The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the 2011 NHL draft with five picks and left with two defenseman and three forwards. They spent their first two picks on defensemen, the second time in three years they have done so, and drafted several project forwards in the later rounds.
While there may have been some initial shock among fans that the organization drafted defensemen early, especially given the stockpile of blueliners they currently have in the organization, it should be no surprise given General Manager Ray Shero’s history. In his previous five drafts with the Penguins, Shero selected five defensemen in the first three rounds, a number that is accentuated by the fact the organization has traded away many of its early round picks over the past few years. Prior to joining the Penguins, Shero worked in the front office of the Nashville Predators, an organization renowned for stockpiling and developing defensemen.
Joe Morrow, D – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
1st round, 23rd overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 199 lbs
It may have been a surprise to some the Pens selected Joe Morrow with their first-round pick but, though considering what the Penguins look for in defensemen, it shouldn’t be.
"I’m a good skater and I like to move the puck," Morrow said when asked to provide a scouting report for himself. "I like to play the game in the opposing end. It’s a little rougher in the defensive end but once you get into (the opposing) end I think I may shine a little more than other people. I just kind of have a mindset for offense. I can shoot the puck pretty hard."
Morrow was one of the top two-way defensemen in the WHL this past season, posting nine goals, 40 points, and a plus-23 through 60 games. More tellingly though was the vast character and leadership he displayed over 2010-11, playing top defensive minutes in place of injured teammates, often while battling through nagging injuries himself.
The articulate 18-year-old models himself after Chicago Blackhawks defenseman and former WHLer Brent Seabrook. "He is a hard nosed type guy in the defensive end but he’s got a lot of offense to his game too. He shoots the puck hard, is a really smart hockey player, and I really look up to guys who can think the game like that."
Although Morrow plans to do everything within his power to make the Penguins squad this coming fall, he is aware a lot of work has to be done between now and then, "I’d like to be more sound defensively and to be a little more aggressive in my own end. Have more authority to do things quicker with a little more pressure. Not necessarily physical play but the intensity aspect of things."
Morrow will likely play in the WHL next year and, assuming he continues to progress at the same pace, should be ready to contribute at the NHL level in two or three seasons.
A solid defensive defenseman and frequent partner of fellow Penguin prospect Reid McNeill, Harrington fits a similar mold as many of the Penguins other defensive prospects. He is a strong skater, able to move the puck well up the ice, and most importantly loves to make the experience in his own end as unpleasant as possible for opposing forwards.
"I try to be a very reliable defensive defenseman. Hard to play against for the other team’s top lines," Harrington said when asked about his game, "You have to be physical to limit their scoring chances."
Physical play aside, Harrington is thought to be very sound at both ends of the ice, often times to the point where he goes unnoticed on shifts. He also has a strong point shot, collecting six goals and 16 assists through 67 games. The lack of on-ice prevalence was perceived as a problem in some circles but a strength in others. Regardless, the Kingston Ontario takes pride in playing defense.
"For me, if I limit the other team’s scoring to a minimum, I’m happy with that."
Like Morrow, Harrington is still several years away from joining the Penguins at the professional level let alone in the NHL. He feels the thing that most needs improvement to reach the NHL is the speed at which he plays his game.
"Just getting quicker, I think that is something everyone needs to work on to get to the NHL. "
A Czech import, Dominik Uher recently finished his second season with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. In 65 games, he posted 21 goals, 39 assists, 60 penalty minutes, and a plus-19, normally playing in the top-six. At about 6’0 and 195 pounds, Uher has a projectable NHL frame, is a fairly strong skater, and is not afraid to engage in physical play or drop the gloves. He had six fights in 2010-11, including one against fellow 2011 Pens pick Joe Morrow.
The type of player he projects to be is still up in the air. His offensive skills obviously translate well to the Canadian Major Junior level but how well he’d be able to replicate those numbers at the AHL or NHL level remains to be seen. Given his skating, solid build, and willingness to play a scrappy game, he should down the road at least develop into a solid role player.
Josh Archibald, W – Brainerd (Minn H.S.)
6th round, 174th overall
Height: 5’10 Weight: 170 lbs
The Penguins have shown a propensity to draft project players in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, typically ones with high offensive upside and Josh Archibald seems to be that pick this season.
Out of the Minnesota high school system, Archibald was finalist for the Mr. Hockey award, going to the top high school player in Minnesota. In his senior year with Brainerd, Archibald posted 78 points (30 goals and 48 assists) in 27 games. He also comes from good hockey bloodlines, his father Jim was a draft pick by the Minnesota North Stars and a standout at North Dakota.
At 5’10 and 170 pounds, the Minnesota high school standout is relatively lean. Assuming he approaches his conditioning right and continues to physically mature, he should be able to get to a playing weight around 185 pounds.
Archibald is scheduled to attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he will play under the tutelage of Dean Blais (who was an assistant coach when Archibald’s father was playing in North Dakota). An obvious project pick, Archibald has the wheels and hands to one day be an impact player for the Penguins. He will however need to add considerable strength before that subject can be seriously discussed. Expect him to play at least three years at the NCAA level before the Penguins make a decision on him.
Scott Wilson, C/LW – Georgetown Raiders (OJHL)
7th round, 209th overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 175 lbs
Bound for UMass Lowell for 2011-12, 19-year-old Scott Wilson was the first UMass Lowell recruit to be drafted since Chris Auger was taken in 2006 by Chicago. An accomplished scorer at the OJHL level, Wilson registered 20 goals and 41 assists in 42 games in 2010-11. He has decent skating, a quick shot, and playmaking ability but his biggest asset is his hockey sense, which in some circles is considered to be elite level.
At about 6’0 and 175 pounds, Wilson needs to add at least ten pounds in strength. The lighter NCAA schedule and emphasis on conditioning at the collegiate level should work to his advantage.