Penguins A to Z: Can PO Joseph take the next step?

With the Penguins’ 2021-22 season coming to a quick ending in the first round of the playoffs, the Tribune-Review will offer Penguins A to Z, a player-by-player look at all 54 individuals signed to an NHL contract — including those whose deals do not begin until the 2022-23 season — with the organization, from mid-level prospect Niclas Almari to top-six winger Jason Zucker.

PO Joseph

Position: Defenseman

Shoots: Right

Age: 22

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 185 pounds

2021-22 NHL statistics: Four games, zero points (zero goals, zero assists)

2021-22 AHL statistics: 61 games, 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists)

Contract: In the final year of a three-year entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $863,333. Pending restricted free agent this upcoming offseason.

Acquired: Trade, June 29, 2019

Last season: In one sense, the 2021-22 campaign was a step back for Joseph in that he didn’t play that many NHL games.

After appearing in 16 NHL contests during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, he appeared only four games this past season simply because he wasn’t needed that often due to the club’s blue line being mostly healthy, particularly on the port side.

In another sense, the 2021-22 season was a major step forward for Joseph given how prolific he was at the American Hockey League level. In his third professional season, Joseph established career-highs in all offensive categories and led the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ defensemen in goals.

The bulk of Joseph’s time in the NHL came early in the season. He was recalled twice and played all four of his NHL contests in 2021-22 by Nov. 13.

After being assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Nov. 14, Joseph began racking up points. In 10 games before New Year’s Eve, he posted eight points (three goals, five assists).

From Dec. 28 until Feb. 2, Joseph was shuffled twice between the taxi squad and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton but did not appear in an NHL game.

Joseph really turned it on between Jan. 29 and March 13 when he produced 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in only 17 games.

His production took a dip during the last weeks of the regular season as he generated only two points (one goal, one assist) in his final 16 games. But once the postseason began, Joseph began to create offense once again as he posted five points (one goal, four assists).

The future: In the immediate sense, the Penguins are bound to extend a qualifying offer to Joseph, a pending restricted free agent, simply to retain his rights.

Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to how he fits in on the NHL roster.

If he were a right-handed defenseman, he would probably be in the lineup every night. Joseph has the skating and the offensive acumen to be a regular NHL defenseman, particularly for a team like the Penguins who demand their defensemen be involved in the attack.

But as a left-hander, he is simply stuck behind veterans Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson and Marcus Pettersson (and probably reserve Mark Friedman).

The Penguins could probably free up some ample salary cap space and use it to fortify other parts of the roster if they found a way to jettison Dumoulin, Matheson or Pettersson, all of whom have price tags in excess of $4 million. A byproduct of such a transaction would be opening up space for Joseph who won’t be commanding a hefty salary on his second NHL contract.

Joseph, a first-round pick (No. 23 overall) of the Arizona Coyotes in 2017, took a big step forward this past season. If he’s to take another step toward a permanent role on the NHL roster, things beyond his control will have to take place.

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at or via Twitter .

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