Penguins junior prospects update

By Adrian Barclay

There was plenty of focus on the CHL in Pittsburgh as the 2006-07 season began, but not because of prospects who were playing there. Rather, the attention was on two players that were missing from their junior line-ups.

Kristopher Letang along with Jordan Staal became one of the early stories of the season in the Steel City as the two teenagers made the team out of camp when both were considered another year or two away from NHL duty. Letang was the most surprising member of the opening night team, but his offensive instincts and valuable right-handed shot meant he got a seven-game trial with the Pens.

The 19-year-old defenseman was given plenty of time on the power play, averaging four minutes a game out of a total of 11, and cashed in with two power-play goals. Unfortunately despite his obvious talents with the man advantage, the jump from the Q to the NHL was too much for Letang on the defensive side of the game, and he was clearly a pace behind where he needed to be.

Apparently devastated to be sent back to junior, Letang has to be commended for getting his mind on the job at hand, immediately dominating his younger opponents and scoring at a rate that a forward would be happy with. In fact, on Nov. 27 he was named the offensive player of the week for the QMJHL, scoring four goals and two assists in two road games against St. John’s which included a hat trick.

Letang is leading from the front with the Foreurs, after also being named captain after his return. His offensive output has been staggering, compiling eight goals and 14 assists in just 12 games since his return where he renewed acquaintances with fellow high-profile defensive prospect, Sebastien Bisaillon (EDM). He already leads the team in plus/minus with +8.

Now Letang must focus his attention on the upcoming World Junior Championship, where he is a lock for the Team Canada squad after performing admirably in a gold-medal-winning effort in 2005.

The only other Penguins prospect currently playing in the CHL is Shawinigan defenseman Jean-Philipp Paquet. The 194th overall pick in 2005, Paquet is improving at a rapid rate as he competes in his final year in the QMJHL. He has never scored more than 25 points in a season in his career so far, but has reached that mark again this season in much fewer games. He has already clocked up his career-high sixth tally, and added 19 assists in just 28 games as he also takes on the responsibility of the captaincy for the season.

A veteran now with the Cataractes, Paquet is now used in all situations and the experience gained from that will help his chances of securing a pro contract at season’s end. It is a tough road ahead though, with many talented defensemen in the Penguins system, including recently drafted pair Carl Sneep and Brian Strait along with Gophers star Alex Goligoski.

Paquet has always been good at rushing the puck and has strong playmaking skills, but needs to continue to enhance his all-around game. The 19-year-old is probably outside calculations for a spot with Team Canada at the WJC, but there is still time to impress before the tournament begins at the end of the year.

Notes

When the decision was made to send Letang back to junior, the Pens also decided to keep former OHL’er Jordan Staal. The 18-year-old earned a place with the Pens and already leads the league in short-handed goals with three… Former Quebec Remparts defenseman Michal Sersen has failed to make an impact with the Penguins and has returned to Slovakia. Sersen was chosen 130th overall in 2004.

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