The Pittsburgh Penguins have the strongest group of prospects in the league, and their crop of NCAA players demonstrates strong depth in all positions. There are a total of 11 draftees playing in the college ranks, with perhaps none better than Alex Goligoski.
Goligoski has picked up where he left off after a very successful rookie year with the University of Minnesota, making his mark as one of the country’s best offensive defensemen.
Pittsburgh’s second pick, 61st overall in 2004 was one of the surprises of last season, finishing second amongst Minnesota defensemen in scoring and earning All WCHA Rookie honors, as well as making his debut for Team USA at the World Juniors.
The Grand Rapids native has already eclipsed his totals from his rookie season as he takes the reins of the Gopher power play, with 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) from just 22 games. His near point per game clip puts him seventh amongst all defensemen in the nation. The 6’0 blue-liner has added some much needed weight over the offseason and now weighs in at a respectable 187 pounds.
Andy Sertich is a teammate of Goligoski at the Gophers, but is a completely different player. Sertich bases his game on hard work and defensive awareness, and leads by example on the ice by being well conditioned and playing with plenty of intensity. He is a player that can do a little of everything and plays a valuable role in a Gophers team that will be amongst the contenders as usual when March comes around. In fact, Sertich is so versatile that Coach Don Lucia often uses him on defense when he finds his squad a little short in that area.
Sertich is not the biggest guy (6’0, 189 lbs), but pound for pound there are not many stronger. He uses his strength to turn over the puck and set up offensive opportunities, and looks like forming into one of the Penguins best two-way grinders and should be signed to the minors at the end of his senior year in 2006. Don’t be mistaken however, as Sertich also has natural scoring ability, and contributes as much as you would expect from a role player. In 2005-06 he has played 22 games and recorded six goals and six assists.
Minnesota-Duluth freshman Michael Gergen has made a stellar start to his collegiate career, leading the Bulldogs in goals. Gergen has proved to be one of the finest freshmen in the nation, and sits equal second amongst rookies with 11 goals from 21 games. He also has three game winners which leads his team and he’s bettered only by five players in the nation.
Gergen is the type of player who will only get better as he builds up muscle to compliment his power forward game. He skates well and has a hard shot, but can also hold his own in the physical side of the game, and currently has 32 PIM. His development is coming along quickly, and Gergen could become one of the organization’s best assets going forward.
Matt Moulson continues to prove himself as one of the Penguins best up-and-coming prospects, captaining a powerful Cornell team to a strong early record. Moulson has been the dominant offensive player with the Big Red, leading the team in scoring since his sophomore season in 2003-04.
The Mississauga native looks like the complete package with plenty of offensive skill as well as showing that he is not afraid of using his 6’1, 210 pound frame to his advantage. He has already amassed nine power play goals from his first 15 games, by far the quickest clip in the nation, and his overall point total of 20 (11 goals, nine assists) from 15 games ranks him 16th in points per game.
With the team building again after the graduation of a number of key players, Moulson has become the main go-to guy and has a clear gap on the second place scorer on the team. Illustrating his dominance was a two-goal performance in a 3-1 victory against RIT on January 7 where Moulson took a phenomenal 17 of Cornell’s 56 shots.
Moulson will be one to look out for at Penguins training camp in the fall, where he will likely become one of the main offensive cogs in Wilkes-Barre for the 2006-07 season. Moulson was selected by the Penguins in the ninth round, 263rd overall in 2003.
In net, the Penguins most outstanding goaltender in college right now is Bobby Goepfert. After a troubled couple of seasons which saw him kicked off his team with Providence College, Goepfert has returned from a season in exile and has suited up with St. Cloud State, and has been instrumental in giving the team a winning record at this point of the season.
Goepfert has a point to prove after his controversial exit from Providence, and he has gone a long way towards proving it with a stellar 2.07 GAA and a .926 save percentage placing him ninth and eighth in the nation respectively. His record of 8-6-3 is excellent considering that many college hockey experts predicted St. Cloud to struggle this season.
Pittsburgh’s sixth round pick in 2002 definitely has all the skills required to be successful, but will need to continue to apply himself this season and in his senior year to have a chance of being signed by the Pens and play pro hockey.
Teaming with Goepfert at St Cloud State is senior winger Joe Jensen. Jensen is a hard worker who has improved offensively each season. He is now one of the main leaders at St. Cloud, looked upon to score goals as well as battle in the corners.
Jensen currently leads the Huskies in goals with 12, and sits second on the team in points with 21 from 20 games. A ninth round pick in 2003, Jensen also leads his team in shorthanded goals with two, and game-winning goals with three.
Dartmouth winger Nick Johnson has begun solidly in his sophomore campaign after being one of the most successful rookies last season. In 2004-05, Johnson earned a place on the Big Green’s top line and scored at a point per game pace to finish with 18 goals and 17 assists from 35 games.
Johnson is still getting quality minutes with Dartmouth, but the team has wobbled along to a 7-8-1 record thus far. He is just under his scoring pace from last season with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) from 16 games, and co-leads his team with four markers on the power play.
Tim Crowder (5th Round, 2005) has made a strong start to his freshman season with Michigan State, leading the team in rookie goals with seven. Crowder has a solid all-round game and should be an imposing figure once he fills out his 6’2, 180 pound frame.
Hard working center Joe Vitale (7th Round, 2005) is doing his best to help a young and struggling Northeastern Huskies team that has only managed the one win this season. Vitale has four goals and four assists to be fourth in team scoring, and also plays a vital role as the top faceoff man for the Huskies.
Brown center Brian Ihnacak has had a tough start to his junior season, scoring just the three goals in his first 13 games. The whole team is struggling however, averaging just two goals per game. Ihnacak also has five assists to be third in team scoring.
Notre Dame goaltender David Brown (8th Round, 2004) has recovered well this season after a disappointing 2004-05 season. Brown has taken on the No. 1 goalie role with the Fighting Irish and has a 5-8-2 record, a 2.92 GAA and a .903 save percentage.
Chris Peluso (7th Round, 2004) has submitted a letter of intent to play with Bemidji State University for the 2006-07 season. The defenseman is currently playing in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede where he has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) from 33 games.
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