Defense main strength of Pittsburgh Penguins junior prospects

By Ian Altenbaugh

Matt Murray - Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo: Goaltender Matt Murray is in his first year as the uncontested starter for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Through 27 starts Murray has a 14-12-1 record. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have eight prospects playing at the Canadian Major Junior level, seven of whom were acquired in the 2012 off-season through the draft or trade. The Penguins, as is the case organization wide, are particularly heavy on defense at the junior level, with five defensive prospects led by 2012 first round picks Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta.

OHL

Clark Seymour, D, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 5th round (143rd overall) in 2012

Standing at 6'2 and over 200 pounds, Clark Seymour strikes an imposing presence along the blue line, and plays with a physical mean streak to back that presence up.

"Probably the biggest compliment a d-man can receive is he isn't easy to play against," Seymour said at the Penguins 2012 prospect development camp last summer. "That's what I try to focus on. I try to be hard to play against, tough in the corners."

For the 2012-13 season, Seymour also wanted to work on maintaining a steady confidence level through the entire season.

"Consistency is a big problem in my game. Having the confidence to stay consistent. Perform as much as I can the same throughout the year," he said. "That hesitation could be a big factor in the play, or the situation. That half a second to second of hesitation could make or break the situation."

So far he has done both. Through 32 games he has two goals and seven assists and a minus-seven rating, which while not good, is not bad considering he plays a lot of shutdown minutes on a Peterborough team that has allowed an average of four goals a game.

His fight total is down, from eight games last season to only two so far this year, but Seymour never considered himself an antagonist in that regard anyway.

"If the fight's there I'm not scared to back down. I usually don't do the asking, just accept the asking."

Matia Marcantuoni, RW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round (92nd overall) in 2012

When a player declares himself one of the "steals" of the 2012 NHL Draft, an elevated interest in his development over the proceeding season is inevitable. So while to some observers a stat line of four goals and 10 assists through 30 games seems like a disappointment, his season has been mostly successful so far. The biggest concerns over Marcantuoni's play were durability and consistency. He started the season cold, going eight games before registering a point, which is understandable for a player who missed the entire latter half of the 2011-12 season, but since then picked up the offensive pace. He has also remained fairly healthy, appearing in all but four of Kitchener's regular season games.

If Marcantuoni is to ever play in the NHL, it will be as a player who creates energy with his skating and forechecking ability, and so far this season he has done a good job in those regards. He needs to work on his decision making as well, especially on the defensive side, where he is not always fully engaged.

Matt Murray, G, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 3rd round (81st overall) in 2012

A tall, rangy goaltender, Murray is in his first season as the uncontested starter for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Playing for a team that employs a fairly wide-open style of play, Murray sees an average of over 35 shots per game, among the most in the OHL, and his 3.58 goals against average is a reflection of that. Still, he gets the job done on most nights and recently elevated his play, posting a 2.33 goals against average and .921 save percentage through six December games played.

Murray at this point in his development remains a long-term project. His athletic, rangy build is ideal for the position as is his strong mental makeup. He is the type of goaltender that likes to see a lot of shots as well, so while playing for a team like the Greyhounds might not be ideal for most goaltenders, it is for Murray.

Scott Harrington, D, London Knights
Acquired: 2nd round (54th overall) in 2011

Harrington is a player who, while off-stated both on and off the ice, is the type of player every team wishes they had on their roster. He possesses an extremely high hockey IQ, is a strong all-around skater, can move the puck well, and does not make many mistakes. He plays a defensively oriented style of game but does an excellent job of quickly getting the puck up ice. He sees a ton of ice-time with the Knights, often alongside fellow Penguins prospect Olli Maatta.

He will be an alternate captain for Team Canada at the 2013 WJC where he will be used in a similar shutdown role.

Olli Maatta, D, London Knights
Acquired: 1st round (22nd overall) in 2012

Maatta is a player whose qualities and talents are very much a matter of taste. While one scout praises his versatility, another criticizes him for not looking comfortable playing any one particular role. He has been the focus of the Knights offense this season, but he has also been used in a shutdown capacity alongside fellow Penguins prospect Scott Harrington. Regardless of tastes, Maatta is a player with a high hockey IQ and the type of basic fundamental tools that suggest he should develop into a solid two-way defenseman one day.

He will represent Finland at the 2013 WJC and will likely be used in a variety of different roles.

WHL

Harrison Ruopp, D, Prince Albert Raiders
Acquired: Trade with Phoenix Coyotes, June 22nd, 2012

Similar to Seymour, Harrison Ruopp is a physical, defensive defenseman who prides himself on being difficult to play against. He possesses good size at 6'2 and around 190 pounds and is not afraid to drop the gloves.

He can move the puck well, but projects as a physical, stay-at-home type of defenseman. Ruopp is currently playing for an entry-level contract.

Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 1st round (8th overall) in 2012

Arguably the Penguins top overall prospect, Pouliot is an offensive defenseman who plays huge minutes for the Portland Winterhawks. He possesses explosive skating ability and is extremely strong. He also is able to make brilliant offensive plays up ice, from carrying the puck through the neutral zone to providing crisp breakout passes in his own end. His shot is also top-notch, from hard and accurate point shots and one-timers to quick wrist-shots in tight.

The biggest issue for Pouliot in this point in his development is his overall play. He is strong at both ends of the ice but needs to maintain a higher level of consistency. He could also stand to be a little bit meaner in his own end.

QMJHL

Anton Zlobin, RW, Val d'Or Foruers
Acquired: 6th round (173rd overall) in 2012

Zlobin has come a long way since first came into the league in 2010-11. He has become a more complete player at both ends of the ice and can be seen getting physically involved with opposing players, something he was not always keen on doing. He has done that while maintaining his greatest trait, which is his goal scoring ability, and offensive creativity. He is on a roughly 1.3 point-per-game average, which would put him on pace for slightly better totals than last season, though his offensive ability at this point is not a point of focus in his overall progress.

The 19-year-old Russian will represent his country at the 2013 WJC and while how he will be utilized remains to be seen, because while he will be among the oldest on the team this will be his first trip to the U20 tournament.

 

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