Penguins 2002 draft evaluation

By Jason Seidling

The Pittsburgh Penguins made the most of their first top-five selection since 1990 when they picked Ryan Whitney at No. 5 overall.  He headlines a crop that also includes fellow NHL-level contributors Erik Christensen and Maxime Talbot, and prospects Bobby Goepfert and Ryan Lannon.

Pittsburgh has averaged 33.3 NHL games played per pick, the eight-best average in the league.

Ryan Whitney, D
– 1st round, 5th overall, Boston University, NCAA
NHL Games: 149
Status: NHL player

Whitney has developed into the top-two defenseman that most scouts predicted he would become prior to the 2002 draft. He spent his first full campaign in the NHL in 2006-07, finishing sixth among defensemen with 59 points on 14 goals and 45 assists, while appearing in 81 contests. More importantly, he improved his play in the defensive zone, and appeared much more poised with his decision making.

A regular on the first penalty-killing unit, Whitney has also done a great job manning the left point on the power play. He and Sidney Crosby have developed a great knack for completing that difficult cross-ice, backdoor feed, especially considering Whitney has to shoot across his body as a left handed shot. Whitney and partner Brooks Orpik have really learned to play off of each other, and saw plenty of action against opponents’ top lines.

After the Penguins selected him in 2002, Whitney claimed that he would be the best defenseman to come out of that draft, and five years later, he is making good on that promise. A serious run at a Norris Trophy could be in Whitney’s future if he keeps progressing at his current rate.

Ondrej Nemec, D – 2nd round, 35th overall, Vsetin, Czech
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

The Penguins had high hopes for Nemec after selecting him in the second round. Nemec was touted as a good offensive defenseman who had a booming slap shot. He was brought over to North America at the end of the 2003-04 season, scoring a goal and two assists with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in seven games. In seven playoff contests he recorded one assist.

That would be the extent of the action that Nemec would see in North America as he returned home to the Czech Republic the following season. After a couple of undistinguished seasons back home, his rights were forfeited by the Penguins, continuing a long line of second-round busts.

Erik Christensen, C – 3rd round, 69th overall, Kamloops, WHL
NHL Games: 94
Status: NHL Player

Christensen led the WHL in scoring with 108 points in 2002, and then signed with the Penguins organization in 2004. He struggled at first to adjust to the pro game, but then turned into a legitimate scoring threat at the AHL level. Christensen got a cup of coffee with the Penguins in 2005-06, recording six goals and seven assists in 33 games, but he spent most of the season working on his defensive game in the AHL.

After a disappointing training camp, Christensen once again found himself with Wilkes-Barre at the start of the 2006-07 season. He recorded 24 points in the first 16 games for the Baby Pens, and soon found himself in Pittsburgh, this time for good. In 61 games Christensen recorded 18 goals and 15 assists, finally showing the consistency that management hoped he could attain.

Christensen spent time at both center and wing in the NHL, and with the Pens stacked at the center position, he will need to become efficient working on the outside. He possesses one of the quickest releases and hardest shots in the league, so 20-25 goals should be a reasonable expectation for Christensen as he develops into a solid second-liner on a team that figures to be stacked with goal scorers.

Daniel Fernholm, D – 4th round, 101st overall, Djurgarden, Sweden
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

A one-time surefire first-round pick, Fernholm suffered a serious knee injury prior to his draft year. Despite that, it appeared that the Penguins had scored a major sleeper with this selection. Fernholm was a hulking presence who moved extremely well for his size.

The Penguins’ high hopes for Fernholm fizzled as he struggled mightily adapting to the North American game. He split the 2005-06 season between Wilkes-Barre of the AHL and Wheeling of the ECHL, but his play was inconsistent. He came back over for the 2006-07 campaign, but returned home to Sweden after spending the first month in Wheeling. While the Penguins do retain his rights, it is unlikely that fans will be seeing Fernholm in a Penguins uniform any time soon.

Andrew Sertich, LW
– 5th round, 136th overall, Greenway High School, Minnesota
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

Sertich went on to a four-year career with the University of Minnesota after being selected by the Penguins. Never blessed with the greatest offensive skills, Sertich did have good hockey sense. Those skills never panned out and the workmanlike winger was never offered a contract by the Penguins.

Cam Paddock, C – 5th round, 137th overall, Kelowna, WHL
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

A strictly defensive-minded center, Paddock played three most non-descript seasons in the Penguins system. Constantly shuffling between Wilkes-Barre of the AHL and Wheeling of the ECHL, Paddock strongest contribution to the organization was the 14 goals and 24 assists he produced for Wheeling in 2005-06. Paddock is now a member of the Phoenix Coyotes organization.

Bobby Goepfert, G – 6th round, 171st overall, Cedar Rapids, USHL
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

Goepfert has had an up-and-down career since being selected by the Penguins. After starting his career at Providence College and posting solid numbers in his two years with the Friars, he was forced to transfer to St. Cloud State after an academic issue. Goepfert continued his strong play at St. Cloud State, finishing as one of the top ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Trophy for his outstanding play in 2006-07.

Considered a great athlete, Goepfert will have a chance to compete for one of the two jobs in Wilkes-Barre in 2007-08 if he and the Penguins are able to come to terms this summer. The left-hander has a chance to help the Penguins in the future as a backup to starter Marc-Andre Fleury.

Patrik Bartschi, C – 7th round, 202nd overall, Kloten, Swiss League
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

The first Swiss player ever drafted by the Penguins, Bartschi was on a good track during the first couple of seasons after he was selected. He posted totals of 37 and 35 points for Kloten between 2002 and 2004 despite being one of the youngest players on his team. Bartschi was also one of the top players for the Swiss entry into the World Championships.

Injuries and a drop in production saw Bartschi’s stock drop significantly within the organization, and it is now unlikely that he will ever figure into the Penguins’ plans, despite the need for goal scorers on the wing at the NHL level.

Maxime Talbot, C – 8th round, 234th overall, Hull, QMJHL
NHL Games: 123
Status: NHL Player

A great find by the Penguins scouting staff, Talbot has proven to be an effective third or fourth-line player at the NHL level, even showing an ability to put the puck in the net on a regular basis. Talbot made the Penguins opening day roster in 2005-06 at the outset of just his second pro season. He posted five goals and three assists in 48 contests, and was the team’s top penalty killer up front, but was still returned to Wilkes-Barre at midseason in an effort to have him work on his offensive game.

Talbot began the 2006-07 season with the Baby Pens, but was brought up for good after scoring four times in the first five games. With the NHL Penguins, Talbot saw his workload increase from a season ago, and the result was a jump in offensive production as he scored 13 goals and added 11 assists in 75 games. Talbot’s constant energy, and chemistry with the likes of Jarkko Ruutu and Colby Armstrong, among others, provided grit that the Penguins had long been lacking.

A big-time scorer at the junior ranks, Talbot figures to have a long future in the league as a third or fourth line guy. His offensive track record suggests that Talbot will average between 15-20 goals a season, which would make him one of the best two-way centers that the team has had in a long time.

Ryan Lannon, D
– 8th round, 239th overall, Harvard, NCAA
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

Lannon was signed by the Penguins in 2005 after a solid if not spectacular career at Harvard. He had a solid debut season with Wilkes-Barre, posting a plus-17 rating in 74 contests during the 2005-06 campaign. While his plus/minus rating dropped in 2006-07, Lannon did see a jump in his offensive statistics as he posted 19 assists in 68 games.

Lannon will not stand out with his physical play or offensive ability, but his solid, simple nature could allow him to see time at the NHL level as soon as 2007-08. Lannon will be given an opportunity in training camp, but a mid-season call-up due to injury is more likely.

Dwight LaBrosse, G – 9th round, 265th overall, Guelph, OHL
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

The first Pittsburgh-area goaltender selected in the NHL draft, LaBrosse came to one training camp, provided very uninspiring play, and was never signed by the Penguins. While the organization was happy at the time that LaBrosse was still available to the Penguins this late in the draft, his play showed that there was no reason to be very surprised. 

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