From June 24-28 the Pittsburgh Penguins held their annual prospect conditioning camp at the Iceoplex at Southpointe. The camp consisted of scrimmages and situational drills all of which were open to the public. In addition to the on-ice practices, there were also conditioning tests at the UPMC Sports Medicine Complex and instructional sessions at Mellon Arena. The prospects also made an appearance at the Penguins youth hockey camp.
The first camp since the lockout not to have a first-round pick present, the Penguins managed to still showcase a talented crop of young prospects.
Twenty-four prospects attended the camp, including 2008 draft picks Nathan Moon, Patrick Killeen, and Nick D’Agostino as well as picks from the 2006 and 2007 drafts and several free-agent invites including 2007 Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan, Cam MacIntyre, Bobby Mignardi, Kyle Gajewksi, and Pittsburgh-native Tyler Murovich.
The goal of the conditioning camp is to identify player strengths and weaknesses and to track players’ developmental progress. While there were none who stood out as Jordan Staal and Angelo Esposito have in the past, this prospect camp also yielded no players who disappointed. There were many who asserted themselves, primarily members of the Penguins 2007 draft class.
The Penguins have stockpiled defensemen in the draft, taking seven out of their 17 total picks in the past three years. Six of the seven defensive picks, along with minor pro player Jonathan D’Aversa, were present for the camp.
Among the defensemen present, Alex Grant showed the most offensive potential. The No. 1 pick in the 2005 QMJHL draft raised his stock considerably during his third season for the Saint John Sea Dogs where he finished seventh in scoring for defensemen in the CHL with 15 goals and 48 points.
The right-handed defenseman was among the most impressive Penguins prospects during all of the camp. While solid throughout the defensive drills, Grant showed that his hands are his biggest asset. Grant has a rocket slap-shot from the point but is also able to shoot the puck from anywhere in the offensive zone with good accuracy. His passing skills were among the best too. He can take hard passes, settle them down, and put the puck on net in one motion.
Also among the strongest skaters in camp, Grant showed strong, fluid lateral skating ability as well as good separation speed. He can take passes in mid-stride and start the rush.
Grant’s lateral skating, passing abilities, and his hard and accurate shot make him a perfect compliment to an already talented group of puck-moving defensemen throughout the Penguins organization.
Another defenseman who impressed during camp was D’Agostino. The 210th and final pick for the Penguins in the 2008 draft, D’Agostino showed good hockey instincts and was always involved in or around the play during scrimmages. The Cornell bound junior-A player was also among the strongest skaters during camp, showing good acceleration and speed.
The most widely talked about Penguins prospect outside the NHL, Caputi demonstrated the most progress after posting 51 goals and 111 points for the Niagra IceDogs in 2007-08 – almost doubling his totals from the year before. He possesses good finishing ability and showed the most panache out of any of the prospects in the camp. The 6’3 left winger possesses a diverse shot repertoire which includes a hard, accurate wrist shot. He is good at staying with the puck and does most of his offensive work around the net and along the boards.
Caputi’s biggest knock had been his skating and while still not the best skater, the tall winger has taken strides, improving his initial step and backward skating ability.
Out of all of the players present, Caputi possessed the most poise and demonstrated the most offensive instinct.
Another player who impressed was the right-handed Veilleux, a hulking center who has power forward written all over him. Veilleux was the biggest player in attendance and at times, demonstrated absolute dominance along the boards and in front of the net.
The 6’5 forward already possesses an NHL body and having signed an entry-level deal in May, will be hoping to make an impact in training camp this fall.
Another player who had a stint in the AHL last season was Jeffrey and his play during camp suggesting continued development and progress. A feisty player, Jeffrey also showed impressive puck protection abilities. His feet are always moving and his first stride is as good as any. His offensive prowess, however, is raw and perhaps overestimated by some. While he scored a lot of goals in the OHL, it does not look as though he has a natural goal-scoring instinct and instead creates his offense through creating havoc around the net.
One of the highlights of camp was during a scrimmage on day three when Jeffrey was hauled down and awarded a penalty shot. While he did not score the goal, his play that drew the penalty shot — solid puck protection and strong skating — typified what Jeffrey will bring to the Penguins organization.
Already 20 years old, the center will likely start the 2008-09 season in the AHL. Jeffrey should be on the short list, however, to make the jump to the NHL next season and perhaps even play alongside former teammate Tyler Kennedy.
Finally, Moon, the 120th overall pick in the 2008 draft, showed why he was a bright spot on an otherwise abysmal season for the Kingston Frontenacs where he posted a -25 to go along with 35 goals and 77 points in 68 games.
Once knocked for his skating, Moon appears to have improved and now has an excellent first stride. He is good at taking outlet passes but needs to work on his give-and-go skills as sometimes he had difficulty in two-on-one drills.
Moon appears to have many offensive instincts that his peers do not possess, but he needs to simplify his game as he was often caught out of position. While Moon still needs to work on his fundamentals, particularly his play away from the puck, he plays with a lot of energy, passion and was usually one of the last players off the ice during camp.
Other players in attendance: Aaron Boogaard, Robert Bortuzzo, David Brown, Jonathan D’Aversa, Ryan Duncan, Kyle Gajewski, Michael Gergen, Nick Johnson, Patrick Killeen, Mark Letestu, Cam MacIntyre, Bobby Mignardi, Tyler Murovich, Jake Muzzin, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Carl Sneep, Brian Strait, Joe Vitale.