The Pittsburgh Penguins have four collegiate prospects playing their freshman year in 2009-10 and seven overall.
The 2009-10 freshman class has adapted fairly well though and in some cases even excelled for their respective teams.
Nick D’Agostino, D – Cornell University (ECAC)
2008, 7th round, 210th overall
For 19-year-old D’Agostino, the increased level of competition has been only part of what he called a "big adjustment" to the collegiate style of game from junior.
“On top of that, it’s the first time in my career where I am competing not only for ice time, but for a spot in the lineup day-in and day-out,” he said.
The left-handed defenseman has seen a fair amount of early success though. In 16 games, he has two goals, seven assists and only two minor penalties. More importantly, he has assimilated to the tighter, system-oriented style of game employed in the college ranks. The slick defenseman attributes much of his early success to Big Red head coach Mike Schafer and his assistants,
“The coaching staff here is one of the main reasons for my success in the first part of my freshman season," D’Agostino said. "They have provided me with the opportunity to play good minutes on a good team, as well as continually trying to refine the smaller details of my game, details that were looked over in the junior ranks. Working hard at practice every day and going through this type of competition have made me a better player.”
In addition to his regular even-strength shift, D’Agostino has also skated on the second-unit power play.
For other forwards, a stat line of zero goals and zero assists through 24 games would be at the very least alarming. Not the case for Pioneer forward Gifford, however. Now in his senior season, the 24-year-old Gifford has fully settled into the role of a defensive-minded shutdown forward. At 6’2, 205 pounds, and with a long reach, he has the physical tools to be a solid checking forward at the professional level. Depending on how the remainder of Denver’s season goes, Gifford is a good bet to join the Penguins on an amateur try-out basis this spring.
A former Minnesota high school goal-scoring sensation, Hanowski was drafted with the hopes that those offensive abilities would eventually translate to the NHL level. While it is far too early to tell if he will develop into an offensively dynamic NHL forward, the 19-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance through his freshman season, totaling six goals and seven assists through his first 26 games. Playing on a third line for most of the season, Hanowski has worked on becoming a more complete forward, particularly improving his play without the puck. He has also chipped on the man-advantage, scoring three goals, five assists playing mostly on the second unit.
A dependable if understated defenseman for Bemidji State, Peluso’s senior season has not been without some bumps. The most notable came in the form of a broken finger sustained on November 15th. The 23-year-old missed six games before finally returning in late December. Peluso is fairly undersized at 5’10, but because his game is predicated around puck possession and smart play within the Bemidji Beavers system, the lack of size is not detrimental. It will be interesting to see if the Penguins make a move to retain Peluso. Like Gifford, he is a little bit older and should be ready to take on greater responsibilities sooner.
Philip Samuelsson, D – Boston College (Hockey East)
2009, 2nd round, 61st overall
The second of four defensemen the Penguins drafted in 2009, Samuelsson is neither the most skilled nor the largest defenseman in the prospect pool. He does however do all of the little things that the Penguins organization loves in their defensive defensemen: block shots, kill penalties, play hard along the boards, and keep the front of the net clear. His stick work, in both the offensive and defensive zone, has been strong as he can break-up a play in his own zone and start one the other way with ease. Through 22 games, the 18-year-old has also displayed some fair puck-distribution abilities in the offensive zone, posting one goal and seven assists.
In his senior season, 22-year-old Sneep looks to have finally developed into the top-pairing defenseman he was envisioned as when drafted in 2006. Through 22 games the Minnesota native leads team defensemen in scoring, having registered six goals, 10 assists. He also plays in all situations and has a lot of success on the man-advantage, registering four goals, six assists. Most importantly, however, Sneep has played more physically and looks to have learned to fully utilize his 6’3 205-pound frame. There is no question that the Penguins will try to get Sneep under contract as soon as his collegiate season is done. With $35 million of salary cap space committed to seven players through 2011-12, the organization desperately needs affordable young talent to remain competitive.
Another member of the ever-growing stable of mobile, puck-moving defensemen, Velischek has shown the ability to assimilate to the NCAA level of play smoothly. Not an overly tall player, the freshman has a thick 6’0, 200-pound frame that he is able to use to protect the puck along the boards and rub out opponents in his own zone. Still, it is in the offensive zone where the 19-year-old shows the most promise as he is a smart puck distributor and has a good array of point shots. In 23 games, the New Jersey native posted one goal and eight assists while displaying great poise with the puck. He has played mostly in even-strength situations but has seen spot duties on the second-unit power play, posting a goal and two assists on the man-advantage.