WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Playing in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization has long been a fast track towards reaching the NHL ranks. For as many years as the organization has had household names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, it’s been supplemented by fresh faces who have come up through the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and paid dividends. The team has been able to turn strong prospects into NHL regulars for years, which helped them win a pair of Stanley Cups not so long ago, and the current day seems to be no different. Two Penguins prospects are no doubt on the radar of the NHL club to turn into regulars at some point in the not-so-distant future who are coming off of big seasons at the AHL level in Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Sam Poulin. Both players are poised to become the latest success stories from the organization as highly regarded prospects.
Joseph is coming off of his third AHL season and first full campaign, having made his debut during the 2019-20 season and smashed his career bests in points, goals, and assists this season with 33 (ten goals, 23 assists). His stat line left him two shy of the team lead among defensemen in points but as the top goal scorer from the back end and a respectable plus-eight mark at the season’s end in addition to five points (one goal, four assists) in six postseason games. His style is a mixture of offensive skill combined with an in-your-face defensive style that causes him to take penalties at times (44 PIMs this season). The payoff is more than worth it, as he plays a prototypical Penguins style that should have him high on their radar to make a case for NHL time even as early as next season. Joseph has one power play goal and two game-winners to his ledger as well, and his improvement in a full season has been exceptional, to say the least. Joseph scored his first NHL goal during the 2020-21 season and has 20 total games at the top level, skating in four this season.
Poulin is coming off of his rookie season at the AHL level after being selected in the first round, 21st overall, in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and seemed to steadily improve his craft as the season went along. He played 72 games, posting 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points, as well as four points in six postseason games as he adapted to the professional ranks and found his niche as a hardworking forward with a strong shot. His 72 games played puts him in a group of six Penguins forwards to dress for 70+ games this season; he had a stretch of nine points in nine games and tallied a hat trick on March 12 against the Laval Rocket. His performance in the postseason was impressive as well, as he scored his first playoff goal versus Hershey in Game 3 of that series and potted a pair of tallies in Game 3 against Springfield. Poulin was particularly impressive on the first goal, planting himself in front of the goal and taking advantage of his quick release to fire a shot over the far shoulder of the goaltender.
With the Penguins possibly facing some roster turnover this summer, the time for these two players could come as soon as next season. Pittsburgh has five pending unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents from their forward group, and two unrestricted defensemen, including the likes of Malkin and Letang, in that group. Although it seems highly unlikely the Penguins would completely part with those two long-time players, it’s never too soon for young players like Poulin and Joseph to audition to be the next graduates to the NHL as highly regarded prospects. Suppose the Penguins elect to retain their roster or make a few external additions this summer. In that case, Wilkes-Barre will continue to benefit from their service and look to parlay their strong second half of the 2021-22 season into a consistent and strong 2022-23, looking to match their better seasons of the 2017-18 year as time will certainly tell.
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