The Pittsburgh Penguins have eight prospects playing in the junior ranks. Broken down, the Pens have four players participating in the OHL, three in the QMJHL and one in the WHL. Positionally, they have four centers, a winger and three defensemen.
Robert Bortuzzo, D – Kitchener Rangers
Drafted 2007, 3rd Round, 78th overall
Although the Kitchener Rangers are pacing the overall standings in the OHL with a 21-3 record, Bortuzzo hasn’t had the opportunity to share in all of the winning. Because of injury, the defensive-minded rearguard has been limited to only nine appearances on the season.
While the Rangers have obviously played great hockey despite missing Bortuzzo’s presence, they should only be helped with the return of his physical play and shot-blocking ability. For the season, Bortuzzo has not recorded any points in his nine contests, while posting a plus-three rating and recording 11 penalty minutes.
Luca Caputi, W – Niagara Ice Dogs
Drafted 2007, 4th round, 111th overall
A potential power forward at the NHL level, Luca Caputi has proven to be quite powerful this season for the Ice Dogs. While Niagara currently sits right around the .500 mark with a 14-12-0-1 record, Caputi has starred. Caputi currently sits in 18th place in the OHL scoring race with 36 points in 27 games. He has also displayed a physical side by recording 47 penalty minutes.
Caputi also suited up on Canada’s OHL squad that took on a team from Russia in the 2007 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. He dressed for the first game, a 5-3 OHL win, and assisted on a goal by Dale Mitchell.
Dustin Jeffrey, C – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Drafted 2007, 6th round, 171st overall
Dustin Jeffrey continues to show that he might one day emerge as one of the steals of the 2007 draft. His Greyhounds team currently sits in first place in the West Division with a 19-6-1-1 record, the second best mark in the OHL. Personally, Jeffrey ranks 10th in the OHL scoring race 16 goals, 27 assists and 43 points in 24 games. In addition to his strong junior play, Jeffrey also excelled at the Penguins training camp, which earned him an entry-level contract in mid-October.
Jeffrey also played on the OHL squad in the 2007 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. He went scoreless while dressing for the OHL’s 4-2 win in Game 2 of the series.
Jake Muzzin, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Drafted 2007, 5th round, 141st overall
A one-time top prospect prior to his draft year, Jake Muzzin has finally seemed to shed the injury bug that has dogged him in the past. Muzzin joins Jeffrey on the powerful Sault Ste. Marie squad that trails only the Kitchener Rangers in the standings.
Muzzin has appeared in all 27 Greyhounds contests this season, and has scored two goals and assisted on eight others for a total of 10 points, a total which ranks him third among defensemen on his team. Muzzin has also posted a plus-seven rating and 20 penalty minutes. Both of his goals have come with the man advantage.
Angelo Esposito, C – Quebec Remparts
Drafted 2007, 1st Round, 20th overall
The Quebec Remparts have struggled in 2007-08 with a 15-14-0-1 mark, but their star center Angelo Esposito is not a reason why. Esposito has scored 13 times and recorded 17 assists for 30 points in 24 games. He has a winger capable of matching his offensive creativity in rookie Mikhail Stefanovich. The two have developed a great chemistry with Stefanovich holding a one-point advantage in the team scoring race, albeit in more games.
As great as Esposito’s scoring numbers look, they only tell part of the tale of how well he is playing in 2007-08 as compared to 2006-07. Esposito has recorded 82 shots on goal, or an average of 3.4 shots per game, figures that contrast the Penguins as a group. Finally, Esposito is winning 50.9 percent of his faceoffs, another area where the Penguins have long struggled.
Last month, Esposito was part of the QMJHL’s team that played Russia in the 2007 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. He went scoreless in Game 1 and did not appear during the second game.
Alex Grant, D – Saint John Sea Dogs
Drafted 2007, 4th round, 118th overall
The Saint John Sea Dogs have struggled out of the gate in 2007-08 with an 11-15-1-3 record. Defenseman Alex Grant, however, has not struggled. Instead, he is first among defensemen on the Sea Dogs with 12 points, including seven goals and five assists. Grant has also posted 42 penalty minutes. Perhaps even more impressive, Grant sits atop the Sea Dogs’ chart for shots on goal with 89 in 27 games, or an average of 3.3 shots per game.
Grant was also yet another member of the Penguins organization who suited up in the 2007 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. He played in both games for the QMJHL, did not record a point, but did collect two minor penalties during the second game.
Keven Veilleux, C – Victoriaville Tigers
Drafted 2007, 2nd round, 51st overall
Yet another skilled center in an organization filled with players who fit that description, Keven Veilleux has led his Tigers’ squad to a 17-13 record thus far, good enough for fourth place in the Telus division. As far as Veilleux’s individual statistics are concerned, the slick-passing pivot has lit the lamp six times and set up 23 others for a total of 29 points in 30 games. Those figures place him third on his team in scoring behind Toby Lafrance and Alexandre Monahan.
One area where Veilleux appears to be struggling is in the face-off circle, winning only 45.1 percent of his draws. He also has a minus-six rating. A highlight to Veilleux’s season was when he scored a goal in the shootout to help secure a 3-2 victory for the QMJHL over Russia in the second game of the 2007 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel, C – Vancouver Giants
Drafted 2007, 3rd round, 80th overall
Casey Pierro-Zabotel has worn three different sweaters during the 2007-08 season, and done very well offensively in each. He began the campaign with the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL and dominated the lesser competition to the tune of 15 goals and 12 assists in only 17 contests. Then, after failing to make the grade academically, Pierro-Zabotel elected to forego a scholarship offer to Michigan Tech and instead signed with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL.
The Giants have a strong club this season, as evidenced by their 18-7-1-3 mark, which has them sitting atop the B.C. Division. Pierro-Zabotel has fit in well with his new squad, scoring a goal and four assists in six games. He has posted a plus-three rating.
In between playing for those squads, Pierro-Zabotel also represented Canada West in the World Junior A Challenge. Again, Pierro-Zabotel recorded excellent offensive numbers with three goals, four assists and seven points in only five games.