Penguins 2000 draft evaluation

By Adrian Barclay

Love him or hate him, there is no denying the ability of Penguins GM Craig Patrick and his staff when it comes to building and maintaining a franchise. In his 16 years at the helm, Patrick has lead the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. This success has meant that the Penguins spent a lot of years without high draft picks, and it has reflected in some of the success rates amongst Pens draft classes. There are some exceptions of course, with the 1999 draft producing five players who have played in the NHL, including Konstantin Koltsov, Ryan Malone and Sebastien Caron.

Recent years have seen a much sharper focus on drafting as the Penguins attempt to rebuild, and it already appears as though Patrick has worked his magic with many youngsters showing their worth in the junior and minor leagues.

The 2000 draft class was not known as particularly deep, but the talent at the top was very exciting. The New York Islanders traded their top goaltending prospect in Roberto Luongo to Florida to get the rights to the first overall pick, which they used to select Rick DiPietro. Atlanta chose second and took future superstar Dany Heatley, and the Minnesota Wild had the third pick and took Marian Gaborik. All three have already made an impact in the NHL and are expected to be successful for many years to come.

The Penguins took ten players in the 2000 draft, but only three have played in the NHL, and a further two still considered prospects. In total the three have combined for 152 NHL games, with Brooks Orpik playing the bulk of those with 85, Roman Simicek with 63 and Shane Endicott playing four. The average of 15 games played per draft choice is a bit below average for that year.

Brooks Orpik, D – 1st Round, 18th Overall (Boston College, NCAA)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 85

The hard-hitting Orpik is certainly the best player of the draft for the Penguins. After serving a two-year apprenticeship with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL, Orpik was promoted full-time to Pittsburgh for the 2003-04 season where he played 79 games.

Orpik will certainly never be a huge scorer, but it is his other qualities that make him a bona fide NHL’er. He has a strong presence on the ice and is capable of pulling off crushing open-ice hits, and is strong in the corners. Perhaps most impressive is his leadership skills, with many more experienced Penguins touting him as a future captain.

After scoring a goal and nine assists to go with 127 penalty minutes in his first full NHL season, Orpik was returned to the AHL for the Baby Pens epic run to the Calder Cup final where he had four assists in another 24 games. Orpik’s style of play meant that his huge season of over 100 games left his body fatigued, and he chose not to re-sign with the Penguins before the lockout began, preferring to take some time off. He did not join any teams during the lockout, but did spend some time training at his old haunt, Boston College. Orpik has already become a fan favorite and is expected to promptly re-sign with Pittsburgh upon a new NHL agreement.

Shane Endicott, C – 2nd Round, 52nd Overall (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 4

Endicott continues to improve with age and has just completed his fourth season in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre where he is now looked upon as an offensive leader. He has got plenty of size (6’4, 214 pounds) and strength on the puck, and showed a nose for the net in 2004-05, potting a career-high 24 goals in 68 games.

Consistency seems to be an issue for Endicott, who started the season on fire, only to drop off in the latter half. His playoff performance was also below expectation, scoring just the four points (two goals, two assists) in 11 games. The four games that he did play in the NHL came all the way back in 2001-02 but his form certainly suggests that he may come into consideration when the NHL resumes. He recorded one assist in his four NHL games.

If Endicott does cement a spot in the NHL, it would likely be on the third or fourth line with limited minutes. A good training camp is essential for Endicott, or he may find himself earmarked as a career minor leaguer.

Peter Hamerlik, G – 3rd Round, 84th Overall (Skalica, Slovakia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

While most the Slovakian attention was on super-prospect Marian Gaborik, their second best prospect in the 2000 draft was also garnering some attention. Goaltender Peter Hamerlik was seen as having plenty of potential, and was also willing to come straight to North America and would play in the OHL with Kingston.

Hamerlik was the seventh goaltender chosen in the draft, but perhaps the Penguins would have preferred the goaltender taken almost 100 picks later, when the Philadelphia Flyers chose Roman Cechmanek with the 171st pick. Also of note was the next player chosen, when the Phoenix Coyotes took Ramzi Abid, who was later sent to Pittsburgh as part of the Jan Hrdina trade at the 2003 deadline.

Hamerlik’s form in the OHL was patchy, and the Penguins allowed him to re-enter the draft in 2002, where he was taken in the fifth round by the Boston Bruins. Since then Hamerlik has bounced around the minors, playing for four different ECHL teams over three seasons. His form in the ECHL has been good, but has only been given seven games in the AHL with the Providence Bruins. With Andrew Raycroft stunning the NHL with his Rookie of the Year performance in the 2003-04 season and Hannu Toivonen the Bruins top prospect, it looks ever likely that Hamerlik will never play in the NHL.

Michel Ouellet, RW – 4th Round, 124th Overall (Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

A scoring sensation in junior, Ouellet has now shown he can be productive in the professional ranks, leading the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in goals in consecutive seasons.

His AHL rookie campaign in 2003-04 saw him tally 30 goals and was named in the league’s All Rookie first team. Promoted to the team’s top line this season, he began with a flurry, matching those 30 goals by the All-Star break and being named a starter. His biggest knocks were his skating and defensive work, but both had improved dramatically and at that stage it seemed a certainty that Ouellet would be given a shot at the NHL upon its resumption.

In an almost inexplicable turnaround, Ouellet would then fail to score in his next 29 games, and score just once more before the end of the regular season. That sudden and dramatic cold streak has taken the edge off what was looking like a most outstanding season. There is still plenty of potential there for Ouellet to be on an NHL scoring line, especially if he is given some quality linemates that can set him up. Regardless of that, he still must work to improve his consistency to have a good chance.

David Koci, D – 5th Round, 146th Overall (Sparta Praha, Czech Rebublic)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The big Czech enforcer has won his way into the hearts of Baby Pens fans by playing tough and talking with his fists. Koci bullied his way to 311 penalty minutes in 2004-05, topping his total of 298 from the previous season.

Koci is a capable defenseman, but has shown the odd piece of poor decision-making, which may make Pittsburgh reluctant to promote him to NHL level. Koci is almost non-existent offensively, so an NHL call-up would be for strictly enforcing duties. His fight record is good, and his size at 6’6, 230 pounds makes him an intimidating opponent.

Koci now finds himself in a position where he is falling out of prospect status.

Patrick Foley, C – 6th Round, 185th Overall (U. of New Hampshire, NCAA)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A hardworking forward, Foley is a leader. Made captain of his star studded University of New Hampshire team in 2002-03, Foley took his team to the Frozen Four final by working hard and inspiring his teammates to play together and achieve success. His scoring was always moderate, with his best performance coming as a junior when he posted eight goals and ten assists. Scoring was not his priority though, as he tried hard to do the things that don’t show on the score sheet, trying to make the game easier for his teammates.

Despite his college success, Foley was not signed by the Penguins, and spent his first pro season in the ECHL with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies.

Jim Abbott, C/W – 7th Round, 216th Overall (U. New Hampshire, NCAA)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

When the Pens chose Pittsburgh-raised Abbott with their seventh pick of the draft, they were no doubt hoping that he would turn into a ‘home-town hero’, and perhaps combine one day with 1999 Pittsburgh draftee, Ryan Malone.

Abbott had a good range of skills and was capable in all situations for UNH, including playing an integral part in that college’s best ever finish in the NCAA tournament, when they lost the 2003 Frozen Four final to the Gophers of Minnesota. Abbott is an exceptional athlete and hard worker, often toiling away on the Wildcats third or fourth lines against the other teams’ top forwards.

His scoring was solid, posting 29 and 30 points in his last two seasons in Wildcats colors, including a career-high 12 goals in 2002-03. Following his senior season, Abbott was not signed by the Penguins, and joined the Toledo Storm of the ECHL. He has since played for three more ECHL teams, and appears now to need a lot of luck to ever reach the NHL.

Steve Crampton, RW – 8th Round, 248th Overall (Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Another gritty winger to come out of the WHL, Crampton combines his hard nose with moderate scoring ability. Crampton is forging a strong career in the ECHL, but lacks the speed and playmaking ability to go much higher in the professional ranks.

Crampton just completed his third season with the Penguins ECHL affiliate, the Wheeling Nailers, where he finished fifth in team scoring with 31 points (ten goals, 21 assists) and 119 penalty minutes from 51 games. Still just 23 years old, Crampton faces a long road to the NHL.

Roman Simicek, C – 9th Round, 273rd Overall (HPK Hameenlinna, FNL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 63

Simicek was already 28 years old when he was selected in the 2000 draft, and had played eight professional seasons in Europe. Born in the Czech Republic, Simicek was close to a point-per-game man in the Czech league before signing with HPK Hameenlinna in Finland where he spent two seasons before coming over to North America to join the Penguins. Although he was to play only 63 games in the NHL, Simicek is currently the most experienced of all players taken in the ninth round that year.

Simicek made the team straight away, and showed some decent playmaking and scoring ability before getting injured. Upon returning from injury, the Penguins decided to trade him to the Minnesota Wild for 6’8 journeyman, Steve McKenna.

Simicek played 29 games for the Penguins, scoring three goals and six assists. His Minnesota career was not much longer, playing 34 games over two seasons with the Wild, scoring four goals and four assists. After spending most of the 2001-02 season in the AHL with the Houston Aeros, Simicek elected to return to Europe, playing another season in Finland before moving back to the Czech Republic where he has been ever since. In 2004-05 Simicek recorded 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 45 games for Vitkovice HC.

Nick Boucher, G – 9th Round, 280th Overall (Dartmouth College, NCAA)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played – 0

A solid but unspectacular goaltender, Nick Boucher is a victim of goaltending depth at the Penguins as much as anything else. Boucher performed admirably in his college career after being drafted by the Penguins, going on to be the winningest goaltender in Dartmouth College history. He finished his career with a 50-40-11 record, but failed to help Dartmouth reach the NCAA Tournament.

Boucher’s first pro season was spent mainly with Wheeling, where he posted an amazing 20-6-1 record from his 29 games there, and was rewarded with six AHL games in Wilkes-Barre, used mainly in relief. He played well in the limited minutes he was given, finishing with a 2.05 GAA and a .923 save percentage.

This was not enough, however, as Boucher was not renewed, and resulted in him signing with the Pee Dee Pride of the ECHL for 2004-05.

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