Writen by Denny Wolfe, an associate producer at ESPN
Last Saturday I had a chance to see the Baby Pens play the Hershey Bears in Wilkes-Barre. Here were some observations and analysis of the Penguins I saw playing that night.
Kris Beech: The demotion hasn’t affected Beech’s on-ice game. Throughout the night, he was clearly the Pens most consistent centerman and forward on the club. He was regularly and offensive threat, took the important face-offs, and back-checked effectively. Clearly, he’s taken advantage of the extra ice time that he’s getting in Wilkes-Barre.
Brooks Orpik: This was the first time I’ve seen Orpik in person since his freshman year at Boston College. At that time, I was unimpressed by this slow, plodding defenseman. Since I last saw him, Orpik has filled out his imposing frame and his speed has improved a great deal. He was physical, brutish, and defensively responsible on every shift. One place where he would need to improve could be with his passing. On several occasions, head-man passes – particularly ones made to his right wings (Orpik played on the right side as well) – were often at the forward’s feet. Otherwise, Brooks has rounded into shape quite nicely.
Konstantin Koltsov: Koltsov was the biggest surprise for me. When you hear about blazing speed, you usually have some preconceived idea about what fast looks like. When I saw Koltsov’s first shift, even I was surprised at how he zipped around the ice. He buzzed around the rink going from sideboard to sideboard and looked effortless in doing so. He also surprised with the wrist shot he buried on a breakaway. There is such a huge upside to this kid; and if his shot develops, there’s no telling what he could do.
Colby Armstrong: From what people had told me, Colby Armstrong’s biggest weakness was his skating. Judging by his performance, I found that assessment hard to believe. Armstrong played the left side with Beech and Toby Petersen as his center and right wing respectively. He was aggressive and even reckless in the corners from time to time. I may be a bit off-base, but he reminds me of a young but slightly less gritty Mike Ricci.
Toby Petersen: It’s really a shame that Toby’s only 5-feet-9. If he were bigger he’d probably be in Pittsburgh by now. Toby’s demotion to the Baby Pens hasn’t slowed down his motor. He still creates many chances with his hustle and aggressiveness. He did, however, tend to over-handle the puck. Still, he reminds me of a young Bob Errey.
Tom Kostopolous: Never gets the limelight but never stops working. Didn’t take a shift off in this game either.
Shane Endicott: I don’t know what plans the Pens have for him, but I hope they don’t lose track of his development. Endicott played in-your-face all night with Hershey. He never backed down, whacked loose puck, finished his checks, and played solid defense. In this game, he produced a few scoring chance thanks to the efforts of linemates Kostopolous and Koltsov.
Milan Kraft: For some reason he’s failing to produce offensively. What compounds matters is that he’s doing very little defensively. He earned his minus-two that night by 1) coughing up the puck near the blueline on a rush and 2) failing to pick up the trailing winger on a backcheck late in the third. Is it time to make Kraft a full-time winger? Personally, I’ve always thought his future would be playing in the corners, but who knows at this point.
Ross Lupaschuk: This section on Ross Lupaschuk is pretty much the same as every other one you’ve probably read. I make no critique of Ross’ offensive skill. Pens haven’t had a defenseman with this much offensive talent since Paul Coffey, and he’s also got Coffey’s defensive skill or lack thereof. Lupaschuk was very slow to pick up his forward while getting back on the defensive back check. If he becomes better in his own end, he’ll definitely be a huge asset. See, I told you it was much like the other reports you’ve read about him.
Eric Meloche: Great hustle and physical play by Eric. He was consistently throwing out huge hits that were heard throughout the arena. However, in his zeal to take out his opponent, he usually was caught way behind the play and late to cover his point defensively a few times.
Sebastien Caron: His quickness and reflexes were very good. He could have been more aggressive in challenging shooters by getting out on top of his crease more. His puckhandling wasn’t too bad, but that could also use more fine-tuning.
Mike Wilson/Francois Leroux: There’s a reason why they’re both in Wilkes-Barre. Wilson had one huge hit which almost erased a night full of poor defensive play. Leroux lugged the puck too much instead of moving it up to the forwards