Penguins NCAA prospects update

By Adrian Barclay

March madness is underway as the NCAA tournament approaches, and a few Penguins prospects were involved in an eventful weekend which saw only one of them as part of a victorious conference championship team.

Matt Moulson scored two assists as Cornell knocked out Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon’s Harvard Crimson by a 3-1 decision in Saturday night’s ECACHL championship game. Cornell overcame a fatigued Harvard team who had come off a double-overtime victory the previous evening against Colgate. Meanwhile the Big Red had a slightly easier 3-0 semi-final victory over Vermont.

Moulson assisted on Cornell’s second and third goals, with the backbreaking third goal coming with Lannon in the penalty box, and only moments after Welch himself had completed a two-minute stint for tripping. This performance is merely the icing on the cake of another superb season for Moulson, who has now led Cornell in scoring for two consecutive seasons. After posting 18 goals and 17 assists last season and earning All-Ivy League First Team honors, Moulson has improved this season’s stats to 22 goals and 18 assists after Saturday night. The 21-year-old’s 1.25 points per game click places him 15th in the nation, and his 0.69 goals per game puts him fifth. Moulson is looking more and more like a late-round gem after being taken in the ninth round of the 2003 draft.

Despite the loss on Saturday night, senior defensemen Welch and Lannon can look back at their seasons so far and still be pleased with their performances. As captain of the Crimson this season, Welch has scaled back his offensive role to concentrate on being his team’s number one defensive defenseman. Welch is big (6’4, 212 pounds) and strong with plenty of intangibles that make the difference between the good and the great. Ranked by HF as the Penguins fourth-best prospect, Welch is expected to find a role with either Pittsburgh or Wilkes-Barre next season, perhaps even sooner. If the organization sees it fit, Welch may join the Baby Penguins for the Calder Cup playoffs starting in about a month, similar to what they did with Ryan Whitney last season.

Welch’s focus on his defensive work has not taken too much sheen from his offensive totals however, posting 18 points (six Goals, 12 assists) in 33 games, and compiling a team-leading 84 penalty minutes. All six of Welch’s goals have come on the power play.

Lannon on the other hand, has never been considered as an offensive weapon, scoring just 23 points over his previous three seasons with Harvard. What Lannon is known for is his dependability and his solid defensive skills which make him an integral part of the Crimson blue line.

Lannon scored the fourth goal of his collegiate career in 2004-05, to go with 11 assists in 32 games. His 11th assist was one of his best, a superb pass that put Kevin Du on a breakaway in double-overtime against Colgate on Friday night which Du put away for the win. Lannon will have to hold his breath at the end of this season to see whether the Pittsburgh organization feels there is a place for him.

Also in action over this championship weekend were Alex Goligoski and Andy Sertich of the University of Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were defeated in the WCHA semi-final 3-0 to Colorado College to miss out on the final, and then dropped a 4-2 decision to North Dakota in the third place playoff. They do however look forward to a top seeding in the NCAA tournament.

Goligoski has had a superb freshman year that saw him star offensively for the Golden Gophers from the blue line with five goals and 15 assists, putting him second amongst team defensemen in scoring despite playing only 32 games. Adding to his great year were selections to the WCHA All-Rookie team and making his international tournament debut for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. His season is in jeopardy as it has been reported that he has a broken bone in his hand, suffered in Minnesota’s semi-final defeat on Friday night. Listed at just 178 pounds on his 6’0 frame, Goligoski can only improve as he gets older and bulks up.

Sertich had a somewhat quieter year in 2004-05, finding himself playing as both a forward and defenseman during the season. It is no surprise to see him playing defense as he has a strong two-way game and spends extensive time on the Minnesota penalty kill. Sertich currently has five goals and eight assists while playing in all 41 games for the Gophers. He is leading the team in short-handed goals with two.

On the winning side of that third place playoff in the WCHA title race was senior defenseman Andy Schneider of the University of North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux were unlucky not to be in the WCHA championship game, taking last year’s Frozen Four champion Denver to overtime before being beaten 2-1.

Schneider has significantly reduced his offensive contributions since scoring 41 points in the 2002-03 season to post 12 points in 2003-04 and just eight (two goals, six assists) in 38 games so far this season. Schneider does have good bulk on his 6’0 frame, weighing in at 215 pounds, and also shows good leadership, named as an alternate captain for this season. He is another that will have to wait to see whether he is signed to a pro contract after this season considering the organization’s depth at his position.

Upon the announcement on Sunday of the 16 teams that would take part in the NCAA tournament, one Penguins prospect to miss out was Nick Johnson at Dartmouth. The Big Green were in the running to be selected for the tournament, only to miss out by a slim margin. Johnson has come along in leaps and bounds since arriving as a freshman at the start of the season. An injury to high profile New York Rangers first rounder Hugh Jessiman meant that Johnson got a chance on the team’s top line and surged after a slow start to the year. Johnson is a versatile player who uses his size (6’2, 191 pounds) well to battle for and protect the puck.

His opportunity on the first line has meant that Johnson has been able to show all of his offensive firepower and is now going at a point per game pace. Johnson has 18 goals and 17 assists in 35 games, making him the fifth fastest scoring freshman in the country. And at only 19 years old, high hopes are held for the Calgary native as he progresses through his college career.

Brandon Crawford-West of the University of Miami (Ohio) had the best season of the two Penguins collegiate goaltending prospects. Crawford-West was drafted in the eighth round of the 2001 draft, but did not begin his college career until the 2003-04 season. He had a fantastic freshman year, winning plenty of games and earning co-honors as the defensive player of the year for the Redhawks.

In 2004-05, the Redhawks struggled to a record of 15-18-5, but Crawford-West was still impressive. He started the season in terrific form, stopping 66-of-69 shots (.957) and recording a 1.50 goals-against average in his first two games to earn the CCHA Goaltender of the week award. He followed that up the following week by winning the same award, this time posting a shutout and allowing just two goals in the two games and stopping 55-of-57 shots on goal for a .965 save percentage. Crawford-West capped off his season by winning that award for the third time in the final weeks of the season, making 76 of 80 saves in a two-game series against Ohio State. He finished the season with an 11-15-5 record, a GAA of 2.41 and a save percentage of .919.

Joe Jensen of St. Cloud State University has completed a successful sophomore campaign which has seen him slightly improve his numbers on his freshman season. Jensen finished second in team scoring with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) from 40 games on a Huskies team that finished nine games below .500. The rugged and hard-working forward led the Huskies in shots (130) and tied for the team lead in game-winning goals with three. Jensen was also named in the WCHA All-Academic team.

After a fast start where he scored seven goals in his first ten games, Brown’s Brian Ihnacak slowed down considerably with his offensive totals. He had a sensational rookie year which saw him honored with selection in the All-Ivy League Rookie and All-ECAC Rookie teams when he scored 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists), but could only manage 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) from 28 games for the offensively challenged Bears this season. That was still good enough for third in team scoring, only three behind the team lead.

The final Penguins prospect playing in college is Notre Dame goaltender David Brown. The 2004-05 season would be one best forgotten by Pittsburgh’s 228th pick in the 2004 draft. Brown found himself playing backup to senior Morgan Cey, and won just the two games during the season. Brown finished with a record of 2-10-1 from 15 total appearances, with a GAA of 4.30 and a save percentage of .870.

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