Of the 24 draft selections the Penguins have made over the past four seasons, only three have been European-trained prospects. None werre drafted before the fifth round nor appear to be elite prospects. Only two, goaltender Alexander Pechurski and defenseman Viktor Ekbom, appear to fit into the Penguins long-term plans.
Alexander Pechurski, G – Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)/Tri City Americans (WHL)
5th round, 150th overall, 2008
Pechurski started the 2009-10 season with an invite to the 2010 WJC Orientation Camp in July. After making a good impression on Russian Junior National Team head coach Vladimir Plysuchev, Pechurski was invited to the September Four Nations tournament in Finland. In the three games he played, the athletic netminder posted a 1-2 record and allowed eight goals in what was a mixed performance. However, after returning to his KHL team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he was relegated to second or third-string backup duties.
Before the 2010 WJCs in December, Pechurski was cut from the roster. It was also right around this time the Russian netminder headed to North America to play for the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Since the 19-year-old’s arrival to the Canadian major junior circuit, he has been a dynamic net presence and even played half a game in the NHL when the Penguins recalled him on an emergency basis. In 27 starts with Tri-City, Pechurski has a 13-10-1 record, 2.61 goals-against average, .912 save percentage, and four shutouts.
An athletic and explosive netminder who has experienced success in international tournaments, Pechurski appears to have adapted to the tighter style of hockey played in North America. Still, with Marc-Andre Fleury, John Curry, and Brad Thiessen ahead of him on the depth chart, it would be to his benefit to spend another season in the WHL.
Viktor Ekbom, D – Linkoping HC (SEL)
6th round, 181st overall, 2009
Drafted in 2009 because of a strong defensive performance in the 2009 WJCs, Ekbom is now in his first full season of SEL level hockey. However, as is the custom in European men’s professional leagues, the 21-year-old has been playing alongside grown men and not seen a great deal of ice time. In 47 games with Linkoping HC, Ekbom has posted two assists, 16 penalty minutes, and a minus-1 rating.
Ekbom projects to be a two-way defenseman who can probably chip in on the penalty-kill. He is not considered an offensively gifted player but his puck-handling ability is good enough to start the play out of his own zone. The biggest knock on his play would probably be his lack of mobility. Also, at 6’2 194 pounds, he does not fully play to his size.
Signed with Linkoping through the 2010-11 season, Ekbom could cross the pond as early as the summer of 2011. He is by no means an elite-level prospect but he could add valuable depth.
Timo Seppanen, D – KalPa (SM-Liiga)
7th round, 185th overall, 2006
In his third season with KalPa of the SM-Liiga, Timo Seppanen has not quite progressed as expected. Drafted because of his offensive potential, the 22-year-old has simplified his game to be a more responsible defensive player. In 44 games, he has one goal, four assists, and 34 penalty minutes.
The 6’1 and 209-pound Finn is a second-pairing defenseman for KalPa and plays on both special teams. However, it is his offensive game that is most intriguing. A smooth puck-mover with good lateral mobility and a hard shot, Seppanen possesses many of the tools to develop into a power-play quarterback. His decision-making still leaves a lot to be desired as he tends to overplay the puck and try and force plays up ice. On the defensive side of things, he needs to improve his gap control and show a greater willingness to sacrifice his body.
Seppanen’s contract with KalPa will be finished at the end of this season meaning he could join the Penguins organization as soon as the 2010-11 season. There are questions however as to whether his package of skills will translate to North American hockey.
Johannes Salmonsson – LW – Davos (Swiss-A)
2nd round, 31st overall, 2004
After spending most of his professional career in the Swedish Elite League, 24-year-old Salmonsson signed with Biel of the Swiss-A league for the 2009-10 season. After six productive games in which the forward posted two goals and three assists, Salmonsson was traded to Davos. There, the 6’2, 183-pound forward posted only five goals and six assists in 23 games, totaling seven goals and nine assists for the season.
Salmonsson is a two-way player who has at times shown a high level of creativity with the puck. He also possesses the physical strength and skating ability to play strong on the forecheck. The only thing really plaguing him from being an effective top-six forward is his inability to play a consistent game.
It is safe to say Salomonsson does not really fit into the Penguins future plans. He is getting long in the tooth for a prospect and has yet to show a desire to play North American brand hockey.