Penguins 2008-09 NCAA prospect update

By Ian Altenbaugh

Carl Sneep, D – Boston College

Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2006

In his junior year playing for the Boston College Eagles, Sneep has established himself as a dependable two-way presence along the blue line. Although he is not a prolific passer, the Minnesota native has shown poise on the Eagles power play. Sneep’s greatest asset, however, is his willingness to sacrifice his body for the team. Sidelined last spring because of an injury due to blocking a shot, the 21-year-old has continued to get in passing lanes, block shots, and create chaos for opposing forwards. The 6’3 210lb defenseman brings two things to the Penguins organization that most of their prospects lack: size and a right-handed shot. Despite the fact that Sneep does not play overly physical, his mobile, two-way style could nicely compliment one of the Penguins many left-handed defenders.

Brian Strait, D – Boston University

Acquired: 3rd round, 65th overall, 2006

A junior for the BU Terriers, Strait has continued to assert himself as the Penguins best defensive defenseman in their prospect pool. The alternate captain of the Terriers has taken on more leadership this season and continued to carve out a role as a shut-down defenseman (usually paired with Matt Gilroy) for BU. The Massachusetts native has a good first step and always seems to be in the right position defensively. Although Strait plays a defensively oriented game, he is capable of handling the puck and is a strong lateral and backward skater. Strait is more likely to shut down a player’s angles than skate out of position to land a big hit though. Still, he has been more consistent with his level of physical play this season than in the past and makes opposing forwards earn every inch of ice they gain on him.

Joe Vitale, C – Northeastern University

Acquired: 7th round, 195th overall, 2005

The captain of the Northeastern Huskies, Vitale has continued to develop into a chippy, two-way forward for all situations. The Missouri native has been used (and produced offensively) on both special teams and in even-strength situations. Although his statistical output is down from last season, it is more a testament of the Huskies’ offensive depth than any indictment on the center’s play. Currently in his senior year, Vitale could officially be a member of the Penguins organization by early April. What he brings is a mix of responsible play and hard work at both ends of the ice. He has a strong and wide base which makes him difficult to knock off the puck and able to score goals from the slot.

Michael Gergen, F – University of Minnesota-Duluth

Acquired: 2nd round, 61st overall, 2005

In his senior year with the UMD Bulldogs, Gergen has still not been able to put it all together for any consistent stretch of time. While he can at times dazzle offensively, it is not with enough regularity to earn a regular spot in the top of the line-up. He plays physically, but occasionally takes bad penalties. If Gergen can manage to find a greater level of consistency in the second half of his senior season, he could be an intriguing prospect for the Penguins.

Tim Crowder, RW – Michigan State

Acquired: 5th round, 126th overall, 2005

A big-bodied winger who can be used in all situations, Crowder, an alternate captain for the Spartans, currently sits second on the team in points. Although his offensive output is down, it is very much due to former teammates Tim Kennedy and Justin Abdelkadar opting out of their senior years. With a team that is primarily made up of freshman and sophomore players, the Spartans have remained good defensively but struggled to generate offense. Still, Crowder continues to contribute offensively, primarily on the power play, and has shown a knack for going to the net. Now in his senior year, the Victoria native could be within the professional ranks in the next few months. He brings an intriguing package of size and skill to the Penguins organization.

Brian Gifford, C – University of Denver

Acquired: 3rd round, 85th overall, 2004

A player for all situations, Gifford is an excellent defensive player with good hockey instincts and an underrated shot. The Minnesota native uses his 6’2 frame to effectively shut down forwards in man-coverage, protect the puck, and clog up passing lanes. Although Gifford has posted modest numbers this season, with just four points in over 20 games, he has been asked to fill a defensive-minded role this season, something he has handled with aplomb.

Chad Johnson, G – University of Alaska

Acquired: 5th round, 125th overall, 2006

As a senior, Johnson has helped lead his team to a top-five seeding in the CCHA conference. No small feat when considering that Alaska was picked by many to be among the worst teams in their division. Sidelined for much of last season because of a high ankle sprain, Johnson went 0-6 and leading up to the 2008-09 season, had not recorded a win since November of 2006. Quickly erasing that memory, the athletic goaltender went on to earn consecutive CCHA player of the week awards on November 24. Additionally, he has a 1.61 goals-against-average and a .941 save percentage, both among the top-five in college hockey. While his quality of play can be attributed to being healthy and the Nanooks having a better defense then the previous two seasons, much has to do with Johnson being his team’s starter. That regularity in routine and preparation allows the 6’3 goaltender to more quickly discover and improve his game. While he is still somewhat raw, Johnson does a good job of removing the bottom half of the net and forcing forwards to go shoot high.

Chris Peluso, D – Bemidji State

Acquired: 7th round, 194th overall, 2004

Now in his third season as a Bemidji State Beavers, Peluso has firmly carved out a role as a smart puck-moving defenseman who does his best work when he keeps things simple in his own end. At 5’10, 185lbs, the Minnesota native does not strike an imposing physical presence along the blue line. Still, with continued improvement in his skating, Peluso has developed into a solid two-way defenseman with a good outlet pass and a capable power-play quarterback.