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Penguins Youth Movement Features Four Names to Watch

The Pittsburgh Penguins have another youth movement on the horizon.

The Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup victories of the Sidney Crosby era have all coincided with youth movements by the organization. The initial group of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury first appeared back in the late 2000s. Then it was players like Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and Connor Sheary in 2016.

The next wave of young talent probably won't reach the heights of the former two, but we've already seen glimpses of how they could help out this current iteration of the Penguins.

During his end of the year press conference, general manager Ron Hextall mentioned the importance of choosing the right moment to insert those players into the lineup. 

"It's comforting to us that we have a few kids on the verge of coming up and being ready to play at this level, instead of forcing them into this level." 

Hextall mentioned a few players by name, including Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Samuel Poulin, and hinted towards potentially seeing them very early on in 2022-23. 

"We feel comfortable that a couple of the players out of that group could start the season in Pittsburgh." 

Which prospects are leading the charge of this new generation of Wilkes-Barre call ups?

Pierre-Olivier Joseph (LD)

Joseph has been the most visible prospect that the Pittsburgh Penguins have had since he was traded to the organization back in 2019. Making his debut during the 2020-21 season, Joseph filled in on an injury-depleted blue line of the Penguins for 16 games before being sent back down to AHL Wilkes-Barre.

Joseph spent a majority of that time on the top defense pairing and showed off his puck-moving ability, setting up zone exits well and showing his poise on the back end at the highest level. Then just 21-years-old Joseph's biggest downfall was the play in front of his net. His relatively small frame made it difficult for him to keep opposing forwards away from the goalie crease.

Joseph spent last season, except for four games, in the minors sharpening the edges of his game and waiting for his opportunity at a full-time spot in the Penguins lineup. He scored 33 points in 61 games, showing his ability to create offense from the back end. The Penguins currently have three left-side defensemen making over $4 million, so a move may have to happen to make space for Joseph's next call-up.

Kasper Bjorkqvist (RW)

Out of this group, Bjorkqvist spent the most time with the Penguins during the 2021-22 season. In six games with the NHL squad, Bjorkqvist scored one goal and averaged 8:22 of ice time. On January 2nd, he joined Mario Lemieux and Jake Guentzel on the list of Penguins to score in their NHL debut. While nobody will be mistaking him for that caliber of prospect, Bjorkqvist could instill more youth and fire to the Penguins bottom six.

Bjorkqvist was drafted by the Penguins in the second round of the 2016 draft and has faced numerous injury setbacks that delayed his progression throughout the minor league system. He hasn't shown the scoring consistency to be a top-six NHLer, but his defensive instincts are impressive. He could become another option for the Penguins penalty kill unit next season.

Valtteri Puustinen (RW)

Puustinen just finished up his first season in North America after playing the bulk of his career in his native country of Finland. While the adjustment to North American ice can take time for some young prospects, Puustinen showed no such signs. He led Wilkes-Barre in goals (20) and points (42) while adding three assists in the Penguins first Calder Cup Playoff run since 2017-18.

A bit undersized at 5'9", Puustinen fits the mold of previous Penguins prospects such as Guentzel and Sheary. His ability to find the soft spots in the zone, similar to Guentzel, was evident in his lone game at the NHL level last season. Puustinen finished his NHL debut with an assist while accounting for 71 percent of the expected goals share while he was on the ice.

Puustinen's scoring touch alone could make him a valuable third-line option for the Penguins. Pair that with his speed and apparent hockey IQ, and he could land an opening night role in the Penguins middle six.

Samuel Poulin (LW)

The spotlight shines a little brighter on first-round picks, and with Poulin being the only one in the Penguins system, it shines much more. Poulin was selected 21st overall by the Penguins in 2019 and just finished his first season of professional hockey. After three straight seasons of playing over a point per game in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Poulin struggled out of the gates when he arrived in Wilkes-Barre.

After struggling to find his footing, Wilkes-Barre head coach JD Forrest decided to healthy scratch Poulin to send a message. From that point on Poulin picked his game up, finishing the season with 16 goals and 37 points. Poulin's biggest question has always been about his foot speed and whether or not it will cost him opportunities at the NHL level. However, the rest of his game promotes the massive potential for offensive success.

The 6'2" 214 lbs. Poulin is a power forward with innate offensive instincts that could translate to an NHL top-six role in the future. His ability to protect the puck along the boards will surely ingratiate him to Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. The 21-year-old has been invited to Penguins training camp for three straight years and will likely be invited for a fourth this August. The only question now is how long before he, and these other prospects, break into the NHL.

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