Despite not selecting in the top five for the first time since 2001, the Pittsburgh Penguins have to consider the 2007 Entry Draft a success for the franchise.
Quebec Remparts center Angelo Esposito, who a year ago was considered the undisputed top prospect in the draft, fell to the team at 20th overall. Shero was also able to turn a player who spent a majority of the second half of the season as a healthy scratch in Chris Thorburn, into an extra third-round pick as the Atlanta Thrashers were willing to give up an asset for a player who might have been non-tendered.
In all, the Penguins selected eight players in the 2007 draft, including four centers, three defensemen and a left winger. They added size to the organization as all eight picks were 6’1 or taller, and almost as important, brought three right-handed shots into an organization that even after free agency is still very left-handed.
All eight players are Canadian, and all played in Canadian junior leagues.
Angelo Esposito, C – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
6’1, 180 lbs.
1st Round, 20th Overall
The goal for the Penguins after selecting Jordan Staal second overall in 2006 was to not be in a position to select Esposito in 2007. Of course, that was June of 2006 and Esposito was ranked one or two by virtually every service. The Penguins planned to make the necessary improvement in the standings that would preclude them from choosing in the top-five.
Well, the Penguins did their part, finishing 10th overall in the NHL, but Esposito had a less than stellar campaign with Quebec and questions were raised about his heart. He saw his stock drop tremendously. When he was available at No. 20, Shero and company grabbed the player.
Esposito spent some time on the right wing last season while playing for Patrick Roy. His personal statistics went down 19 points from the previous campaign without Alexander Radulov (NAS). That being said, the tremendous skill set that had previously set Esposito apart from his draft class is still present.
Blessed with world-class speed and above average size, Esposito has the physical tools necessary to be an above-average player at the NHL level. Throw in a creative mind that should blend in well with Sidney Crosby, Staal and Evgeni Malkin, among others, and Esposito should be in an environment where his immense talent results in him becoming the player that scouts thought he would be prior to the 2006-07 season.
Keven Veilleux, C – Victoriaville Tigers (QMJHL)
6’4, 202 lbs.
2nd Round, 51st Overall
Considering the pedigree of centers already in the organization with Crosby, Staal, Malkin, and Esposito, it was a little more than mildly surprising to see the Penguins spend their second-round selection on another center. But the team couldn’t pass up the blend of size and skill that Veilleux possesses. Veilleux also helped his cause by being a right-handed shot.
While his offensive numbers of 20 goals and 35 assists and 70 games were not eye-popping, especially in the highly offensive Quebec league, Veilleux’s natural talents have suggested that increased production should be forthcoming.
Blessed with a huge wingspan a la Staal, Veilleux was a member of Canada’s entry in the under-18 World Championships, and recorded an assist in two contests before dislocating his shoulder. If he shows more desire, learns to use his massive frame, and reaches his potential offensively, Veilleux could be ready to produce in about two to three years.
Robert Bortuzzo, D – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
6’3, 196 lbs.
3rd Round, 78th Overall
Bortuzzo, selected with the choice that the Pens acquired in the Thorburn trade, is exactly the simple, complementary defenseman that this organization needs. With Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski positioned to anchor the offensive end of the blue line for the foreseeable future, players such as Bortuzzo will be expected to provide solid and steady defensive play, cover up for any defensive lapses the above trio makes, and take care of penalty-killing situations.
Bortuzzo is described by Central Scouting as a stay-at-home defenseman who keeps things simple and plays safe on the ice. He plays with a physical edge and is also willing to put his body in front of shots.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel, C – Merritt Centennials (BCHL)
6’1, 205 lbs.
3rd Round, 80th Overall
Yet another center with offensive upside selected by the Pens, Pierro-Zabotel dominated the British Columbia Hockey League in 2007. He recorded 51 goals and 65 assists in 55 contests, statistics that earned him the BCHL Interior Conference MVP award.
While there is no questioning Pierro-Zabotel’s offensive abilities, he must continue to work on developing a solid two-way game. This high-risk, high-reward pick will get that opportunity to make his game more well-rounded as he spends the next four developing with the Michigan Tech Huskies of the WCHA.
Luca Caputi, LW – Mississauga Ice Dogs (OHL)
6’2, 184 lbs.
4th Round, 111th Overall
Luca Caputi has the potential to one day fill a power forward position some day for the Penguins. Another bigger body with a wide wingspan, Caputi recorded 27 goals and 38 assists in the OHL this past season.
Caputi has excelled on both the power play and penalty-killing units for the Ice Dogs. He is also known for repeatedly sticking his nose into traffic in front of the net. If he fully grows into his body and uses his outstanding size to his advantage, Caputi could be a top-nine forward in the future.
Alex Grant, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
6’2, 185 lbs.
4th Round, 118th Overall
Alex Grant has all of the tools to suggest that he should be an above average number four or five defenseman in the new NHL. He recorded 12 goals and 20 assists in 68 games for the Sea Dogs in 2006-07.
Considered an excellent skater, Grant’s ability to move the puck, generate offense from the point and physical play, as evidenced by his 108 penalty minutes, should give him an opportunity to earn top minutes if he develops as expected. The fact that he is a rare right-handed shot should only help his future potential.
Jake Muzzin, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
6’2, 200 lbs.
5th Round, 141st Overall
Muzzin has an opportunity to become one of the true sleepers of the 2007 Entry Draft. Once considered a high first-round draft pick a couple of seasons ago, Muzzin has missed much of the past two campaigns with a back injury. He did record a goal and three assists in 34 contests this season for the Greyhounds.
Much like Grant, who was chosen the round before him, Muzzin has all of the tools necessary to become an all-around defenseman, including size, speed, and the physical element. Staying healthy and making up for lost time will be critical to Muzzin’s pro ambitions.
Dustin Jeffrey, C – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
6’1, 205 lbs.
6th Round, 171st Overall
A teammate of Muzzin, Dustin Jeffrey was the fourth center selected by the Penguins in the 2007 draft. He appeared in 68 regular season games for the Greyhounds and he recorded 34 goals and 58 assists. Jeffrey was also impressive in the OHL playoffs, scoring six goals and adding 12 assists in 13 contests.
Jeffrey is a player whose game has still not been totally defined yet. While he has shown a decent scoring touch at the junior level, he has also shown a tough, physical side to his game as well.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.