joseph keeps his shot low and gets it on the net. This gives his teammates the opportunity at rebounds and tip-ins. He has increased his power with his increased muscle mass. This has naturally led to an increase in goals. The release on his wrist shot is also improved. This is still an area that can continue to get better but he has taken strides in the last year. Joseph can sneak down from the point and let his wrist shot go from the top of the faceoff circles.
Joseph’s mobility makes him very difficult to beat one-on-one, and his active stick allows him to play a strong defensive game. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes well. He also creates turnovers with his ability to read the play and his anticipation. Once those are created, he transitions quickly from defence to offence. Joseph is better at winning his battles on the boards and clearing the front of the net now that he has improved his strength.
Joseph leaves junior hockey behind as he heads to Penguins training camp. His skating and transition ability make him a very good prospect, especially in a league that seems to get faster every year. Patience will be needed though before he is ready to make the jump to the NHL as he needs some AHL time. He could see some minutes as a call-up if injuries hit this year. Realistically he is looking at 2020 for a real chance at a full-time role.
Prospect #2: Calen Addison
Defence — shoots Right
Born April 11th, 2000 — Brandon, Manitoba
Height 5’10” — Weight 181 lbs [178 cm/82 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round, #53 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Addison had another solid season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the WHL. His numbers were nearly identical to his draft year, putting up 11 goals and 65 points in 67 games. Addison also added two goals and nine points in seven playoff games. Following the conclusion of the Hurricanes season, he joined Wilke-Barre/Scranton, putting up two assists in three AHL games.
Addison is an outstanding skater. This helps him to play a two-way game, and be effective at both ends of the ice. He is one of the fastest skaters in this draft class, and shows this both forwards and backwards. His edgework, agility and pivots are also elite. Addison covers a ton of ice. He can transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Addison can join the rush or pinch in at the blue line and still get back defensively. When a turnover is created, he transitions to offence extremely quickly. There are some issues with power and balance though, as he can sometimes be knocked off the puck, or have trouble winning battles in the corners or in front of the net. Addison could use more core muscle.
Addison has very good vision and passing skills, with the ability to start the transition game and play the point on the powerplay. He uses his stickhandling ability to quickly change angles and open up a passing lane to a teammate even when defenders close in on him. He loves to drive offence and jumps into the play, both off the rush and pinching at the blue line. Addison also has the stickhandling ability to skate the puck out of danger, and even to lead the rush.
Addison also has a very good snapshot and wrist shot. He gets them both off very quickly, with an excellent release. He sneaks down from the line, to get in position to use these shots from the top of the circle or slot. They can surprise goalies and have good power. His slap shot is good, but not great. Most importantly, is the fact that Addison gets his shots through traffic and on the net. His skating and poise allow him to walk the line and open up shooting lanes to get off those shots.
Defensively, Addison maintains good gap control and is not afraid to be physical. Addison throws hits in the corners and battles for position in front of the net. However, his size is an issue. He can be overpowered, even at the junior level. Controlling opponents in the cycle is an issue. He needs to work on adding more muscle to his frame. This can lead to him getting pinned in his end if he is unable to create a turnover. Addison really improved his game by cutting down his turnovers this past season. He can sometimes try to do too much offensively but did a much better job of picking his spots this season.
Addison should head back to Lethbridge for his final junior campaign. He should also compete for a spot on Team Canada’s blue line at the World Juniors, but that is a place where the competition will be fierce. He is likely a couple of years away from being ready for the NHL, also needing some time in the AHL.
#3 Prospect: Samuel Poulin
The Penguins drafted Poulin with the 21st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Poulin. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#4 Prospect: Filip Hallander
Centre — shoots Left
Born June 29th 2000 — Sundsvall, Sweden
Height 6’1″ — Weight 190 lbs [185 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round, #58 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Hallander played well as a teenager in the SHL. He put up seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points in 45 games. After helping Timra advance from the Allsvenskan to the SHL in 2017-18, last season was all about keeping the team in the top Swedish league. In the relegation playoffs, Hallander took a step forward as a player and helped his team avoid the drop. He put up five goals and eight points in seven games. Hallander also played for Sweden at the World Juniors.
Hallander is a powerful skater. He has a long stride and is strong on the puck. He generates the power to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. Hallander has a powerful lower body and good balance. This helps him to win battles along the boards and to control the puck in the cycle. Hallander establishes his position in front of the net and is difficult to move. He could improve his top-end speed though. He can keep up with the play but lacks the ability to separate from defenders. Hallander could improve his first few steps and his acceleration as well. This can be an issue in getting to loose pucks. His agility and edgework allows him to be shifty on the rush, and to create passing lanes off the cycle.
Hallander has a good arsenal of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot are both powerful and accurate. His release is above average but could use a bit more work. Hallander can score from the slot, or from the tops of the circles. He is also strong on the backhand, with the ability to elevate the puck in tight to the net. His soft hands are good at deflections and at pouncing on rebounds. Hallander does not use his slap shot very often. It could use some work, and he is more effective at fooling goaltenders with the shorter wind-up.
Hallander has good stickhandling and puck control but plays a simple game. He keeps the puck moving with quick, accurate passes to the open man. He is not the type to dangle defenders or make a creative saucer pass but reads the game well and keeps the puck moving. A hallmark of Hallander’s game is the fact that he always keeps his feet moving. He is strong on the forecheck and pressures opponents into mistakes, which he can then take advantage of offensively.
Hallander’s strong work ethic is seen in all three zones. He is dogged in chasing down opponents in both his own end and the neutral zone. Hallander reads the play well and cuts down passing lanes with a long stick. He creates turnovers and transitions the play quickly up the ice. While he does not throw a lot of big hits, he is not afraid to battle on the boards or in front of the net. He is also willing to take a hit to make a play.
Hallander should spend another season with Timra in the SHL. He should also be part of the Swedish team at the World Juniors, though it will likely be in the role of a two-way forward. If he has a good season, he could be in the AHL in 2020. He’s at least two years away from making a serious push for an NHL job.
#5 Prospect: Jordy Bellerive
Centre — shoots Left
Born May 2nd, 1999 — North Vancouver, British Columbia
Height 5’11” — Weight 196 lbs [180 cm / 89 kg]
Signed with the Penguins as an undrafted free agent in September 2017
Bellerive was injured in a campfire incident last summer and this had some effect early in the 2018-19 season but he was soon back dominating at the junior level. He put up 33 goals and 83 points in 68 games with Lethbridge. He also added two goals and eight points in seven playoff games, but the Hurricanes fell in the first round.
Bellerive is an excellent skater. He has a lightning-quick first step and very good acceleration. His top-end speed is excellent. Bellerive is very difficult to handle off the rush. He can take a defender wide and cut to the net. He also has very good agility and edgework. Bellerive can beat defenders with his quick movements and changes of direction. At just 5-foot-11, Bellerive is slightly undersized. However, he has good muscle on his frame and a low centre of gravity. This gives him good balance and allows him to be strong on the puck.
Bellerive combines his skating with great puck handling skills. He has soft hands and can create plays at top speed. He combines his skating and puck skills to create space, opening up passing and shooting lanes. Bellerive is at his best as a playmaker. He sees the ice extremely well and has the skill to make passes to teammates through tight openings. Bellerive might have picked up even more assists if he played for a more talented WHL club.
Bellerive has really developed his goal-scoring over his junior career. He always had a very good wrist shot with a quick release but is now more willing to use it. If defenders back off to respect his speed off the rush, he will fire a shot on net, using the defender as a screen. Bellerive is willing to play a gritty game and gets to the front of the net both with and without the puck. He has the soft hands to finish in close. Bellerive is not afraid to battle for loose pucks in the corners as well.
Bellerive brings his tenacity to the defensive end. He gets under his opponent’s skin and is always in the middle of the action. He backchecks hard and supports the defence down low. Bellerive uses his quickness and strong hockey IQ to create turnovers and transition them back into offensive opportunities. He cuts down passing lanes and is effective on the penalty kill.
Bellerive leaves junior hockey behind and is likely headed for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He will look to use his skills against more talented professional opponents. He also will look to play his physical game in a league with bigger and faster opponents. If his game translates well, he could fight for an NHL job as early as 2020. However, it is more likely that he is two years away.
#6 Prospect: Nathan Legare
The Penguins drafted Legare with the 74th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Legare. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Sam Miletic
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born May 4th, 1997 — Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Height 6’1″ — Weight 196 lbs [185 cm / 89 kg]
Signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an undrafted free agent in September 2017
Miletic put up 12 goals and 35 points in 49 games with Wilkes-Barre last season. An injury suffered in October cost him considerable time early in the campaign. Fortunately, he came back strong as he was one of the team’s most productive forwards both before and after the injury.
Miletic’s skating is a work in progress. His top-end speed is decent, however, he has real issues with his first-step quickness and acceleration. Hockey is a game of short bursts of speed though, and there is rarely the opportunity to go end-to-end at top speed. This creates a situation where Miletic struggles at getting to loose pucks or to make plays off the rush. His edgework and agility could also use some work. Miletic is a powerful player though. He is strong on the boards and in front of the net, battling with opponents.
Miletic plays a power forward’s game. He is willing to get to the front of the net and has the soft hands to finish plays when he gets there. Militec has the ability to pounce on a rebound, re-direct a shot from a teammate, or one-time a pass into the back of the net. His wrist shot, snapshot, and even his backhand help him to score goals from further out. Miletic is a hard worker, who is always in the middle of scrums and creating issues for goaltenders and defenders. He battles for loose pucks along the boards and also pressures defenders into mistakes and turnovers.
Miletic can also play the role of playmaker. With his strength and ability to control the play, he extends possession and creates chances in the cycle game. When a teammate gets open he can hit them with a quick pass. He may not be the most creative player and plays a north-south game but still creates offence through these simple plays and getting the puck to the net.
Miletic also plays physical in his own end of the ice. He supports the defence down low and is willing to throw a hit, and contain forwards on the cycle. He uses his body to cut down passing lanes and is also not afraid to block shots. Once a turnover is created, Miletic looks to move the puck up to a teammate and create an offensive opportunity through a quick transition.
Miletic will likely head back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. He will look to replicate his strong offensive production and show that it wasn’t just a good run in a small sample size. He also needs to work on his skating. If those things happen, he is a candidate to get a call-up if injuries hit. He could push for a full-time NHL job in 2020.
#8 Prospect: Justin Almeida
Centre — shoots Left
Born February 6th, 1999 — Kitimat, British Columbia
Height 5’11” — Weight 165 lbs [180 cm/75 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 5th round, #129 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
After being passed over in the 2017 Draft, Almeida had a breakout season with 98 points and the Penguins took a chance on him one year ago. He followed up on that with 33 goals and 78 assists for 111 points in 64 games. Almeida led the WHL in assists. He also won the WHL Sportsmanship Award and CHL Sportsman of the Year Award. Unfortunately, he was held pointless as the Warriors lost in a four-game sweep in the first round of the WHL Playoffs.
Almeida is a bit undersized but makes up for it with excellent skating ability. His agility and edgework are the best part of his game. They help him to be very elusive both with and without the puck, making quick changes of direction and getting to open areas. He also has good speed and can get behind the defence for breakaways and odd-man rushes. He reaches that speed quickly, with good acceleration and a quick first step. However, Almeida needs to add muscle to his frame. He can get pushed off the puck at times and may struggle in board battles against professional opposition.
Almeida has very good hands and combines his stickhandling with his speed to create space. He can make moves while moving at top speed, making him extremely dangerous off the rush. A quick change in direction combined with a change in the angle on his stick helps open up passing and shooting lanes which he can take advantage of. His vision is excellent. Almeida sees his linemates and anticipates where they are going, putting the puck through tight spaces and creating chances.
In addition to his playmaking skill, Almeida can also play the role of a goal scorer. He has a very good release on his wrist shot and it is very accurate and features good power. His snapshot is also very good. Almeida also has the quick hands to score in tight to the goal. The biggest issue is that he is undersized and needs to bulk up. Almeida may struggle to control and protect the puck down low.
Almeida brings his smarts to the defensive end. He reads the play well and can create turnovers by anticipating plays and intercepting the puck. Almeida works hard and supports his defence on the backcheck. However, his lack of size can be a liability as he is unable to defend powerful forwards in the cycle game.
After two excellent WHL campaigns, Almeida is ready to leave junior hockey and go to the pro game. He will need some time to adjust to the bigger, stronger opponents he will face this year. The Penguins hope to see him continue to produce offensive numbers in Wilkes-Barre. If he does that, he could be a year or two away from pushing for a roster spot.
#9 Prospect: Kasper Bjorkqvist
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born July 10th, 1997 — Espoo, Finland
Height 6’1″ — Weight 198 lbs [185 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round, #61 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
In his third season at Providence, Bjorkqvist continued to improve his production. He put up 17 goals and 30 points in 42 games. Following the season, he opted to bypass his senior season and signed his first pro contract with the Penguins.
Bjorkqvist is a strong skater. He has a powerful skating stride. He can fight through checks and keep going, driving hard to the front of the net. Bjorkqvist also has good balance and uses his size and leverage to win battles on the boards and establish his position in front of the net. He has a quick first step and good acceleration which allows him to beat defenders once he gets a step. His speed is good, but not elite.
Bjorkqvist plays a simple but effective game. He has a hard wrist shot and quick release which can fool goaltenders. He is also willing to go to the dirty areas of the ice, battling for pucks on the boards, or banging in rebounds from the front of the net. Bjorkqvist uses his body to protect the puck in the cycle game and extend plays. He is not very creative though, looking for a simple pass to keep things moving rather than trying to create a scoring chance.
Bjorkqvist does not seem to have the on-ice vision to be an elite playmaker. He does not try many passes cross-ice and through traffic. He is quick to get in on the forecheck and force defenders into mistakes and turnovers. Bjorkqvist is physical and willing to finish his checks.
Bjorkqvist is effective on the backcheck. He supplies good backpressure and is willing to play a physical game. He brings his willingness to battle on the boards in all three zones. Bjorkqvist is not afraid to block shots or do what it takes to win. In the past, he could be over-aggressive physically and get himself into penalty trouble but seems to be more disciplined in his game today. He is an effective penalty killer, who creates turnovers by cutting off passing lanes.
Bjorkqvist heads to Wilkes-Barre looking to continue his strong defensive play and find a bit more scoring. He projects as a potential bottom-six forward with penalty-kill time. There is still room for development though and he’s at least a year or two away from a serious roster challenge.
#10 Prospect: Tristan Jarry
Goalie — shoots Left — catches Left
Born April 29th, 1995 — Surrey, British Columbia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 194 lbs [188 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round, #44 overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft
After playing 26 NHL games in 2017-18, Jarry was limited to just two games this past season. He was the starter for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, playing 47 games with a 2.66 goals-against-average and .915 save percentage. He even managed to score a goal.
Jarry plays a very athletic, butterfly style. His technique is good and he gets in and out of the butterfly very quickly and does not leave large gaps between his legs or between his arms and body. Jarry has quick legs throwing out his pads to take away the bottom of the net. His glove hand is excellent and takes away the top of the net. He moves around the crease well, with good puck tracking and the ability to go post-to-post with ease. His backwards skating is also solid which allows him to challenge shooters off the rush. While having solid technique, Jarry is also very instinctive and more than just a “puck blocker.” He has great reflexes and can make the odd diving save that one would not expect him to be able to get to.
Jarry likes to leave the crease and play the puck. He can often be found roaming and acts as a third defenceman for his team. Jarry is often able to ease the pressure on his defence, or able to throw the long breakout pass when the other team gets caught on a change. He has improved his rebound control but needs to do more. He also has a tendency to play a little deep in his crease.
Now, 24-years-old it is time for Jarry to challenge for an NHL job. He heads to camp and his main competition remains Casey DeSmith. Jarry requires waivers to head to the AHL according to CapFriendly, this makes the decision a little more difficult than it has been in previous years. The Penguins seem to favour DeSmith though, meaning that there is a real chance that Jarry is claimed on waivers following training camp.
Sleeper Prospect: Sam Lafferty
Left Wing/Centre — shoots Right
Born March 6th, 1995 — Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania
Height 6’1″ — Weight 194 lbs [185 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 4th round, #113 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
In his first full season as a pro, Lafferty put up 13 goals and 49 points in 70 games. It was a solid transition to the AHL for the former All-Ivy League Second Team member and alternate captain with Brown University.
Lafferty is a very good skater. He gets up and down the wing quickly, with very good top-end speed, excellent acceleration and a quick first step. Lafferty challenges defenders wide and can beat them and cut to the net. He also has very good edgework and agility, making him a threat to cut past a defender as well. Lafferty is strong on his skates, he can fight through checks and gets to the net.
Lafferty uses his speed to his advantage. When defenders back off to protect the net, it opens up passing and shooting lanes. He can let go a wrist shot, using the defender as a screen, though he could continue work on being more deceptive with his release. Where he really takes advantage though is with his passing skills. In respecting his speed, defenders leave opportunities for Lafferty to help set up teammates.
Lafferty also uses his speed to get in quickly on the forecheck, creating issues for opposing defenders. He plays physical and is willing to through big hits on defencemen skating to retrieve loose pucks. This helps his team get possession and create scoring opportunities.
Lafferty’s defensive game is also well advanced and can help him reach the NHL. He uses his skating to put pressure on the puck carrier and work to create turnovers. It helps him to cut down passing lanes and intercept passes on the penalty kill. When a turnover is created, he is quick to move the puck up the ice in transition. Lafferty brings his power forward game in his own end as well.
Lafferty heads to training camp looking to crack the Penguins lineup. Now 24, he needs to make an impact in the near future. If he does end up back in Wilkes-Barre, he could see a callup or two if the Penguins need replacements.
For years the Penguins neglected their farm system, as they pushed to be a contender. Of course, that paid off with two Stanley Cups and it paid off and then some. That said, it has left the system weaker. The Penguins have done a good job to start retooling the system. While it is much better than a year ago, it is still one of the weaker groups in the NHL and more work will be needed in the coming years.
In terms of other players to watch, the Penguins have defencemen Clayton Phillips, John Marino, and Niclas Almari. Forwards Jacob Lucchini, Jan Drozg, Judd Caulfield, Nikita Pavlychev, and Anthony Angello remain prospects to keep an eye on. They also have Emil Larmi in goal.