The Penguins have only six prospects in the junior ranks. Patrick Killeen has already signed an entry-level contract with the Penguins and joined their minor-league affiliate while two more, Nick Petersen and Nathan Moon, will either sign with the Penguins this offseason or become free agents.
The smooth-skating Despres has had a phenomenal season with Saint John, finishing 10th in scoring among defensemen with nine goals and 38 assists in 63 games and a plus-26 rating. The numbers are even more impressive when considering Despres was often paired with Yann Sauve (VAN) and deployed against opponents’ top lines.
For the Penguins, Despres projects to be a prototypical top-four defenseman, with the endurance to play over 25 minutes a game and contribute on both special teams. His offensive game is still somewhat raw but he has shown a good head when it comes to distributing the puck and also has hard and accurate point shot. His defensive game is far more polished as he is good at controlling his gaps and deftly uses his stick to break up passes. He has also shown fearlessness in blocking shots and battling for the puck in the corners. The only real knock on him is that he does not yet have enough muscle on his 6’4, 218-pound frame.
The Saint John Sea Dogs are poised to make a deep playoff run and have mostly steamrolled the competition so Despres should be playing meaningful hockey well into the spring. To date, the young defenseman has 11 assists through 11 games.
Inked to an entry-level deal, Despres will almost definitely return to the QMJHL for another year of seasoning.
Nick Petersen, RW – Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: Drafted 4th round, 121st overall in 2009
For most of the season, the 20-year-old Petersen has been one of the top offensive players for the top offensive team in the QMJHL. The overager has scored goals with regularity, potting 39 in 59 games and never going longer than five games without putting one in the net. His 21.8 shooting percentage tied for first among players who have played in at least 50 games. Petersen also added 40 assists to give him 79 points on the season. Through 11 playoff games so far, the forward has posted four goals and 13 assists.
While Petersen was drafted by the Penguins to score goals, he is also a diligent backchecker and possesses enough north-south speed to be a viable checking forward. It will be an interesting spring for Petersen as not only is he playing for a team expected to go deep into the postseason, but will be playing for a contract from the Penguins.
Andy Bathgate, C – Belleville Bulls
Acquired: Drafted 5th round, 151st overall in 2009
The 2009-10 season should be considered a success for Andy Bathgate mostly because he managed to get through it relatively unscathed. It is a sign that he could eventually develop into a viable contributor to the Penguins organization. Through 59 games, Bathgate posted 13 goals and 27 assists while playing all three forward positions and alongside a bevy of different linemates.
The biggest impediment for Bathgate is his wiry frame that is generously listed at 175 pounds. The forward’s slight build has contributed to an injury-plagued 2008-09 season as well as offensive inconsistencies throughout the 2009-10 season.
Playing on the most offensively anemic team in the OHL, goaltender Patrick Killeen has been depended on heavily all season to keep the Battalion competitive. Through 63 games, the most played of any goaltender in the league, Killeen posted the league’s third best goals-against average at 2.42, seventh-best save percentage at .913, and tied for the league lead with five shutouts.
The herculean effort on Killeen’s part was enough to help Brampton secure a playoff spot. In the first round, the Battalion beat out the Kingston Frontenacs in seven games and except for a game when the netminder allowed six goals, Killeen looked solid in net. The second round was much different as the Battalion were swept in four games and allowed five goals in three of the matches.
Shortly after his playoff run finished, Killeen signed an entry-level deal and was assigned to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. He will not be expected to see any playing time however as the Penguins want him to get assimilated with his future teammates. For the 2010-11 season, expect Killeen to start for the ECHL affiliate in Wheeling.
Nathan Moon, C – Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: Drafted 4th round, 120th overall in 2008
Entering the 2009-10 season, Moon had several issues in his game that needed attention. The two biggest were his defensive play and his propensity for taking dumb penalties. While the quality of his defensive play has increased, he continues to take untimely penalties. His offensive game, an aspect that was never in question, has either stagnated or been partially sacrificed for sounder player in his own end. Either way, it has to be disconcerting for a player who should have registered more than 27 goals and 69 assists.
In his first playoff appearance since 2007, Moon tied for a team lead with three goals and three assists through seven games. Moon, however, also led the team in penalty minutes, most of which were of the interference or delay of game variety. Kingston eventually fell in the first round to the Brampton Battalion.
Now 20 years old, the clock is ticking as to whether Moon fits into the Penguins long-term plans or not. Drafted as a forward with raw natural talents, Moon’s skill level was initially difficult to gauge because, up until this past season, the Kingston Frontenacs were a young and not very competitive team. With a 2009-10 squad that included breakout seasons from Ethan Werek (NYR) and Taylor Doherty (SJ), the expectations for this season had increased for both the team and Moon.
Drafted in the WHL’s 2009 import draft, the Russian goaltender started the season in the KHL as the fourth goaltender on Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s depth chart. It was in December that Americans coach Bob Tory coaxed Pechurski into joining Tri-City.
Pechurski played in a goalie platoon with Drew Owsley from January through February and over that 20-game span, posted a 2.37 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage, and four shutouts. Owsley however went down with an injury in late February 27th meaning the starting duties rested solely on Pechurski. While the Pechurski did respond with several strong games, including a game against Portland in which he blocked 51 of 52 shots, he showed that the full workload was still too much for him to handle and started to wear down. By the end of the WHL’s regular season, Pechurski finished with a 13-10-1 in 27 record in 27 starts, a 2.61 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage, and four shutouts.
With the Americans currently in the Western Conference finals, Pechurski has been relegated to backup duties.
An explosive goaltender who can at times take over a game, the biggest priority for the 19-year-old’s development will be for him to attend the American’s training camp, and play a full season of North American junior hockey.