Pittsburgh Penguins history was made on 2005 draft day. It will be remembered forever as the day that Sidney Crosby came to town. The reward for winning the draft lottery a week earlier, the Penguins enter the new NHL landscape with the ultimate prize.
But behind all the bright lights of the ‘Crosby Show’, the Penguins did have some other choices to make on Draft Day 2005. With the draft order slightly different for this year after last season’s unique situation, the Penguins found themselves with drafting in position numbers 61, 62, 125, 126, 194 and 195 following their famous first pick.
Sidney Crosby, C
1st Round, (1st overall), 5’11 193 lbs, Rimouski (QMJHL)
There is very little Crosby doesn’t do extremely well. He’s a wizard with the puck and has vision and playmaking ability which some have compared to that of Wayne Gretzky. He has a good repertoire of shots and can score from anywhere in the offensive zone. It’s not just his incredible offensive talents that make him such a highly touted prospect, but his ability to get it done all over the ice. Strong on his skates, Crosby isn’t afraid of physical play and uses his body to knock opponents off the puck. Crosby is an effective back-checker and knows his role in his own zone. Crosby also demonstrated that he’s chippy, putting up 84 penalty minutes this season. The only thing lacking in Crosby’s resume is a thoroughly dominant performance in a major international tournament.
In his most recent performance for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in December and January, Crosby showed he could play well in a team environment when he was not the only go-to guy. He finished that tournament with six goals and three assists from six matches.
A hockey celebrity before he was even in high school, speculation about Sidney Crosby and what his career might hold has been extensive. Fans of every NHL team imagined ‘What If’ Crosby could arrive in their town and what he might do for their team.
The Penguins, who already boast a headline youth movement including Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, have now added another key piece in their rebuilding program that is slowly coming into formation in Pittsburgh.
Drafting a player of Crosby’s status and ability already means much more than improved on-ice performance. With the Penguins running out of time in a battle to fund a new arena in the Steel City, the addition of a future star such as Crosby seemingly assures the franchise will remain there. Add to that the marketability of a team that on opening night of season 2005-06 may include Crosby alongside Malkin and Fleury as well as superstar Mario Lemieux, and you’ve got the potential center-piece for the new NHL.
Michael Gergen, LW
2nd Round, (61st overall), 5’10 185 lbs, Shattuck-St Mary’s (USHS)
The Penguins did as expected with their second pick and took a high-scoring winger. Gergen brings plenty of speed and a good scoring touch to the table, evidenced by his bloated high school totals of 64 goals and 53 assists from just 69 games for Shattuck-St Mary’s last season, the same high school that Sidney Crosby played for before beginning his major junior career.
Gergen also doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty, happy to use a bit of muscle an earn use of the puck. Still only 5’10 185 lbs, Gergen will need to increase his size and strength over a college career which will begin with Minnesota-Duluth in 2005-06.
If Gergen fulfills his potential, his upside is tremendous. He has a killer shot to combine with his speed and strength, and his college scholarship means the Penguins have more time to let him develop before deciding to sign him or not.
Kristopher Letang, D
3rd Round, (62nd Overall), 5’11 190 lbs, Val d’Or (QMJHL)
Letang didn’t get the hype of his high-profile teammate Luc Bourdon (Bourdon was taken tenth overall by Vancouver in this draft), but he is certainly an asset Val D’Or wouldn’t like to see go. In his first season in the QMJHL, Letang didn’t disappoint and made his way to Canada’s U-18 national team. Last season saw him post a respectable 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 70 games.
A member of what they call “The Big Three” in Val D’Or, he possesses speed and offensive abilities that will get him far in his pro career. He likes to shoot from everywhere and usually is able to get in good scoring position. He’s also very good in his own zone and is a force along the boards. Few forwards are able to come and penetrate his side of the ice. He’s a game breaker who will be another good addition to the blue line stocks of the Penguins.
Letang will continue his development in the QMJHL in 2005-06.
Tommi Leinonen, D
4th Round, (125th overall) 6’2 185 lbs, Karpat Jr (Finland)
Perhaps a little ‘Euro-shy’ thanks to the problems the team is having in securing Evgeni Malkin from his Russian club, Tommi Leinonen was the only European taken by the Penguins in this draft.
Leinonen was still scarcely known back in the 2004 offseason but broke out in 2004-05. He was strong with Kärpät Jr A and the U18 national team right from the start. He was injured in spring season which hurt him in the U18 WC, but he already had a good number of international showings behind him.
Leinonen specializes in playing both ways. Against international competition he is known to take good care of the defense zone, while in Finnish Jr A he takes more liberties and joins rushes. He is a true expert in neither shooting nor passing, but his offensive skills are easily productive enough to warrant responsibility in that area. Leinonen is an impressive skater and up to the challenges posed by forwards. His strength and toughness are average at this point, which leaves something to be desired by NHL standards.
Leinonen will continue to play in Jr A in 2005-06, the date of his permanent arrival in the stacked Kärpät pro squad is still anybody’s guess. The path further on is simple for a well-rounded player, he just needs to become better and better and he can do it either in Finland or the AHL.
Tim Crowder, RW
5th Round (126th overall) 6’2 180 lbs, South Surrey (BCHL)
Crowder was selected from the British Columbia Hockey League, where he has been a solid performer. The right winger finished seventh in scoring with his champion South Surrey Eagles in 2004-05, scoring 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in 56 games.
His performance earned him a scholarship to Michigan State where he will continue to develop his game and add more size to his 6’2 frame. Crowder is solid in most areas, and seems to be another Penguins pick that will be better served by the extra development time available to NCAA players.
Jean-Philippe Paquet, D
6th Round, (194th overall), 6’2 202 lbs, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
There was a time when Paquet was challenging for the top defensive prospect spot in the 2005 draft. However, Paquet had mediocre performances in two of the more important events in the lead-up to the draft – the CHL Prospects game, and the World Under-18 Championships.
Paquet is a smooth-skating two-way defenseman with solid offensive instincts, in spite of the fact that it took him nearly 100 career games before he notched his first QMJHL goal. Mobile, and with decent size, Paquet likes to play a bit of a physical game. He logged lots of minutes for an up and down Cataractes team, and played in all situations. His two game-winning goals were the most among his team’s defensemen.
The fact that Paquet slipped down to the end of the sixth round suggests that his performances in the higher profile games were interpreted as an inability to perform when it counts. Certainly his form at QMJHL level has been very good, and may prove a steal for the Penguins down the road. He will need to continue to improve his play in pressure situations over the next two seasons if he wants to make it at the top level.
Joe Vitale, C
7th Round, (195th overall), 5’11 205 lbs, Sioux Falls (USHL)
The Penguins seventh and final choice in the 2005 draft was Joe Vitale of Sioux Falls in the USHL. Vitale is a high-intensity player who is considered a great team man. He likes to agitate but also has good scoring ability, shown by his fifth place finish in team scoring in 2004-05. He finished with 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists), thanks mainly to a very strong second half of the season which saw him going at almost point-per-game pace.
That second half was also instrumental in him being awarded his team’s Most Improved Player award. Scouts are impressed by his attitude, and could become a valuable locker room guy in the future. He faces a long road to the NHL, and will begin his journey with Northeastern University in 2005-06.
Eric Forest, Phil Laugher, Matt MacInnis and Pekka Lampinen contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.