Pens prospects report

By Marc Lapointe

Kris Beech : Right at the start the pressure was on for the young Kris
Beech. He made the team after a strong camp, was put on a line with “Le
Magnifique” and was THE story in Pittsburgh. There was some Calder hope at
that point, but now that the season is coming to an end, it’s time to ask if
hopes were unrealistic for Kris Beech. When you think about it, Beech was
fresh from the Junior where he played only 40 games due to injury, he had
only 4 NHL games to his resume and he was already on a must-produce
situation. Yes, Beech’s expectations were too high for this season, but it
was part of his development. He learned a lot, played some good games
and showed that he has his place in this league. Here are his main skills : puck control, skating abilities, shot and play along the boards. On the
mental aspect you look at hard-working kid with good hockey sense and vision
of the ice. However, the British Colombia native will need to be more
consistent offensively and he needs to keep working on his game. Hopefully
Beech will come up faster, quicker and stronger for next year’s training
camp. If he does so, look up for him next year and forget about the second
year jinx.

Below is a table which shows the stats of this year’s NHL Rookies
coming from the CHL. These poor stats are encouraging for Beech’s future,
but it’s not a good sign for the Canadian Hockey League to have only 4
graduated in the top 30 rookie leading scorers.

Name           Age   Rank DraftedJunior League/TeamLast Year Stats
           This Year stats
Martin Erat    21     1999 - 191th  Red Deer  - WHL17GP - 4G 24A 28P
24PIM65GP - 7G 17A 24P
Kris Beech    22      1999 -  7th       Calgary - WHL40GP - 22G 44A 66P
103PIM64GP - 8G 14A 22P
Radim Vrbata 22    1999 - 212thShawinigan - QJMHL55GP - 56G 64A 120P38GP
- 12G 10A 22P
Rostival Klesa 19    2000 -  4thBrampton - OHL45GP - 18G 36A 54P
59PIM60GP - 8G 5A 13P

Milan Kraft: He has been struggling in 2001-02.
Let’s separate his season in 3 phases. First, after some good games with the
Pens last year and a decent camp, Kraft was ready to roll for his first NHL
season. He was doing decently at the start without recording many points but
the season was young and it didn’t really matter at that point. He was
creating offense and playing ok defense at the hard position of centerman.
In the second part, he kept missing golden opportunities to score and he
started losing his confidence gradually. His defensive game was getting more
ineffective, while his physical presence was simply unexistent. Then, he got
send to WBS for a couple of games question of polish his game and find back
his scoring touch. He came back to Pittsburgh with a goal in his first game and an
ameliorated style. He used his body more and worked harder. The last and third phase of his season is
considering of the post-Olympic games. So far he had a few good games and he
scored his first goal since January 15 against the Blue Shirts. He is playing well right now: he tries harder then ever to get out of the
slump he has been in the whole year.

Jan Hrdina : He’s a two-way player extremely consistent and versatile. After a while the Penguins are obviously glad to
hap keep Hrdina. He is one of their most consistent forward and you can consider is name for the team MVP. He won his part of face-offs, received
several minutes on the PP and PK, played stellar defense, created more
offense and he even started to shoot the puck. He is on his best offensive
season ever with 20 goals and 24 assists in 65 games. Stats-talking, it’s
also really surprising to see Hrdina second in the NHL for shooting
percentage. Finally, take a look at when Hrdina picked-up his points and you
might realize how versatile he is; he has 3 goals 5 assists when the team is
winning, 3 goals 11 assists when losing and an amazing 14 goals 8 assists
when tied.

Aleksey Morozov : After a slow and worrying start, Morozov finally showed
why he was a first- rounder in 1995. The whole thing started when Kehoe
paired him with Mario Lemieux. After this point, Morozov has
been scoring, hustling and playing some really good hockey. During a 15-day
stretch he reminded one of a new Alexei Kovalev. He was shooting,
stickhandling and controlling the game the like Kovy, he was unbelievable.
He slowed down in March, but he is still having the best season of his young
career and there is plenty of hope for next season. Morozov is mainly a
skilled offensive forward but he really improved his defensive game this
year. He also seems to enjoy something new: hitting! Morozov probably won’t
ever match the expectations made on him in 1995 but at least he reached the
level of a respectable NHL player.

Andrew Ference : It was a difficult year for Ference, but not necessary a bad
one. The fact that he had so many different defense partners during the year
is the main reason why he is kind of struggling. He started the season with
Mike Wilson, he continued with Hans Jonsson (whenever he returned from his
injury), he also had some tries with Jakopin and Melichar plus some quick
shots with Kaparaitis and Laukanen. Like it can help his confidence, he also
lost his job on the powerplay and his point total are severely down form
last year. However, he played solidly in his own zone and he proved one more
time that doesn’t always matter. He actually relies on mobility and grit for
being an efficient d-man. Ference fit in many different roles this season
but he won’t have his break-out season till the Pens find him a good and
regular D partner.

Josef Melichar : The hard-nose defensemen was having a decent season at the
eyes of the “normal” fan or the media, but now that he is hurt they finally
realized how useful he was. Melichar isn’t the flashy guy who is gonna amaze
the fans by a pretty play or a big hit, he is the guy that you won’t notice
but he is doing a heck of a job. You need to analyze the game, not only
watch it for appreciate Melichar. The young Czech is very effective, he
mostly stayed back this year but he always does what he is suppose to. He
rushed the puck and played more offense after a couple months, but defense
is where he rules. Makes very few mistakes. On
the physical aspect, without being that big Josef has good size but strength
is the key of his physical game. He definitely can hit hard and clean (just
ask Martin St-Louis about that). For finish, Melichar is gonna keep
improving and his Future is nothing else but bright.

Michal Rozsival : Playing on the point in the National Hockey League is
something really demanding at a young age. The development of a defenseman
is certainly longer than for a forward. How many “D” fresh from the draft
played in the NHL right after? Two years after? There is obviously not much,
and generally every blue liners need some times in junior, in the minors or
in Europe before to be proved in the NHL. And there is no exception for
Penguins Michal Rozsival, Josef Melichar and Andrew Ferrence. Rozsival has
24 points this year and for his group of age that is not bad at all. Let’s
look at some facts about Rozsival and young NHL defenders:

– Rozsival ranked 42th in scoring for a defenseman (SCD)
– In the top 50 SCD there is only 6 players born in 78 or before (Kaberle,
Clymer, Stuart, Morris, Rozsival, Skoula)
– Only one is in the top 25 (Kaberle)
– Only 4 are in the top 40 (Kaberle, Clymer, Stuart, Morris)

Read the play very well, doesn’t hesitate to join the rush and ability to
carry the puck are within the offensive skills of Roszi. He is not yet a No. 1
quarterback on the power play, but he sure has the potential to.
In his own zone, he is a decent ‘D’ who can take the body but he has to work
on his mental edge, which means to make fewer mistakes.

Eric Meloche : After 23 games in the NHL the 25-year-old winger seams to
have his place in the Penguins lineup. In fact, he is technically doing
Kevin Stevens’s job on the fourth line. Meloche brings a physical presence
every single shift and he does everything possible to help the team. Son of
former Penguins goalie and current Penguins scout Gilles Meloche, Eric is
living a dream right now.

– Defense : Sometimes Meloche is “late on the play”, but he is simply doing
his job by finishing the check. He played regularly on the penalty kill and
he is one of the only Penguins who dive for blocking some shots. Meloche is
not gonna be a contender for the Frank J. Selke trophy, but he understands
the PK and the defensive aspect of hockey very well. – Offense : Even if he
is still searching for his first NHL goal, Meloche showed “some” flashes at
a certain point. He has arguably no hands when it’s time to put it in the
net, but he certainly had many chances to do so. However, even in his
college years with Ohio State University Meloche wasn’t an offensive power
(only one season with a point a game) so we can’t expect much scoring from
him. Perhaps, in a small and light Penguins roster the Rosemere, Qc native
is useful, but if everyone on the team is injury-free, Meloche will likely
receive a one-way ticket to the minors.

Toby Petersen: You can hardly be disappointed by Toby’s season. He has been
with the Penguins the whole year centering the fourth line and playing on
every penalty kill. Playing with players such as Dan Lacouture, Krzysztof
Oliwa and many others isn’t the easiest way to accumulate points, but
Petersen still managed 7 goals and 10 assists this year (alright don’t
forget that he got a hat trick whenever he was playing with Mario). There is
not too much to say about this kid, he plays with hearth but he has problems
to overwhelm his lack of size.

Jean-Sebastien Aubin : Aubin is not having a good year at all. He is still young and
promising at 24 years old. The arrival of Hedberg affected is game. After two good seasons where he was one of
the best back-up in the whole league, he lost his confidence and the credit
of the coaching staff.

Aubin is a small goalie who uses both the butterfly and the stand-up style.
He also likes to take the bottom of the net during “emergency” situation and
he is an average stickhandler. This year wasn’t his year, he didn’t have
much playing time (average one start every 7 games), he didn’t play well and
he didn’t make the key saves when need was. On the positive but smallish
positive side, he certainly looked sharp at times (NJ and Philly games) but
he never had a chance to show any consistency. He has to find his game again.