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2019 Prospects Challenge: Players to Watch

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

A number of notable Penguins players have participated in the Prospects Challenge and have gone on to have success in the NHL. 

In the fall of 2015, Matt Murray, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary played in the tournament in before playing instrumental roles in helping the Penguins capture the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2016. 

Then, in the fall of 2016, Jake Guentzel starred at the tournament before tying the league record for playoff points by a rookie en route to helping Pittsburgh win their second straight championship in the spring of 2017.

Other notable past attendees include Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Dominik Simon, Tristan Jarry, Oskar Sundqvist, Josh Archibald, Scott Wilson and Derrick Pouliot. Here's a look at the next generation of prospects heading to Buffalo this weekend for the 2019 Prospects Challenge hoping to someday make an impact at the NHL level with Pittsburgh…

FIRST LOOK: PIERRE-OLIVIER JOSEPH AND JOHN MARINO

This weekend, Penguins fans will get their first look at the two defensemen who were acquired earlier this summer in trades. 

Joseph was brought to Pittsburgh from Arizona along with Alex Galchenyuk in exchange for Phil Kessel to help add depth to Pittsburgh's defense. The 20-year-old describes himself as a two-way defenseman who can move the puck well and has a high hockey IQ. 

Joseph, who was drafted in the first round (23rd overall) in 2017, just completed his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League - which was split between the Charlottetown Islanders and Drummondville Voltiguers. He compiled 47 points (9G-38A) and a plus-36 in 62 games. He's hoping that season was his last in major juniors, as he wants to make the jump to the professional level this season.

"I'm here for now and trying to make the team - we'll see what happens," he said. "(This weekend), I just get to know how to play with the guys, show myself a little bit and just (keep getting) back in shape for the season." 

Marino was brought to Pittsburgh from Edmonton in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick in July and signed a two-year entry-level contract in August. The 22-year-old, who is coming off his third season of college hockey at Harvard, measures 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford described him as a mobile blueliner who excels at moving the puck while also playing with an edge to his game.

"His development was accelerated last year and he became a top-10 defenseman in college hockey, giving himself a chance to play at the NHL level," Rutherford added.

POTENTIAL TIME IN PITTSBURGH: SAM LAFFERTY AND ANTHONY ANGELLO

Lafferty could see some time in Pittsburgh after a terrific rookie campaign with WBS. The 24-year-old forward led the Penguins in assists (36) while ranking second in points (49). His assist and point totals ranked fourth (tied) and sixth, respectively, among AHL rookies. But perhaps the most impressive part about Lafferty's season was how he improved as the year went on, finishing with 19 points (5G-9A) in his last 12 games. He led WBS with 14 multi-point performances.

"I think I just want to play my game," said Lafferty, whose speed and playmaking ability are his biggest assets. "Play as hard as I can, play my best, be confident and just get some chemistry going with my linemates. Going up there, we want to win the tournament. Last year we didn't have the greatest showing, so I think that's the main objective for everyone."

Like Lafferty, Angello could make an appearance in Pittsburgh this season after a strong rookie season. The 23-year-old forward recorded 16 goals, which ranked first among WBS rookies, along with 29 points and a plus-17 in 65 games. Angello is a prototypical power forward at 6 foot-5 and 210 pounds and brings a physical presence every time he takes the ice.

"I thought it was a really good developmental year," he said. "It was a step up from what I was used to in college. Everyone's faster, stronger, better playmakers. I thought it was a good year. I thought I became better as a hockey player, I think I became better as a person and I think it set me up for a good season this year."

NEWEST DRAFT PICKS: SAM POULIN AND NATHAN LEGARE

Two of the newest Penguins, draft picks Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare, stood out with their size and skill at this summer's prospect development camp. They'll be looking to carry that over into this weekend's Prospects Challenge.

Poulin and Legare, who have known each other since childhood, are both power forwards who have strong offensive instincts along with plenty of character and compete. Poulin is impressive in the way he can take over a game with his ability to hold onto the puck and make plays. And something to watch with Legare is his shooting ability, which was on full display in July. It's something he works on every day, as evidenced by his 45 goals last season with Baie-Comeau - which ranked second in the QMJHL. 

FIRST YEAR PRO: CALEN ADDISON

Addison stood out at last year's Prospect Challenge with his swift skating, offensive ability and on-ice vocal leadership. Those facets of his game are already evident to WBS head coach Mike Vellucci after just one practice.

"He's very smooth, skilled, smart hockey player," Vellucci said. "Worked him on the power play there and I didn't have to tell him too much. He already understood what we were trying to do. So he's a very good player, great puck mover. Definitely a player for today's game."

Addison comes to this year's Prospect Challenge with some professional experience under his belt: a preseason game with Pittsburgh and three contests with WBS in 2018-19. In addition to gaining some confidence, his biggest takeaways are that he wants to continue working on the defensive side of his game.

"I think my offensive side is something I'll always have," Addison said. "One thing I know and that everyone kind of always repeats to me is just working on my defensive game, making sure that I'm getting stronger and more powerful so that I can battle in the corners against the big men in the American League and the NHL. That's where I'm trying to get to."

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