Top 10 prospects
1. Eric Tangradi, LW
2. Alex Goligoski, D
3. Alex Grant, D
4. Luca Caputi, LW
5. Dustin Jeffrey, C
6. Casey Pierro-Zabotel, LW
7. Brian Strait, D
8. Carl Sneep, D
9. Nick Johnson, RW
10. John Curry, G
The Penguins are picking in the bottom of half of the draft for the third year in a row and their success is starting to reflect that fact in their relatively barren prospect cupboards. Last season the Penguins had only four picks, none before the fourth round. The most highly touted of the four, Nathan Moon, remains a project, with great offensive ability, but a somewhat combustible on-ice personality.
The Penguins for the second consecutive season made the Stanley Cup Finals and have the core of their team locked up for the next four seasons, so team needs are few. However, the same concern that plagued the Penguins last offseason and for most of the past regular season does not appear to be going away — finding wingers to compliment Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
For the past two seasons, the Penguins have supplemented their star centers with veteran rental players and checking forwards. While it is difficult to argue with the results, only one of the Penguins forwards, Petr Sykora, scored at least 25 goals this past season. Top-six wingers Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Sykora are all also scheduled to be unrestricted free agents and the Penguins can not afford to re-sign all three. Prospects Eric Tangradi, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Keven Veilleux, and Luca Caputi are all projected as forwards with top-six ability but none have made convincing cases they will be ready for NHL action next season. The closest of three, Caputi, should be given a long look in training camp, but it looks as though the Penguins will once again have to go the route of free agency or trade to address their needs at wing.
Forwards Craig Adams, Mike Zigomanis, and Miroslav Satan are all also scheduled to be free agents, although prospects such as Joe Vitale and Dustin Jeffrey should be given opportunities to fill the vacated spots on the fourth line.
On defense, Rob Scuderi, Philippe Boucher, and Hal Gill could all also be lost to unrestricted free agency this summer. The Penguins will likely try to retain at least one of the veteran blueliners but with over $45 million already committed to payroll next season, it is unlikely they will be able to make competitive offers. Scuderi was particularly impressive during the Penguins extended playoff run. Prospects Alex Goligoski and Ben Lovejoy could supplant the spots vacated by Gill and Scuderi and their superior skating ability does better fit coach Dan Bylsma’s approach. But the Penguins will still have to make a move this off-season, through a trade or a signing a free agent, to address the loss of a veteran blue line presence.
A lack of depth in net was apparent when Marc-Andre Fleury sustained a lower-body injury and missed about a month of play. The Penguins could lose Mathieu Garon to free agency and AHL starter John Curry has only two NHL starts to his resume.
Joe Vitale, Jeffrey, Nick Johnson and Caputi provide a blend of gritty play and offensive ability to the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Players such as Tim Wallace, Joey Haddad, and Paul Bissonnette provide the affiliate with some sandpaper.
Veilleux, Tangradi, and Pierro-Zabotel are all also under contract and after finishing their second year in juniors and will playing professionally next season for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.
Defensemen Goligoski and Lovejoy have made appearances in the NHL during the 2008-09 regular season and should be ready for fulltime NHL duties next season. Prospects Jon D’Aversa, Robert Bortuzzo, and Alex Grant will assure the Penguins have solid prospect depth on defense although none are remotely close to making an impact in the NHL. Brian Strait and Carl Sneep having recently finished their third seasons in the NCAA, while it remains to be seen as to whether they will start with the Penguins next season, both provide further depth for the organization.
The Penguins have a plethora of goaltending prospects behind Curry with Thiessen, Chad Johnson, David Brown, Pechurski, and Killeen. Both Johnson and Thiessen had standout seasons last year and could push Curry for the top spot in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton next season.
One glaring weakness is the team’s inability to draft and develop a goal-scoring winger to play alongside Crosby or Malkin. Prospects such as Veilleux, Tangradi, Pierro-Zabotel, and Caputi have shown a great amount of offensive ability at lower levels of hockey, but none of it has yet to translate into NHL success. With $30 million committed to five players through 2012-13, the Penguins must draft and develop affordable young talent to compliment their core group of players if they hope to remain competitive for the future. Picking up at least one, if not two offensively minded forwards with their first three picks would go a long way to assure the cupboards remain well stocked.
Past those who are already under contract, the Penguins do not have many prospects. Only two, Moon and Killeen, will return to play in juniors. Five players, forward Brian Gifford, and defensemen D’Agostino, Chris Peluso, Sneep, and Strait are eligible to play collegiately next year.
The Penguins draft players out of the CHL, more heavily out of the QMJHL than most other NHL teams. The Penguins don’t use a lot of draft picks on Europeans. Alexander Pechurski is the only European prospect of any real promise.
The approach to goaltending seems to be quantity over quality — draft a lot of goaltenders and see who sticks.
The Penguins lean towards scoring in the first round.
The Penguins have seven picks this season. They gained Tampa Bay’s third round pick last summer when they traded the rights to Ryan Malone, and Tampa’s fifth when they later traded the rights to Michal Sersen. They lost their fifth from when they traded for Gill at the 2007-08 trade deadline and their third in a move for Guerin this past deadline. Since the Penguins are picking so low in the first two rounds of the draft, it would not be surprising if they were to trade up to get a better first round spot. Likewise it would not be shocking for them to trade down to acquire several better second and third round picks.
With three picks in the first 75 selections, the organization will continue to address the need for scoring forwards and defensive depth.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Jeremy Morin, C — USNTDP
The Penguins need a goal-scoring forward. Despite character issues, Morin’s pure goal-scoring ability is something that simply can not be ignored.