6. Shane Endicott, C, showed everyone that he could play the pro game last year with Wilkes-Barre (19 goals, 39 points). At this moment, he could fit in well on the fourth line; although, it is probably better for his development to return to Wilkes-Barre for more seasoning. There, he could work on his skating and take some time to mature as a player. It will not hurt the Penguins to be patient with him, especially with all of the fourth liners they have recently acquired (Donovan, McKenna, and Manderville). There is no need to rush this twenty-year-old into the NHL, and Patrick knows it. He even said it himself at season’s end that in the future he would not rush youngsters into the big leagues. If Endicott is given this valuable time in the minors, I expect a sharp increase in his muscle mass as well as his scoring totals, which should range from 55 to 65 points this season.
7. Matt Murley, LW, recently signed a contract with the Pens and will most likely play for Wilkes-Barre this season. A smart, two-way player, Murley is a sniper who needs to adjust to the pro game. He could surprise a lot of people this year with his mix of grittiness and skill. Last year, he was second in scoring on Rennselaer trailing only Minnesota Wild prospect Marc Cavosie. He is a competitor and is capable of turning some heads this season. However, like many players out of college, it is hard to predict how they will perform at the pro level. He could score in the 40-point range, while it is possible for him to rack up over 60.
8. Konstantin Koltsov, LW, has decided to come to North America for the 2002-2003 season. He is known for his incredible speed that allowed him to dominate for Team Belarus at the 2002 World Championships. Some Penguin scouts believe he will be the fastest player at training camp, surpassing Kovalev and company. The one flaw in his game is that it seems hard for him to put it all together. He is gifted with loads of skill but is an inconsistent player. Like Murley, it is hard to predict how he will play this season. In all likelihood, he will spend the year in Wilkes-Barre, adjusting to the North American game with its smaller rinks and more vigorous schedule. He could be an AHL all-star, or a third-liner. It all depends on how he adapts to North American hockey.
9. Noah Welch, D, will continue his education at Harvard University. Taken before expected in the 2001 Entry Draft, he proved his worth last year. He quickly became a team leader as a freshman. He was, without a doubt, the Harvard’s most valuable defenseman with his impressive work in the defensive zone as well as his potential mobility. Welch is a two-way defenseman, who takes care of matters in front of the net and then leads the rush. I expect only the best from this young student-athlete. He will probably double his point totals and increase his penalty minutes considerably this season. By the end of the year, he may be considered the top defenseman in the ECAC.
10. Vladimir Malenkykh, D, is rumored to attend the Penguins’ training camp in September, making it likely that he will come to North America for this upcoming season. Although nothing is official, there are a number of sources that have reported it. If Malenkykh does make the transition to North America, he should not have any trouble adjusting to the hard-hitting style. He plays a similar game to Darius Kasparaitis and is famous in Russia for his open-ice hits. He makes good outlet passes but is not a very talented skater. As of right now, he is ready for the NHL. Malenkykh could easily fit in as a 6th or 7th defenseman. Unfortunately, the Penguins have an overload of depth defenseman, like Bergevin and Berry, so it will be difficult for him to make the cut. He will probably spend a year with Wilkes-Barre, where he should become one of their strongest defensemen. His penalty totals will easily be in the 100’s and possibly in the 200’s (although, his point totals should be much less impressive). Even so, by season’s end, he should be able to crack the Penguins’ roster, and I predict him to become a fan favorite for his hard-nosed style.