Penguins 2001 draft evaluation

By Adrian Barclay

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 2001 draft will likely be remembered for their top two picks, Colby Armstrong and Noah Welch. Armstrong made a name for himself in the 2005-06 season when he was called up to Pittsburgh and formed a great combination with Sidney Crosby. Welch got a brief call-up late in the season after showing that he can be a formidable blueliner in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre.

In all, the Penguins chose nine players in the 2001 draft, of which three have NHL experience, led by Tomas Surovy who has now played 126 games at the top level. The Slovakian-born winger has also competed for his country at World Championship and Olympic level and is working on cementing a place in the NHL.

Drew Fata, Ben Eaves and Andy Schneider are all still considered NHL prospects, needing more time to develop before being considered by Pittsburgh, with Schneider the most likely to succeed. That leaves Alexandre Rouleau, Tomas Duba and Brandon Crawford-West in the NHL bust list, with none likely to ever make it to the big time.

The nine picks have played 178 games, for an average of 20 games per pick.

Colby Armstrong, RW – 1st Round, 21st Overall (Red Deer, WHL)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 47

A highly-touted prospect since becoming the Penguins opening round pick in the 2001 draft, Colby Armstrong finally got to enjoy his coming out party in the NHL in 2006.

Armstrong has shown steady improvement over his pro career which began with the Baby Penguins in Wilkes-Barre four years ago, and has developed his game into a combination of skill and agitation, without taking many silly penalties. When he was sent back through waivers to the minors after training camp before the 2005-06 season it looked like he may be out of favor with the organization, but Armstrong went back to Wilkes-Barre and worked hard to earn his eventual recall in December.

Given a chance to play with Crosby after a few quiet games on the third and fourth lines, Armstrong hasn’t turned back. He and Crosby formed a strong chemistry and the two look like being together again from the beginning of next season. Armstrong has finally made the jump from prospect to player and should be an important element in the Penguins team for years to come.

Noah Welch, D – 2nd Round, 54th Overall (St. Sebastians, Mass. HS)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 5

Welch joined the Harvard Crimson after being drafted by the Penguins, and has molded himself into a most impressive all-around defenseman. A standout all through his college career, Welch has taken his game to the pro ranks in 2005-06 and has shown maturity beyond his years as the defensive leader of a young Wilkes-Barre team that racked up 51 regular season wins.

Welch has the defensive vision and positioning to make life hard for opposing forwards, and is not afraid to use his size to his advantage. He has been described as a ‘brick wall’ on defense where he uses all his skills to nullify attacking raids. He also possesses a good shot and offensive instincts that serve him well on the power play or at even strength. Welch has all the tools to step straight into the NHL in 2006-07, and will likely do so with the Penguins struggling in this area.

Welch got a late call-up to the Penguins this season and impressed scoring a goal and three assists in five games. He played 77 games with the Baby Penguins and scored nine goals and 20 assists.

Drew Fata, D – 3rd Round, 86th Overall (Toronto St. Michaels, OHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The younger brother of former Penguins player Rico Fata, Drew doesn’t have the speed of his brother but is known for his physical play and hard shot. Fata has bounced around between Wilkes-Barre and Wheeling for the past few seasons, and looks now like he may never jump to the NHL. With Ryan Whitney already proving that he is worthy of a top four role in the NHL and the likes of Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon ahead of Fata on the depth chart, the Ontario native will likely stay in the minors. Despite this he remains an NHL prospect with some chance of getting a shot in the future.

Fata will turn 23 in July and his play has been improving since making his pro debut in 2003-04. He was prone to error in early seasons but seems to have overcome the worst of that, but still lacks the vision of some of the higher profile defensemen in the Penguins system. Fata scored a personal best 10 goals in 34 games with Wheeling in 2005-06, and joined Wilkes-Barre where he had 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 28 regular season games. He was scoreless in the playoffs.

Alexandre Rouleau, D– 3rd Round, 96th Overall (Val-d’Or, QMJHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Rouleau is a tough defenseman who was signed to a contract by the Penguins after a promising junior career with Val-d’Or in the Quebec league, but has failed to make an impact in the pros above the ECHL level.

Rouleau is a crowd favorite in Wheeling where he is known for his physical game and willingness to drop the gloves when necessary. Rouleau is now a restricted free agent and his long-term future with the Penguins is in doubt. Rouleau had five goals, 20 assists and 114 penalty minutes in 71 games for Wheeling this season.

Tomas Surovy, LW – 4th Round, 120th Overall (Poprad, Slovakia)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 126

A talented scorer, Tomas Surovy has flirted for a couple of seasons with cementing a permanent home in the NHL. He made his pro debut with the Baby Penguins soon after being drafted and earned his first call-up to Pittsburgh in the 2002-03 season. He played 26 games that season, 47 the next and then 53 in 2005-06, which makes him the most experienced of this Penguins draft class.

Surovy has impressed mightily at times with his offensive instincts but lacks some consistency and seems to go missing from time to time. He spent most of the NHL season on the third line but had opportunities on the top two lines and the power play with mixed results. Surovy is undoubtedly a very talented player, but whether he fits into the future plans of new Pens GM Ray Shero is uncertain. Surovy is a restricted free agent this summer but is expected to be retained at this stage.

Surovy scored 12 goals and 13 assists in 2005-06, taking his NHL totals to 27 goals and 32 assists in 126 games.

Ben Eaves, C – 4th Round, 131st Overall (Boston College, NCAA)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

An undersized center with a distinguished NCAA career already under his belt, a lot was expected of Eaves when he made his pro debut with Wilkes-Barre during the 2004-05 season. But a series of serious knee injuries threatens to derail Eaves’ career. Restricted to just five games this season, Eaves’ development has been slowed by his bad luck.

A talented playmaker, Eaves should be given another chance with the organization to prove his worth. A natural center, Eaves may have to convert to the wing to have a chance to crack it in Pittsburgh with so many natural centers above him on the depth chart. At this stage Eaves has only to focus on getting a full season in the minors under his belt and remains an NHL prospect.

Andy Schneider, D – 5th Round, 156th Overall (Lincoln Stars, USHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Schneider is a big defenseman who began his pro career this season with Wilkes-Barre and Wheeling after a solid college career with North Dakota. He is capable of being offensive if required, with a solid shot from the point as one of his weapons. Schneider is also responsible defensively and is strong in the corners.

Schneider was one of the most consistent defensemen on the Baby Penguins this season, and seems to have found a balance to his game. Since his best offensive season as a sophomore in college when he was the leading defensemen on a potent offense that included Brandon Bochenski and Zach Parise, Schneider has been more focused on his defensive duties and that could see him get his NHL opportunity in the next couple of seasons.

Schneider had three goals and 13 assists in 50 games with the Baby Penguins this season. With Welch likely to jump to the NHL straight from camp, Schneider will play a more important role in 2006-07 with Wilkes-Barre.

Tomas Duba, G – 7th Round, 217th Overall (Sparta Praha, Czech)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A talented goaltender in the wrong team’s system, Tomas Duba will never play for the Penguins after not signing by the June 1 deadline.

Duba has forged himself a solid European career however, and will likely continue his hockey path there. The Czech native has spent time in not only his home league but also in Sweden and Finland. He spent the most recent season with Leksands in Sweden but struggled more than in previous campaigns. During the lockout season, Duba was one of the most outstanding goalies in the Czech league, finishing top five in GAA and save percentage despite the arrival of many NHL goaltenders.

Brandon Crawford-West, G – 8th Round, 250th Overall (Texas Tornado, NAHL)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Penguins final pick of the 2001 draft was another goaltender. After bouncing around the American junior scene for two seasons after being drafted, Crawford-West then decided to start a college career with the University of Miami (Ohio). He spent two seasons there before the Penguins decided not to sign him to a pro contract.

Crawford-West is now a free agent who has bounced around the ECHL with stops in Gwinnett and Columbia and a failed tryout with Toledo.

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