It would be an understatement to suggest the Pittsburgh Penguins prefer North American prospects over their European counterparts. In the past five drafts, the Penguins have selected six European players out of 36 draft picks. The trend does not appear to slow either as the organization has selected only two European players (none before the fifth round) since General Manager Ray Shero took over in 2006. The absence of European players in the system is in part due to the lack of a transfer agreement between European and NHL clubs.
Alexander Pechurski, G – Metallurg Magnitogorsk
5th round, 150th overall, 2008
Drafted because of his raw potential, North America got its first good look at Pechurski when he replaced Sergei Gaiduchenko in game three of the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. Although he struggled in game three of the tournament, Pechurski played strong in his only start, posting over 40 saves in what ended up being a loss to the Canadian team.
Pechurski is considered an athletic goaltender with a great level of raw talent. A major impediment to his progress, however, is that he is the third string goaltender for Magnigorsk, meaning he sees no starts and little actual game time. Even if Pechurski sees a decent amount of time in the U20 Tyumen Region cup, this season can be considered something of a waste for the 18-year-old prospect.
Patrick Ehelechner, G – Sinupret Ice Tigers (DEL)
5th round, 139th overall, 2003
Acquired via trade with San Jose in 2006
Part of a package deal that sent Nils Ekman from the San Jose Sharks to Pittsburgh for a second-round pick, Ehelchner was brought in to provide organizational depth in net. In his brief appearances in North America, the 24-year-old netminder underwhelmed and returned to the German league for more seasoning.
A backup for the Sinupret Ice Tigers, Ehelechner’s play has improved dramatically over the past year, posting a GAA of 2.10 and a save percentage of .927 over seven games.
With John Curry, David Brown, Alexander Pechursky, Patrick Killeen, and Chad Johnson all having passed Ehelechner on the depth chart, it seems fair to say that the his time with the Penguins is fleeting.
Johannes Salmonsson, W — Rögle BK (SEL)
2nd round, 31st overall, 2004
Thought to be a steal when he was drafted, Salmonsson’s difficulty to adapt to the North American style of game combined with his lack of offensive production in the SEL has caused him to drop down the depth charts considerably over the past two seasons.
Salmonsson is considered to be a good all-around player as he is strong on the forecheck and backcheck, an above average skater, and has a good mind for the game. However, he is inconsistent in his production, failing to convert the majority of the offensive opportunities he creates. He does however bring a consistent effort every night and shows a willingness to battle for loose pucks in the corners and along the boards.
The 23-year-old has good size for North American hockey and has improved his skating over the past two years. Still, because of his limited offensive production in the SEL and the Penguins need for top-six wingers, Salmonsson does not seem like a particularly good fit for the Penguins future.
Timo Seppanen, D – KalPa Kuopio (SM-liiga)
7th round, 185th overall, 2006
The only European player the Penguins took in the 2006 draft, Seppanen is defenseman for KalPa Kuopio of the Finnish League. After last season in which he had six goals, six assists in 49 games, the pressure was on for the 22-year-old to follow up his breakout season with another strong outing. While the 2008-09 season started kind of slow for the left-handed shot, he did pick up his pace in the late fall and found a groove by the winter.
Seppanen is an offensively-minded defenseman who is among leaders on his team for time on the ice. He plays on the second pairing of defense and sees some time on the power play. Still, the young defenseman needs a lot of work in his own zone before he can flirt with the idea of playing North American hockey. He can also be a liability when carrying the puck through the neutral zone.
Seppanen is still relatively young. With the Penguins scheduled to lose a handful of defensemen through free-agency this summer, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the slick Finn could get an invite to training camp. Still, he would likely need at least a year of seasoning in the minor leagues.
Evgeni Isakov, LW – Metallurg Serov (Rus-2)
5th round, 161st overall, 2003
Also approaching the stage in his career where he can no longer be considered a prospect, Isakov plays in the Russian second tier league for Metallurg Serov.
A player who has the tools to be a power forward, Isakov uses his size to his advantage when playing through traffic. He aggressively pursues the puck and is considered strong on the forecheck. He is an above average north-south skater and his offensive abilities are above average. Nonetheless, Isakov does not have the pedigree of talent to play in the KHL let alone the NHL and will likely not play hockey on this side of the Atlantic let alone for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Isakov started the season with Yugra Khanty-Mansysk but was traded to Metallurg Serov mid-way through the season.