For many of the Penguins prospects playing in juniors, this will be their last year. Alex Grant, Keven Veilleux, Joey Haddad, and Eric Tangradi are all signed to entry-level deals and are expected to join the Penguins ranks either in the spring when their junior season is finished or in the fall for the beginning of the 2009-10 season.
It is noteworthy to mention all of the junior forward prospects have scored at least 30 goals and have shown an ability to play wing – two assets the Penguins NHL roster is starved for.
Alex Grant, D – Shawinigan Cataractes
6’2, 190 pounds
4th round, 118th overall, 2007
From the beginning of the season to the end, Grant appears to be a different player. Grant posted strong numbers with 13 goals, 37 assists in 60 games, seventh most among league defensemen, but has become a much more disciplined player, taking fewer penalties, and playing a stronger two-way game. Traded in early January from Saint John to Shawinigan in a package deal, Grant posted four goals, 15 assists in 23 games for Shawinigan despite an eight-game pointless streak for most of February. Although an offensive defenseman by trade, Grant’s ability to handle the puck, good reach, and lateral skating ability make him able to play a variety of roles for any team. Grant does need to add more muscle to his 6’2 190-pound frame as gets knocked off the puck too easily.
Shawinigan faces the Victoriaville Tigers in the first round of the playoffs.
Keven Veilleux, RW – Rimouski Oceanic
6’5, 214 pounds
2nd round, 51st overall, 2007
Opting to forgo surgery until the offseason, Veilleux returned to action Feb. 11 after missing three months with an injured shoulder. Not only has Veilleux played through pain, but he has played the most dominant hockey of his career, posting five goals, 16 assists in his last 10 games and 15 goals, 33 assists in only 29 games. Most recently, the 6’5 forward was awarded the TELUS Player of the Week award for March 2-8 where he posted three goals, six assists in three games. Since returning, Veilleux has been the model of consistency and an integral part of a 17-game winning streak Rimouski put together from Jan. 23 to Mar. 6. With Rimouski slated to host the Memorial Cup this spring, Veilleux’s return to action could not have been timelier.
Joey Haddad, RW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
6’0, 200 pounds
Signed as undrafted free agent in October of 2008
Haddad has had a great deal of success this season playing mostly a second-line role for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Although his numbers, 30 goals, 24 assists, were less than last season’s total of 31 goals, 31 assists, he has played in 21 fewer games this season. His ability to play on the forecheck, in the corners, and around the net make him versatile. He has also seen time on both special teams. At 6’0, 200 pounds Haddad has a thick frame and a low center of gravity that makes him hard to knock off the puck. With the regular season now officially over, Haddad can now focus on Cape Breton’s first-round match-up against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel, LW – Vancouver Giants
6’2, 210 pounds
3rd round, 80th overall, 2007
The 2008-09 season has been good to Pierro-Zabotel. After getting married over the WHL’s Christmas break, the big forward continued to dominate the WHL, posting 36 goals, 79 assists playing in all 72 games. He has been one of the most offensively prolific players this season, posting 33 multi-point games and being held pointless on only 11 occasions. The Kamloops native has shown the ability this season to play equally well in traffic or in open ice. His passing is crisp and his shot repertoire diverse and accurate. Pierro-Zabotel’s skating, once considered sub-par, has improved dramatically this season as has his play away from the puck. Pierro-Zabotel led the WHL in scoring by seven points (with 115) and is a likely contender for several individual awards this season.
The Vancouver Giants are among the top-ranked teams in all of Canadian junior hockey and are currently ramping up for their seventh straight playoff appearance. The Giants face the Prince George Cougars in a best-of-seven series.
Nathan Moon, C – Kingston Frontenacs
5’11, 185 pounds
4th round, 120th overall, 2008
Despite a tumultuous season for the Kingston Frontenacs, Moon has excelled, particularly during the final two months of the season. Since February, Moon scored 15 goals, 17 assists, and was a +12 in 19 games. Those are respectable numbers when considering he was -21 in his first 43 games. He led his team with 32 goals, 40 assists, Moon’s offensive abilities combined with his right-handedness continue to make him an appealing prospect to the Penguins organization. His reputation for undisciplined play, in part a byproduct of playing for a struggling team, has diminished this season as Moon has focused that frustration into becoming more of an agitator, drawing more penalties for his team than in the past.
For the second year in a row, the Frontenacs finished the season on the outside of the playoff bubble, so Moon is done with his junior season.
Patrick Killeen, G – Brampton Battalion
6’4, 194 pounds
6th round, 180th overall, 2008
Given the chance at the beginning of the season to be the Battalion’s starter, Killeen was relegated to playing in a platoon with Brandon Foote. After Foote was traded Guelph for Thomas McCollum, Killeen became the backup. His stats are comparable to last season with 19 wins, 11 losses in 34 starts and his 2.85 goals against average is ranked seventh in the league. Still, Killeen needs to work on his consistency if he expects to be a starter one day. He is too easily knocked off his game when he allows a soft goal and he goes on extended cold streaks.
Killeen continues to back up Thomas McCollum as the Brampton Battallion start their playoff march against the Peterborough Petes.
Jake Muzzin, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
6’3, 223 pounds
5th round, 141st overall, 2007
Playing for a struggling Greyhounds team, about mid-way through the season, the chains were taken off of Muzzin and he started consistently jumping into the play. In the month of February, Muzzin posted one goal, seven assists in 13 games to cap off his total of six goals, 23 assists on the season. While his offensive game will always remain secondary to his physical play, the 6’3, 223-pound defenseman has become a more complete player this season, playing on both special teams and in a shutdown role against opposing team’s top lines. He has been a heart and soul player for the Greyhounds this season, continuing to play all out even after his team was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Still unsigned, the Penguins have until June 1 to offer him a deal.
Robert Bortuzzo, D – Kitchener Rangers
6’4, 207 pounds
3rd round, 78th overall, 2007
After missing most of the season due to the rehab associated with off-season shoulder surgery, Bortuzzo returned to the Kitchener Rangers on Jan. 23. While his presence alone was not enough to boost the struggling Rangers into playoff contention, he has had a great level of personal success, posting one goal, 16 assists in 23 games. He has played on both special teams, showing a knack for distributing the puck on the power play, and has gradually started to play with the level of toughness that he was known for. Bortuzzo’s future with the Penguins franchise remains in limbo now as he remains unsigned.
Eric Tangradi, LW – Belleville Bulls
6’4, 221 pounds
Acquired via trade with Anaheim in March of 2009
2nd round, 42nd overall, 2007
The newest member of the Penguins pool of prospects, Tangradi comes to the organization as part of a package deal that sent Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks. A native of Philadelphia, Tangradi is among the scoring leaders in the OHL with 38 goals, 50 assists in 55 games. At 6’4, 221 pounds, he has a prototypical power-forward frame to which he uses to his advantage. He plays in the greasy areas of the ice –- in front of the net and along the boards — and is known for a surly on-ice disposition. Tangradi plays on both special teams and is fairly underrated as far as his penalty-killing ability is concerned. His skating, particularly his first step, is solid for a player his size. Tangradi’s blend of skill, size, and toughness make him the most promising prospect in the Penguins pool.
The Belleville Bulls are among the top-ranked teams in the OHL and are expected to make a deep run into the playoffs this season. Their first-round matchup is against the Sudbury Wolves.
Nicholas D’Agostino, D – St. Michael’s Buzzers
6’3, 192 pounds
7th round, 210th overall, 2008
One of the Penguins’ more intriguing prospects, D’Agostino combines gifted passing and skating abilities with good hockey sense. He has surpassed his 2007-08 totals of five goals, 18 assists with nine goals, 24 assists this season but has also become a stronger presence at both ends of the ice. He has also quarterbacked the Buzzers’ power play this season and takes a regular shift on the penalty kill. D’Agostino remains the Penguins youngest prospect, not turning 19 until June 24. Committed to playing for Cornell next season, the defenseman has a great deal of untapped potential and will likely be a few years before he joins the professional ranks.
The St. Michael’s Buzzers season ended in late February with the Buzzers falling to the Toronto Junior Canadians in six games of the first round of the OPJHL playoffs.