The hosts of the 2012 NHL Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins were expected to be among several teams actively seeking trades at or around the draft. Just several days prior to the event, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero stated that the team was going to aggressively shop one or two of their NHL defensemen.
Things changed quickly however when, just 24 hours before the draft, Penguins center Jordan Staal stated through his agent that he was not interested in exploring a long-term deal with the team. So the Penguins GM went nuclear and traded Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes and defenseman Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes. By the time the draft was over, there were 13 new members of the Penguins organization.
The Penguins had difficulty finding trade suitors for Staal, a pending unrestricted free agent in 2013 who rejected a rumored 10-year contract extension. In fact the only team to show a lot of interest was the Carolina Hurricanes, where Jordan's brother Eric is captain. Shero however managed to bring the New York Rangers into the conversation and leveraged a better return for Staal out of the Hurricanes as a result, getting an NHL roster replacement in center Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin, and the eighth overall pick of the draft, which the Penguins used to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot. Later that day the Penguins sent Michalek to his old team in Phoenix for defensive prospect Harrison Ruopp, goalie Marc Cheverie, and the 81st pick of the draft which they used to select Oskar Sundqvist.
After the trades, the Penguins pick total bloated to nine, including six among the top 100 picks of the draft. Combined with the prospects they received in trades, the organization added five defensemen, three goaltenders, and four forwards to their prospect pool.
How Derrick Pouliot develops over the next several years could ultimately determine the winner of the Jordan Staal trade. Pouliot possesses the raw talents, particularly in the offensive zone, to be a top-pairing, puck-carrying defenseman capable of taking over games. He hails from the same team as the Penguins 2011 first round pick Joe Morrow and was a frequent linemate of Morrow on the powerplay. In 72 regular season games with the Winterhawks, Pouliot managed 11 goals, 48 assists, and 79 penalty minutes.
The type of player Pouliot projects to be at the NHL level will be decided by how the Penguins develop him over the coming years. Given his size, skating, and keen ability to carry the puck, he could develop anywhere from an all-situation offensive defenseman like Kris Letang, to a puck-moving number four like Kris Russell, to a powerplay specialist who spends most of his time moving between the AHL and NHL. A lot of it will be up to the 18-year-old Pouliot as well. Defensemen such as Letang combine a fearless mindset in their style of play with an interminable commitment to conditioning and improving, two qualities which must come from within and are only proven over time.
Like most 18-year-olds he needs to add more strength and further fill out his overall frame. Expect him to follow a similar path as 2009 first-round pick Simon Despres, meaning two more years in juniors and at least a year in the minors before getting serious consideration for NHL time.
Though not possessing the overall upside of Pouliot, Olli Maatta was an extremely highly regarded two-way defenseman in the 2012 NHL Draft and the Penguins were fortunate for him drop to the 22nd spot.
A native of Jyvaskyla, Finland, Maatta came to the London Knights in 2011 with little experience playing the North American style of hockey.
"The rink is smaller. So the game is faster," Maatta said. "You don't have as much time as you have in Europe. Another thing is the game is (more) physical."
Easing the young Finn's transition to the smaller North American ice surface was the Knights coaching staff of Dale and Mark Hunter as well as assistant coach Rob Ramage.
"It took time to get used to the game here but I think they were a big help for me. They trusted me still after I had bad games (and) gave me ice time. Talked to me everyday about my game, what I should improve on, what is good, and it helped a lot."
Maatta got stronger as the hockey year wore on, and though he finished the 2011-12 regular season with five goals and 27 assists in 58 games, it was his playoff performance that did the most to improve his draft stock. While helping London to an OHL championship, Maatta managed six goals and 17 assists in 19 games which tied for the team lead in points. He was also the Knights best overall defenseman on many nights.
Another season in junior will go a long way in determining the type of player Maatta could develop into. Tentative in his play with the puck for much of last season, Maatta should start the 2012-13 with a great deal more confidence and should be a much improved all around defenseman. At this point he projects as a top-four defenseman with good skating, stick-work, and a very high hockey IQ.
Theodor Blueger, C – Shattuck St. Mary's (Minn Prep)
2nd round, 52nd overall
Height: 6' Weight: 171 lbs
Born in Latvia, Theodor Blueger went to an English speaking school before coming to North America to play hockey for Shattuck St. Mary's, one of the top hockey prep schools in the world.
Having spent his past four years in North America, Blueger's style of play is very much a combination of the two worlds he comes from. Modeling his game after Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk, Blueger has phenomenal playmaking abilities, absurd stick skills, and is a good skater. He also however is very responsible in all three zones and plays a physically robust, team-oriented style of game. Also like Datsyuk, while Blueger is most effective as a center, he can also play wing at a very high level.
Headed for Minnesota State, Blueger is very much a long-term prospect at this point and projects as a player who might not be ready for the big show for three-five years. Assuming he develops as hoped, Blueger projects as an skilled top-six forward who can play on both special teams.
Oskar Sundqvist, C – Skelleftea Jrs (J18 Elit)
3rd round, 81st overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 187 lbs
A tall, strapping center who spent the last two years playing in Skelleftea's jr program, Oskar Sundqvist is one of the most intriguing picks the Penguins made in their 2012 class.
A frisky personality on and off the ice, Sundqvist was quick to provide a scouting report to those who may not have seen him play: "I'm a big player as you can see. I'm good at reading the play. I work as hard as I can every practice and game."
When further asked to describe his style of play, Sudqvist said he likes to try to play with a blend of offense and power like Peter Forsberg, a player he loved to watch as a kid.
At this point Sundqvist remains a long-term project. By his own admission he has a few things in particular that need work.
"I want to get more explosive in the skates. Maybe control my temperament a little bit."
Those particular needs aside, he also needs to physically mature. Standing at 6'3 and over 180 pounds, Sundqvist appears to have a very projectable frame with even more room to grow. At this point it is hard to say what type of NHL player he could project as. He does though possess the size, skill, and ornery disposition to create potential matchup nightmares for the opposition.
Sundqvist will spend one more season with Skelleftea before deciding further about his career.
Matt Murray, G – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
3rd round, 83rd overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 165 lbs
The Penguins added three goaltending prospects over draft weekend but none possess higher pedigree than Matt Murray. An athletic, rangy goaltender standing at 6'3, Murray is by his own admission a work in progress.
"I think my size is what really helps me. I think what I need to improve on is get that much quicker so I get into position a little bit earlier and don't have to make those slider and diving saves. If I'm going to make it to the next level [my footspeed] is going to be the biggest thing for me."
Murray cites Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price as the goaltender he tries to model himself after, but many scouts have actually compared him to the Penguins current NHL starter Marc-Andre Fleury.
"I'm definitely a butterfly. I'm not quite as athletic as Marc-Andre is but I try to always be in position and make the easy save and keep in all the rebounds."
Aside from style, Murray shares another common trait with Fleury.
"I'm definitely one of the goalies who likes to see lots of shots. I feel like I play better when I'm busier. If I get into a groove, if I'm playing a lot, playing every game, getting a lot of shots, I think that's when I'm at my best."
There is plenty of evidence to back that claim up as well. As the Greyhounds starter at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Murray managed a 9-4 record and for the most part kept his team in games. The Greyhounds then traded for goalie Jack Campbell (DAL) at the beginning of November and Murray subsequently took on the backup duties for the team, finishing the year with a 13-19-1 record.
Murray is expected to be the Greyhounds starter for the 2012-13 season.
Matia Marcantuoini, C – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
4th round, 92nd overall
Height: 6' Weight: 200 lbs
Combining speed, skill, and borderline reckless abandon, Matia Macantuoni is a quick player to turn heads. Early in the season he was projected as a late-first or second round pick but his draft stock plummeted because of a shoulder injury that limited him to only 24 games.
"I knew that I'd get picked eventually and whoever picked me would be getting a steal," he said shortly after being drafted. "I wasn't playing. No one really got a chance to see me. For a team to gamble on me is kind of risky since it's their job (on the line)."
Known for his blend of speed and physicality, 18-year-old Toronto native plays a brand of hockey that should quickly endear him to Penguins fans.
"I play a physical game. I love being the first guy to pucks and cranking guys in the corner, so I'm an exciting player to watch. It's always been a style of mine," He said. "It's why the Pens drafted me, for my physicality and my speed. I think it suits the team. I think they made a good pick and picked a good player."
Physical play aside, Marcantuoni can effectively operate the puck at high speeds as well, something players with his level of skating ability are not always capable of doing.
"I like to take it wide to the net. More of a give-and-go type player. I like to pass it off, get in the open, somehow get a semi-breakaway."
For the 2012-13 season, he will be returning to the Kitchener Rangers.
"My plan is to just stay healthy and hopefully have a good season. Ever since my surgery I've just been training like everyday, five days a week. Already put on thirteen pounds of muscle."
He will likely be joined by teammate and 2012 first round pick Radek Faksa (DAL) as well, a frequent linemate and someone Marcantuoni likens his game to.
"For me and Radek to play together, we would dominate in the offensive zone."
Aside from staying healthy, Marcantuoni needs to learn to play with slightly less reckless abandon. He is often so vigorous in his checks he does not make clean contact with his shoulders, leaving himself almost as vulnerable to injury as the player he is trying to skate through.
He also needs to be more patient on his shifts, a weakness he barely concedes, "I think sometimes I'll maybe rush a play. But at the same time I think I have things like my speed and my shot that make up for that."
Regardless of what the future has in store for him, Marcantuoni is a Penguins prospect who should quickly gain a loyal following.
Sean Maguire, G – Powell River Kings (BCHL)
4th round, 113th overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 180 lbs
The Penguins further added to their goaltender depth on draft day when they selected 19-year-old Sean Maguire. A native of Powell River, BC, Maguire is scheduled to play for Boston University in 2012-13 and at this point projects as a long-term project with NHL starter potential.
Maguire possesses a solid frame for a goaltender at 6'2 and 180 lbs and very good overall natural talent. He is fairly athletic with good lateral movement, but most importantly he is a winner.
The young goalie made waves on a lot of hockey radars at the 2011 World Junior A Challenge last November, where he led Canada West to a gold medal. In four tournament games he posted an eye-popping .942 save percentage, and a 1.49 goals against average, allowing only six goals in four games. For his efforts he was named top goaltender of the tournament. Maguire was also one of the top goaltenders in the BCHL this season, finishing with a 2.33 goals against average, a .913 save percentage, three shutouts, and a 17-12-1 record.
Clark Seymour, D – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
5th round, 143rd overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 185 lbs
It would not be a Penguins draft class without at least one big, stay-at-home type defensemen among the picks. This year, Clark Seymour takes the honor.
Possessing a pro-ready skill-set and frame, the 19-year-old Seymour projects as a similar player as Penguin defenseman Deryk Engelland. Not particularly flashy in any part of the game, he can provide a punishing, intimidating presence along the blue line.
The things Seymour needs to work on to get better are pretty typical of prospects his age and style; he needs to add strength, improve his skating, and learn to make better decisions with the puck, and generally improve his overall game.
Anton Zlobin, RW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
6th round, 173rd overall
Height: 5'11 Weight: 198 lbs
A Russian import playing in the QMJHL, Zlobin was passed over in the 2011 draft for various reasons, ranging from a lack of explosiveness in his skating to a general disinterest in playing defense. He was also considered undersized and was far too easily knocked off the puck.
A year later and many of those same things can still be said about Zlobin. His skating remains a question and he is still knocked off the puck too easily. He is however far more involved in his own end and probably more significantly than anything, has developed into a fantastic goal-scorer. In 2011-12, Zlobin posted 40 goals, 36 assists, and a plus-42 in 66 regular season games. A huge jump from his 2011-12 totals of 23 goals and 22 assists. What probably stamped Zlobin's ticket to the 2012 NHL draft however was his play in the 2012 Memorial Cup. The sniper was among the top forwards the entire tournament, managing five goals and four assists in six games, but he saved his best for last, scoring the game tying and winning goals in the championship game against the London Knights.
Zlobin remains a long-term project. His play away from the puck has improved dramatically as has his defensive game. His skating is still poor enough to be a liability however and it prevents him from maximizing his offensive potential.
The Russian sniper will be joining the Val-d'Or Foreurs for 2012-13.